I rarely do group rides, because it usually works out that I'm faster than the slower folks, but slower than the fastest folks. I end up soloing much of the ride, with only the thought of those before and behind me to keep me company. Kind of disappointing after all the effort of getting to the roll-out on time.
Last night was different. I joined an after-work ride. It was, for once in recent weeks, a gorgeous night in Western Mass, a true early-summer evening: Temps in the high 70s, cool breeze, big puffy clouds against lucid blue sky. Folks were friendly -- a good sign. Yeah, there was a little "my hard ride was harder than your hard ride," but very little.
Early on, I was in a group that slowly broke away, eventually also breaking the speed limit of the ride. We were forgiven, and allowed to run at our own speed. Run we did, working hard to keep up a brisk canter into the familiar Connecticut River headwind. As we crossed the bridge at South Deerfield and buzzed south on the other bank, the evening sky was stretched out on our right, and the fields, mountains and water all around us nearly glowed with perfection. I had a grand smile on my face the whole way, thinking, "I live here!"
What a refreshing change from solo riding all the time. I am, by nature, a social person; I generally feel most alive in interaction with others (hence my job as a psychotherapist). I ride solo a lot because it's hard to find friends who ride at my pace. I've had three dependable riding buddies in the three years since we moved to the Pioneer Valley, but all of them have since moved out of state. (The Valley is a very transient area, because its main industry is higher education.)
Solo has its rewards, but in a group, there's that constant sense of camaraderie, working together. Chatting is lots of fun -- jobs, good routes, bike parts -- but there's something subtle but powerful that happens when everyone clams up and falls to work. A mutual, unspoken agreement passes from the front to the back of the paceline, and in the silence, the whirring of gears, the insistent squeak of someone's cranky cranks, the click of gears changing, the wind in helmet straps, and the constant stream of data from my legs and lungs, all recede. In their place, for a few moments or minutes, comes an active calm, like being one of a swiftly moving school of fish that decides and acts as one, instantly and thoughtlessly. The worries that nibble at me all day -- and, to some degree, make me the individual that I am -- fall away, and it is good, good, good, to be part of a unit, and nothing more or less.
All in all, a good ride. There was a spontaneous sprint for a speed-reading unit along the road. There were half-serious breaks chased down half-seriously. There was bonhomie and soaking up of the sun. I think I'll be back.