Monday, October 02, 2006

Almost Done in by Rex. Almost.

"That guy can't possibly be catching up with me," Howard thought, watching the looming Rex* in the mirror mounted to his bicycle helmet. "I'm pushing it pretty hard -- going 28 miles per hour on the flat, and nobody in town can sustain a pace much faster than that." And yet, Rex was closing in.

About six miles into Howard's ride today [Monday], he got passed. Passed with authority, even.

Rex was pleasant enough, saying, "Hi. Great day for riding." Howard agreed and smiled, trying not to look stressed by the fast pace or the fact of his being passed. But Rex was gone before Howard could utter more than, "It sure is."

Up ahead was a nice quarter-mile 5% climb, the kind that slows most riders down a lot. But not Howard, who hammers his way through a bit of discomfort in exchange for the recovery plateau at the top of the hill. He hoped Rex might not be good at climbing, allowing Howard the chance to catch up.

But no. This one was good. Rex slowed a touch at the top of the hill to briefly recover, but Howard needed to slow and recover as well. So Rex remained in the lead by about 30 yards.

Howard was determined not to allow the lead to expand any further than that, so he pushed his own pace beyond his own already-exceeded comfort zone that was abandoned a half-mile earlier when he first saw Rex in the rear-view mirror.

Together they rode the next three miles over hill and dale, Rex in the drops of his $4,000, carbon-framed, 17-ounce velobeast with the Italian name unpronouncable by human tongue, and Howard white-knuckling the hoods of his steel-framed, 28-pound Fuji Touring bike, hanging on for dear life.

Every now and again, Rex would turn around and glance back, seeing Howard clinging stubbornly to the decayed remnants of his wake, still 30 yards behind.

The neighborhoods gradually turned from suburban to rural, as houses gave way to barns, apartment blocks giving way to goats and horses, and city dogs giving way to country dogs. Still, the two of them kept pushing the pace into the mid- and high-20's.

Until Rex came up to a big left turn at a dairy, where he stood up on his pedals and hammered his way up to 30, then 32, then 34, confident that this breakaway would put satisfying distance between himself and his shadow -- aka Howard.

What Rex didn't know was that Howard makes this exact same move every day when riding through this stretch of road, speeding up briefly to face the long, slow climb leading to a sharp right turn a half-mile down the road. So Howard, who was already thinking he might catch Rex with this maneuver, at least kept the gap at the same 30 yards.

But Rex, thinking he had finally dropped Howard, no longer looked back. Another mile down the road, Rex finally eased up to relax and stretch. And that's when Howard blew past Rex, who briefly remounted a charge for another mile, before fading into the distant horizon of Howard's rear-view mirror.

Another one bites the dust.

Then Howard continued on for another 20 miles, albeit at a more sustainable pace.

*Rex is Howard's pet name for all cyclists who are delusional enough to think they're better riders than Howard. The name comes from the Tyrannosaurus Rex, who had massively muscled legs, but wimpy twigs for arms -- the standard physique for Seriously Serious Cyclists. Howard is almost Rex-ish, but he religiously does 70 pushups every morning to avoid this terrible fate.


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