Every once in a while, I force myself outside my comfort zone.
When it comes to cycling, that could come in a variety of forms - steep downhills, challenging uphills, inner-city traffic, even trying to eat my energy bars and ride at the same time. Trust me, they're all outside my comfort zone.
I guess I was feeling a little bit daring on Sunday, so I decided to try a never-been-ridden route.
Let me clarify. It's not that the route had never been ridden by anyone. I wasn't blazing a trail and going where no man has gone before. Actually, it was quite the opposite, as I discovered along the ride when I saw clearly marked "bike route" signs on the roadside shortly into my ride.
But I'd never ridden it. And for this girl - the one who likes to stick to what (and where) she knows when it comes to riding - that was daring enough.
TC planned a 55-mile route through the towns on the west side of the city. I, for some reason, was feeling the tug to head east. (The fact that his mapped route showed a bit of red in the elevation chart did not play into my decision, I swear, although in hindsight maybe it should have.)
I mapped out a new route on the computer, inspired by a driving trip we took to the coast on some back roads on Saturday. The shoulders seemed wide, the traffic was relatively light and the roads meandered through some towns that I'd never explored by bike.
When it was all mapped, my route would give me a little more than 44 miles.
We geared up, prepared our water bottles and stuffed a few bucks in our pockets to stop for more water and Gatorade. The temps were into the 90s and we both planned long-ish rides, so two bottles wouldn't be enough to keep us hydrated.
Just as we pulled the bikes out, TC noticed he had a flat back tire. He used his spare tube to fix the flat in our kitchen - he's been getting a lot of those lately! - so I gave him mine to carry with him. Playing the odds, it was far more likely that he'd flat before me.
I joked that, despite the fact that I haven't had a flat since my third ride ever, handing him my spare and going out solo on a ride would surely jinx me. (You already know what's going to happen, right?)
Let me say, I don't really believe in "jinxes" and superstitions. I'll walk under a ladder without giving it a second thought. More black cats have crossed my path than I can count. And I'm pretty sure I haven't experienced any ill-effects from any broken mirrors. Lucky charms? None.
Despite that, I now firmly believe that there's something about handing your spare to someone that apparently guarantees that you'll get a flat.
Call it bad luck or being jinxed - or maybe chalk it up to the fact that I've put 1,500+ miles on my bike since my last one. Whatever the reason, a couple of hours later - 2 hours and 21 minutes, to be exact - I was cruising down a hill on Route 28 in Derry, clicking upwards of 30 miles per hour, when I heard the distinct sound: Pfffffssssffffssss.
I glanced back at my rear tire and saw it limping along - not quite with a thud or a bump, but most certainly with that flat sound and feel. I looked down at my odometer. I was at the 37.5-mile mark. Ugh, almost made it.
A mere seven miles from home. Not bad, considering I'd planned a 40+ miler. But still, seven miles is a long way to walk a bike home, especially while wearing cycling shoes. I walked about a quarter-mile to a small, somewhat rundown convenience store that provided a place to sit and wait.
As I walked my bike into the lot, surely sweating like crazy from the summer heat and pavement, a man on a motorcycle watched me. "Goes faster if you ride it," he said, as I walked by him. My, you're very funny and witty, sir. Oh, by the way, thanks for asking if I need help.
I pulled out my iPhone and sent a text to TC: Flat..........no joke. (I can be kind of a smart ass sometimes and I thought he might think I was joking, especially given our exchange earlier.)
I followed the text up with a voicemail, giving him my exact location and asking him to call me to let me know he got the message. At least I'd know he was on his way. I just hoped his ride had gone as planned and that he was on schedule. If everything did, it wouldn't be a long wait.
The wait wasn't particularly long - maybe 45 minutes from the time I got the flat until TC pulled up to rescue me. I passed the time by sitting on an old brick flower box in the parking lot, playing with my various iPhone apps, checking email and exploring sites on the web browser.
I even inputted my workout into the Dailymile mobile site. (At this point it was safe to say my workout was complete.) I'd gotten 37.5 miles in - and averaged around 16 miles an hour, which is very fast for me - so I still felt good about it.
As I sat there, a cyclist passed - the same one I'd passed on the way down the hill, just before the flat. At that point, he'd just gotten to the top of the climb and was going pretty slow, but we still managed to exchange the Cyclist Wave.
By the time I saw him again - as I sat there with my broken bike - he was on the return trip and flying down the hill. "Nice hills, huh?" he called out with a wave and a smile. I assumed he thought I was resting from the hilly road.
I debated trying to flag him down, call out to him or otherwise let him now I wasn't just resting. I'm sure he would have pulled over to help and lend me a spare tube, if he had one. It's kinda the cyclists' code.
But I didn't. Instead, I just enjoyed the sunshine and waited for my knight in shining armor to arrive. Soon enough, he was there - exhausted from his challenging ride and oozing with apologies and guilt for taking my spare tube.
I totally wasn't mad. I wasn't frustrated. I was actually, believe it or not, in great spirits. I'd managed to get a good ride in, perhaps the longest solo ride I've taken. I'd pushed myself outside my comfort zone and tried a new route.
Next time, maybe I'll try to make it the whole 44 miles.