I happened to be in Miami Florida the weekend of Miami Gravel, an organized race on the edge of the Everglades. Being a bike geek with a gravel bike, I, of course, decided to show up and represent in the 50 to 59 year old category. I am not sure who I was representing but I figured with a decent level of fitness combined with living at 8000 feet above sea level, I could handle the 56 mile race no problem. Thankfully my wise cycling geek friend Danny strongly suggested I avoid the need to race the 108 mile course by tactfully suggesting I had no business riding that distance off the couch. I am grateful he used the opposite approach that my wife uses which is something like, “Are you sure you should be out there with all those people that know what they are doing?” That approach does not work well for me with my, “oh yeah, I will show you” mindset. Nevermind the longest ride I have done in at least 6 months is 25 miles.
On race day, I put my bike inside the Tesla (using a rack drains the battery range rather quickly) and drive to race headquarters which doubles as a brewery. Not a bad combo. About 20 minutes out, I see my first glimpse of what is to come; a tricked out Sprinter Van with two high dollar gravel bikes on the back. Based upon the race start time, they are racing the 50 mile course which means there will be at least two serious riders besides me. I follow them to the Brewery/bike event since I have no idea where I am or where I am going and as we pull in, it quickly becomes apparent that the tribe is here. I mean full on gravel bike culture. Freak show. Guys warming up 30 minutes prior, beards, tattoos, requisite sprinter vans; I might as well be at Steamboat Gravel. When I mention warming up, race time temperature was 68 degrees and guys were wearing vests and arm warmers. I scoff.
While going through my pre-ride preparation, you know getting chamois on without showing your parts to your parking lot neighbor, etc. and while picking up my race packet, I hear every language but English. Now I pride myself on being fairly handy with linguistics. I am fluent in Ski Bro, Texan, Motorhead, Corporate Speak and 80’s rock, but I did not recognize any languages. There goes the myth that cycling is for rich white people.
Being an outsider, I paid close attention to the race organizer’s instructions and warnings. I figured a little humility would be appealing giving my high level of red blood cells generated by my short life at sea level. Stern Warning #1, there is gravel and you could crash. Check. Stern Warning #2, there is a mud bog section that is ridable but challenging, hmm. Stern Warning #3, watch for alligators. Stern Warning #4, download the course to your bike computer so you do not get lost. Duly noted.
We have the typical race start bullpen frenzy despite the fact that the announcer made it clear it was a neutral start for the first mile. No neutral here, just hammer down from the get go. Remember those guys warming up, now I know why. They are serious. 2 miles into the race and we have our first crash. Apparently he was not paying attention to Stern Warning #1. $70 down the drain but at least he gets his free beer before the rush. I settle into a pace line at about 18 miles an hour thinking, cake. I will breeze through this no problem. Of course being the tallest rider in Dade County, I end up pulling the pace line for what seemed like 15 miles. I get my turn to sit in the back and try to recover until I feel my rear rim hitting rocks. That’s a bad sign. I stop to put more air in the tire while thinking my pace line friends will slow down and wait for me. Wrong. They are in a race. No one even said thanks for the pull, although I might not have understood what they said because it did not fall into any of my aforementioned language skills.
Now I am playing catch up and discovering the great equalizer of sea level; wind. The wind was relentless and seemingly either straight headwind or sidewind. Riding along I started doing some higher level math about the inverse proportion of wind speed to bike speed. After about 45 minutes I calculated I was actually riding at 22 miles per hour not the 13 that my bike computer was reading. As my luck would have it, my former pace line group missed a turn and I caught up with them. Clearly they ignored Stern Warning #4 and I quietly celebrate. Now we have a new member of our group on a mountain bike who came out of nowhere. He pulls alongside me with a big grin and says, “I am celebrating today, I am 51 and I am thankful to be here!” I, of course, wanted to ask him if he knew Sally O’Malley, but figured that would be a waste of energy as I was back to trying to hang onto my group. I congratulated him and he says to me, “You look like you have a few summers on you as well.” He is correct. And tactful.
30 miles in we come to the mud bog. It was disappointing. It was really an enlarged mud puddle that causes my group to slow down with caution. Second gal through falls. I am looking for the alligator given my acute memory of the Stern Warnings. I ride past because I am a skilled bike handler and have no time for pity. She should have paid more attention.
35 miles in I am silently thanking Danny for his wisdom. My body hurts. I can not get comfortable on my bike. Triceps, shoulders, toes, neck all reminding me that I have not ridden quite enough to be comfortable or competitive. I rode the last 15 miles with a new friend from Boston. Shared suffering is really a community builder. I drug him along in my wake and we finished together. He finished second in his age group (60) while I finished well down the list. How could one year of age make such a difference? Did I mention the wind? It got worse. As I rode through the finish line, the wind blew the event sign over into a parked car and broke the back window.