This weeks’ post is from guest author Erik Klausen aka Ferret. He’s a former trip leader for Escape and is currently fighting fires in the Las Vegas Metro area when he’s not meeting up with the crew for mountain bike rides.
There was a time when I only rode alone. In fact, my first years on the bike were a one-man wolf pack affair. In junior high, I rode alone because I couldn’t keep up with anyone. My rigid high-tensile steel bike and doughboy physique ensured that I was too embarrassed to join any organized trail excursion, no matter how strict the no-drop policy. I got a shop job, bought a better bike, and for the next few years I continued to ride alone. Eventually I rode alone because I didn’t want to wait for anyone else. I had ridden alone for so long, I had never developed the cycling social skills to be part of a group ride. I had only one speed: training ride. Despite race finishes that could charitably be described as mediocre, I continued to prepare for the next one and had no room in my riding schedule for camaraderie. I had evolved into a loner so gradually I didn’t even realize my social ineptitude until I found myself riding with no fewer than four other people on every ride for three full summers.
Apparently unemployable despite my eye-wateringly expensive education, after college I headed west on a conditional job offer from the only place that gave me one: Escape Adventures out of fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. Like most of my trips, I made the drive out there solo as well, in an Aerostar loaded with 4 bikes and high hopes for self-enlightenment. The job, as I understood it, involved a lot of what I was already doing: driving a van and riding my bike. I was a decent wrench thanks to my years in the shop, I could ride all day and I guess Jared just figured I would learn the rest along the way. There was no test for group-ride leadership, and that was good, because I might never have made it past the first interview.
I’m fairly certain that my first few attempts at guiding rides were pretty rough. I was not used to riding with anyone, let alone trying to manage the pace of a wildly disparate group of riders. Making sure guests didn’t miss tricky trail junctions or get stranded with a flat added even more stress to what had always been a zen activity. I told myself that riding with the group was part of the job, so there was no need to try and crush it. But despite my best efforts to heel to the leash of the group, I still rode ahead and looped back, or waited for the group to get ahead then hammered to catch up. I couldn’t seem to find the flow of the ride. It was all stop and go, hurry up and wait. After years of going at my own pace, I was struggling to figure out how a group ride worked.
Things got better though, I started to find the flow in the riding ahead and turning around. I learned to relax and started to appreciate all the things I’d been missing. Even when not riding all together, there was a sense of shared experience knowing that someone was just behind or ahead of me on the trail. Technical climbs were bested with witnesses to prove it and someone to called you out for taking the chicken line. It was nice to know that someone would be able to help you with your flat, straighten your hanger or take a picture for you. Tour after tour, high-fives and ‘Yes, dude!’s proved fine substitutes for the iPod and HR monitor. Leading, sweeping or somewhere in the middle, rolling out with a group of people became the new normal. Without ever really realizing it, I became a social rider.
Given my choice these days, I’ll almost always choose to ride with people rather than alone. Partly this is due to my fear of dying wadded up in the bottom of a canyon and partly due to the fact that I genuinely like having other people around to share the ride. Chasing and being chased, holding someone’s wheel and taking their line, talking $hit and being challenged make the whole experience that much more fun. This isn’t to say that I don’t occasionally like to rip a Strava lap while listening to some death metal. It’s just that more often than not, I like being part of a pack.