First, the good news. It was a great training weekend for the NYC tri (Olympic distance), which is coming up in two weeks. Not fast, but lots of hills and very beneficial for bike-riding skills and confidence. 58 miles, 43 miles, c. 50 miles (more about that below).
Also, I now have what I think is a sensible plan for next-step fear-of-bike conquering.
When I got this bike last summer, the whole thing was totally new to me, I had not had a bike since I was eight years old or, probably, even ridden anyone else's (not that I can remember, anyway). And I got a serious road bike, and I got the clipless pedals and shoe-cleat combo recommended by the fellow who also gave me (what I still think was a very good) recommendation on what bike to purchase. Because the gleam of triathlon was very bright in my eye!
(It is a Specialized Roubaix--the cheapest one, I hasten to add; it cost a few hundred less than the bottom-end one listed there. My mother had better not click on that link, though, or she will be mildly horrified by extravagance!)
And everything about riding was totally terrifying to me, so I ignored the doubtless sensible advice that perhaps I would be better off with non-clipless pedals. Indeed the more experienced cyclists I spoke with seemed very confident that I would quickly grow used to 'em--and precisely because everything was so scary (including speediness and responsiveness of bike itself and general fear of everything to do with cars and traffic) I could not separate out the constituent parts.
I kept my eyes and ears open this weekend, though, including paying attention to how I was feeling and what in particular was making me scared, and after three days in a row of fairly serious riding I can say that though I still feel pretty nervous on steep downhills, and I am sure that will continue to be the case, I was doing quite a bit better with that today than yesterday, even going down Bear Mountain. And though I am also sure I will continue to feel nervous about left turns at intersections, that's life, I can accommodate it.
But all of the worst moments today were me having utter craven terror when I didn't make it through the light with the first part of the group and had to clip out and then clip back in at an intersection, and in fact starting up again after even a brief parking-lot rest involves elevated HR because of clipping-related anxiety, and there is no need for me to put myself through this!
I saw some other options that other riders had (mine are these Look ones, which I think for roadies seem very tame but for me are awful, they only go with the kind of bike shoes that you cannot walk in, and the whole thing makes me feel terminally unsteady when I am either stopped or in transition between stopping and going), and either I just shouldn't have cleats at all or else I should get more sensible ones that are super-easy to clip in and out of. You do feel safe when you are actually riding, I see why people think they are great--they are great for an actual race no doubt!--but if I am going to have clipless, it has to be that I can get in and out really easily and that I can actually walk properly in the shoes.
This has been a very long and roundabout way of getting to the point of saying that really, though again I would say that about 60% of today's ride was quite enjoyable, I was in utter shaking terror about 20 times (probably about 20 for 20, i.e. every time we stopped and started, particularly a few intersections where I was in utter craven fear!).
I had two flats, the first one was thoroughly non-traumatic (back wheel, only realized as I lagged further & further behind which was not at all the case the rest of the weekend, then sudden DOH! realization of that distinctive flat-tire sound and feel, called ride leader to leave message and set about taking off the back wheel myself). Two very nice folks (leader and sweeper) came back and helped me, no problem getting back on the road and riding up to where the rest of the group were waiting.
The second one came very near the end of the ride. It was Tenafly/Englewood-type area, really only about five miles from the GW Bridge. Just after an intersection, I realized I had another flat, this time the front wheel. I called out to the rider in front of me (the group was heading left up a hill that I think may be Church Road?) and headed into an empty parking lot. But the floppy tire and rim caught on a sort of rut going into the lot (you know, where if you headed over on the straight perpendicular it would probably be OK even with a flat tire, but a sideways approach makes you vulnerable) and the bike went flying...
I was at a very slow speed at that point--I scraped my right elbow and shin, and I can feel by now that they're a bit bruised, but really I wasn't much hurt, more shaken. Sweeper and another rider came back for me immediately, but the fact of the matter was that I was done for the day--once they had cleaned me up and replaced the tube and tire, I could see it would be better to get back on the bike, but I was so shaky and nervous (and really, frankly, had been pretty much on the verge of hyperventilating from anxiety a lot of times already that day!) that it was prudence rather than cowardice that made me figure I'd be best off getting home via car service...
The rest of the group was waiting ahead, and the two riders with me waited with me in the lobby of the Clinton Inn for the car to come. It was a huge van (with a quite lovely driver whose card I now have in case of future NJ-cycle-related mishap--or, more happily, airport trips! We really had an awfully nice conversation on the way home, it was most soothing), we dropped off the two riders and their bikes with the rest of the group & let the worried leader see that really I was fine, and then I came home in the car. I am sorry I didn't finish the ride, but I am sure this was the more sensible way.
And tomorrow I will go to the bike store (I will put on my sneakers and ride my bike down through Riverside Park, I know I must be back on it as soon as possible, and in fact I do not feel terrified, it was not an accident, just a minor mishap) and get new tires put on and sort out a more suitable pedal and shoe arrangement. Unfortunately when I got the bike they did not give me the regular plain pedals it came with to keep, since I was getting those other ones, but it will be clear to me once I'm there what will be the best thing.
(Yes, I know I should have told them to give me the other ones to keep as a back-up, but I did not think of it!)
So: my first real serious bike-riding weekend. Verdict: sort of more stressful than anything I have done in the last few years other than two multi-day on-campus job interviews (really this weekend was much more stressful than either of those, those are bad in the anticipation but I enjoy 'em once they get going!) and one out-of-town trip to a college classmate's funeral, but a significant step forward in terms of triaspirationality...
(And I found out all sorts of other useful things too--I am going to try and do the SIG-C training thing next year, it is exactly what I need but I found out about it too late this year to get in on it. In the meantime, now I know that I could go on any of the club's C-rides and be fine in terms of fitness and that minor mishaps on the road are eminently survivable...)
(I am not crazy about the social aspect of bike-riding, really I would rather be at home reading a book or wasting time on the internet, the tooling-around aspect of yesterday's ride was sort of confusing to me! Like--why ride all the way to Cold Spring for lunch just so that you can ride back again?!? But that is just me...)
(I think this must be the longest Triaspirational post ever--now I really have to go shower, eat, drink water, etc. etc., but really my urge to blog is always stronger than any of the above!)