Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Are You Talking to Me?

A few hours ago, I rolled onto the east side of Mercer Island on my way back downtown after a great ride through Medina, Kirkland, and Bellevue. A nice mellow loop around the south side of the island would be a great way to conclude my cycling on a picture perfect deep blue sky day.

As I casually motored along at around 200 watts of effort, I noticed that I was slowing gaining on a cyclist up ahead of me. As I caught him, I greeted him with a very pleasant “How ya doing?” and a wave, and then I proceeded past. He took a hard and surprised stare at me, didn’t utter a word, and gave me one of those “Where did you come from—no one was supposed to catch up to me” looks. Frequently it seems to be problematic to catch up to a rider gradually. If you just blow by someone, usually that’s it, you’re here, and then you are …gone.

As seems to occur so often in this situation, this guy immediately jumped onto my wheel, and stuck like glue as I worked my way up through the shaded turns. I’m never happy when somebody I don’t know latches onto my wheel, but given the damp, leaf covered slick road, as well as the low winter light, I really was not comfortable. Especially so, when I realized that he was weaving around to stay behind me as I took the whole lane to pick the safest line. If the roads could have only been a little bit wetter! He wouldn’t have wanted a dirt mustache, and he would have backed off.

I speeded up a little, but I knew it would be to no avail. People like this either don’t get the message, or they are so lacking in social skills that they don’t understand the message.

As politely as I could, I slowed down, waved him up, and said “No offense, but I’m really not comfortable with somebody I don’t know following me”. I told him to go ahead if he wanted, and he waved me off—still not a word uttered, but he did give me his best Robert Diniro “Are you talking to me” look.

Once again I moved ahead, and once again he stuck to me like a cheap suit. Hmmm, this was becoming just a little aggravating. Finally he spoke up, saying “Fine, go, but I don’t what your problem is with people following”. Not thinking I owed him an explanation, I told him that I assumed that I was riding a little faster than him (as I had caught up to him), and that I simply wanted to do my ride alone.

As I again went ahead, we came to the last little uphill section before the flat at the end of all of the hairpin turns on the east side as you ride clockwise. I stepped on it a little bit, and he stood up and sprinted to match me! I told him that my intention was not to race him, and he mumbled something and just waved me away. I thought I finally might have some peace and serenity, but no, he just stayed 20’ behind me! I rode for awhile at between 220 and 260 watts, and he was still there.

Finally, I said screw this, I’m going to ride the way I had intended, and I backed it off to 200-220, still harder than I had been going prior to catching him. He motored by on the drops, I suppose intent on proving something to someone he would never see again.

I smiled to myself, and thought “Good for him, I hope he’s happy now”.

That thought stayed with me briefly, but I subconsciously found myself steadily pedaling harder and reeling him in. I guess I wanted to make him pay for ruining the Karma of my ride around Mercer Island!

I would creep up behind him, let him know I was there with a few gear changes, and then watch him latch back onto the drops, and put his head down, determined to stay ahead. Little did he know, I was only going to ride as hard as I needed to ensure that he paid the price by having to ride over his head.

We were nearly done with the loop, and I was still playing this little cat and mouse game, when I noticed a rider in full team kit slowly gaining on the two of us. Now this dynamic should be interesting! As the rider rolled up next to me, I said hi, and told him that the guy ahead really didn’t like to be passed. As we followed 20-30’ behind, I told him the whole story, and he shook his head and said he was thinking the two of us were really hammering as he was having to put down 250 watts just to stay with the pace, and it took a big effort for him to catch us.

For the rest of the loop, the team kit guy and I had a nice chat, fully aware that at least half of what we said surely was overheard by the mystery man up ahead. The three of us descended down the west side, and I bid goodbye as I took a left turn for a little shortcut to the lower platform of the I90 Bridge. The team kit rider told me he would say hi for me when he passed the guy on the final hill up to the top of the bridge. I laughed and replied that I liked his chances. By now that guy up ahead would be lucky to just make it up the hill, let alone hold off team kit guy.

I briefly thought about joining him, but there just didn’t seem to be any point to prolonging this escapade.

This entire adventure need not have occurred. All it would have taken would have been a friendly reply to my initial greeting. He could have asked if I minded if he joined me for the ride. Is that such a foreign concept?

It’s likely that I would have ultimately said no, but I surely would have ridden along with him for awhile and exchanged pleasantries. After all, I wasn't in any hurry.

The resulting parting of the ways would have had a whole different feel to it, and he would not have had to bury himself to stay in front!

Of course, I wouldn’t have had anything to write about today, other than to say I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving.

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