Words: Alice E. Key
Illustration: Stephen Haynes
She said comfortable clothes. My powder blue linen short overalls are comfortable, and I like how they look with my dorky powder blue Mary Jane Birkenstocks. Just because it is a mountain bike ride, it doesn’t mean I have to look like an athlete. Besides, I don’t own a pair of sneakers or anything resembling exercise clothes.
It’ll be all right. It’s a bike ride and I’ve had my fully rigid Univega since sophomore year in college. I’ve biked into the hills of Bozeman, Montana, down to the beach in southern Maryland, and all over in Laramie, Wyoming. I’ll be fine.
“Matt,” I yelled. “What’s her name again?”
“Rene.” Rene, Rene, Rene. I’ve got to remember that. She doesn’t look like a Rene but more like Boudicca with that head of hair and smile. Man, I’m intimidated, but I’m going to do this.
Arriving at the address the Celtic warrior goddess gave me, I almost ride away. It doesn’t look like a bike shop, and I am early as usual. No one is around. I walk through what I assumed is the bike shop door, hoping to at least see a bike or two.
“Hey,” I call to a woman. “I was told to be here at 5:30 p.m. for a bike ride. I’m early. Is it happening?”
“Yeah, it usually happens. I’m not sure if I’m going this time.” She busied herself with boxes at a shelf.
“I’ll just wait outside.”
“OK. They’re rarely on time.”
I look at my watch a dozen times, but before I lose my nerve, a Suburban drives up with Rene. My heart pounds. I’m stuck. Others arrive and names are thrown at me. Eyes scan over my outfit and shoes as I look and see tight fitted black shorts with padded butts.
“What were you told about the group?” I’m asked.
“Oh, well, nothing really. Just dress comfortably.”
Several women nod at my answer. “No one told you that we mate-swap and fill our water bottles with whiskey?”
She laughs and puts her bike in the back of a truck. My bike is loaded with the others, and we drive to the trail called Penny Gulch. The efficiency of unloading swirls around me.
“It’s a great first ride,” someone tells me and a flask of whiskey is passed around.
I wish I were better with names; I’ll listen and catch it when someone else says it. I’m informed that the first part is steep, but the singletrack is worth the drive and the steep rutted dirt-road decent.
I get on my red bike and my legs feel like they lack bones. We pedal down the road, and riders disappear as they drop over the edge and down the steep washed-out barely-recognizable-as-a-road path. A few get off their bikes and walk. I get off and walk, avoiding the deep crevices.
“Walk today, ride tomorrow,” I hear and later, after a crash or two, learn of the layers this saying has.
The grass is a foot high, hiding a narrow band of dirt. Pedaling as fast as I can, switching gears and keeping on the trail, I work hard to keep up with the dust cloud before me. If I lose them, I’ll never find my way. I see them stopped ahead, waiting for me to catch up.
“How’s it going?” someone asks me.
“Great!” I say between catching my breath and erasing the silly grin I know lights my face.
Every whip of grass scratching up my legs and every dry riverbed crossing exhilarates my senses. I follow the dust cloud of the bikers ahead, glad I have worn my glasses instead of contacts. Every muscle starts to ache, and they are again stopped ahead. The sun starts to get closer to the horizon.
“Alice” Rene says as I reach the group. “There’s an option at this point. You and I can go back down the trail we came up while the others take a longer route out. It means biking along the road a bit, but …”
My face is red, drips of sweat roll down my head underneath my helmet, and my skin and powder blue shorts are coated with Wyoming desert dust.
“Thanks, Rene, I’ll ride with you,” I say, glad that I won’t be left in the desert to sing with the coyotes.
I follow her down the trail using the last ounce of my strength to keep up. Fortunately, the trail is a sweeping gentle down in a way I hadn’t noticed when it had been a climb. We walk the steep hill and ride the road to the vehicles. The sun slants its last rays among the resting bikes and discarded helmets. The dust-covered riders pass a flask, and I’m handed a bottle of microbrew. Cheese, crackers, dried meats, nuts and veggies lay on the tailgate of a pickup.
New scrapes and old scars are displayed with pride. I might like this tribe of joyous chicks. My inappropriate shoe choice is forgotten until the next new rider comes with her first riding outfit and experiences the Wednesday night biker chick ride for her first time.