I don’t know about where you live, but here in Miami, cyclists have a bad rep. They are known to ride in massive pelotons, pretend red lights are green, and use stop signs as mere suggestions. But they are not the majority, and on a ride like on Sunday, if it weren’t for cyclists my fears would’ve simply gotten the best of me.
I am training for the 12 hour Bike Sebring and not riding nearly enough. Sunday was my first ride in a week. I had limited time so the goal was to keep it short and simple. I set out alone from my house at dawn and headed towards the Rickenbacker Causeway which connects the island of Key Biscayne to mainland Miami. I used to live “on the Key” so I used to be able to roll out my door and ride the causeway. That was my stomping ground, where I have ridden hundreds upon hundreds of miles (and I am not exaggerating).
As you can read here, we moved three months ago and I am now about ten miles from the start of the causeway. To a wimp like me, those ten miles might as well be a forest full of dangerous monsters. Okay not really. But there is one stretch of about five miles called Main Highway which is particularly dangerous. Yet of all the routes available for me to ride to the causeway, Main is the least problematic one.
I have found that getting there at dawn is fine. It’s the sweet spot when in my mind the drunk drivers are home from the clubs but Sunday Church traffic hasn’t begun. It’s delightful.
I get to ride on wide streets, surrounded by stately banyan trees and beautiful homes with manicured gardens. It’s usually just me. Quiet and perfect.
Because I am riding close to 100 miles on any given Sunday, by the time I am done with my ride the traffic has usually increased dramatically and Main Highway is no longer safe (by my standards.) Lately my husband Joe would drive with the boys and pick me up on the causeway so that I wouldn’t have to ride back. But Sunday was different: Joe had to work and my ride was short.
I planned to head out at dawn, “ride the Key” a fifteen mile loop, and ride back. I would be finished early enough that the traffic on Main Highway wouldn’t be too bad. I was slightly uneasy but remembered what my friend Mike kept telling me in Arizona “just put your big girl panties on.”
I did. And I went out without plans of a pick up.
Yet I wasn’t confident. I had almost fallen the week before, and had just began eating normally after spending four days with a stomach virus. As I was getting on to Main Highway, I met up with a peloton. It was HUGE, there were at least 150 cyclists riding together. This is the type of group I see and immediately judge as a$$es.
I let them pass because I was not going to get in that mess. However, they weren’t going fast at all and somehow I caught up to them. I stayed at the back and thought: “the cars hate them, but as a solo rider, right now, this is probably safer for me.”
I caught a ride at the tail of the peloton all through Main Highway and disassociated myself from the mayhem once we got to the causeway. There was ample space at the back, and even if I wasn’t inches away from the wheel in front, the peloton was so huge I still had all the benefits of drafting.
On the causeway, a couple of cars flew by me way over the 45mph speed limit. I looked down and realized I didn’t have my Road ID (a band with my emergency contact information) and much worst, my faded Batman band Fearless gave me over a year ago. My good luck amulet. OMG!
I had a mini panic attack. What am I doing? If I do this whole loop by the time I get back to Main Highway there might be too much traffic. What if something happens? Who will take care of my kids? The one day I was left incapacitated because of the stomach bug my house fell apart. Was I irresponsible to be out here? Was I selfish?
These are questions that gnaw at me CONSTANTLY and that I have battled often.
I decided to turn back early, head down Main while it was still reasonably quiet and ride around in a really small loop around my house: safety trumps boredom.
I kept telling myself, “It’s when you are afraid that you hesitate and accidents can happen. Be confident. You know how to ride a bike.”
I repeated that over and over again, you’d think I was riding into a gun battle.
The last part of the causeway, before reaching mainland Miami is the William Powell bridge or Mount Miami. It’s the only elevation we have around here. I have no problem with the bridge, but I got a flat right as I began the descent. There is a bike lane, but no walkway where I could tuck in and change my tire in peace. Two seconds later, two guys rode by and asked “are you okay?”
“I think so”
“Well yes or no? Do you need help?”
I almost began to cry. I didn’t know how to answer. I know how to change a tire, but I need space, I need to sit, I can’t do it just like that on top of the bridge. I just stood there. Fortunately, they walked their bikes back up to help me.
I don’t like being a damsel in distress. That day, I felt like an idiot. How can I have done two Ironmans and be so scared? How can I believe I cannot change a tire because I’m on a bridge?
If I was stuck and no one stopped, I would’ve sorted myself out. But they were there, and kind, and helpful and I was grateful. At least ten other people asked if we were okay.
They fixed my flat and went on their merry way. As I began descending, I realized it was closer to 9:30 and Main Highway would be waking up to cars. Crap.
“Fear causes blunders. Be confident. You know how to ride a bike.”
I wasn’t counting on it, but I was hoping I could catch a group of cyclists heading south so I could ride with them, much like I did with the peloton. And sure enough, two cyclists were stopped at the red light when I approached. I asked if I could tag along because I was nervous, and they nodded. I was escorted the whole five miles, and they signaled every single bump on the road, an indication they really were watching out for me.
After that, I knew I would be okay and arrived home breathing a huge sigh of relief but with time to spare. I still had another hour I could ride.
Though my body was fine after the thirty miles, my mind was spent. I was shaky as if it was the first time I was ever on my bike. It seemed my demons saw an opening of doubt and tried to come barreling through.
I can’t say my demons have lost. But they haven’t won either because as soon as I finish this post, I am going out for a ride.