Today I rode in memory of someone I have no memories of because I didn't know him. Terry Brown was a member of the North Cheshire Clarion cycling club, the club I have belonged to for two years. I seldom ride with them, life and other activities taking priority, but for me they are more of a convenience. A Saturday ride of guaranteed distance and duration, with folk who keep a reasonably decent pace, and where someone else, crucially knows the route. It takes away the need to think about route planning or map following, and I simply get to ride my bike along only gently undulating roads with friendly folk.
It's a club now 300 members strong, after just four years of being. It has a nice feel to it. Nearly half that number showed up this morning to hold a minute's silence for one of our own. Oddly his death kind of hit me. It hit me because I of that "one of our own" sense. How could somebody do this to someone like me. And that's also the crux of it. This is a first for me, well, maybe two firsts. Firstly, the first first is that on hearing of his death I identified with him. Up until now it seems that every other death or life threatening injury I've heard about catapults my mind into thinking about their wife, partner, family. I identify with the bereaved person or the carer because that's mostly where I've been, that's the feelings I understand, and it's also a bit of a support for the underdog. Being a carer in those situations is brutal, simply brutal, and before I'd gone through it, my understanding of the sheer exhausting pain and devastation on an ongoing basis was just so limited. First hand experience has changed me. But this time, I identified with the man down. There but for the grace of god go I every time I commute to work. The second first was my suspended belief in the "how could this happen to someone like me". Nearly a decade ago now I stopped thinking "things like this don't happen to people like me". My brutal world told me to expect things like that to happen, or at least not to be surprised or phased in anyway when things unpleasant and unnecessary happen. Bad things happen to anyone. It's part of life. Yet here I was, thinking how could this happen to someone like me. I guess change is blowing through leafy canopy of my brain.
The National Clarion have a motto of "No rider left behind" and they have an almost frighteningly organised system to make sure that they are true to that. We have various shouts of Tail and Pace to make sure those having a bad day don't get left behind. You kind of roll with the punches a little bit as to what's going to happen in the grupetto you have elected to join. Sometimes you all in military precision step on the pedals, and sometimes you dawdle along waiting for the person with the hangover / chest infection / six months off the bike / first time group riding / just not that fast. And nobody minds if the pace is slightly slower than advertised.
Today I selected my ride leader (we split into groups of 8) based on his physique. Short, carrying a bit of timber. He didn't look too fast. A group of mixed age range and body types, with mine the only female. I like riding with all male groups, I'll be honest, women tend to slow the damn thing down. I avoid girls. Over the course of the ride, we lost, by agreement, two riders. The first turned off for home realising it just wasn't happening for him. And the pace increased. We break formation at hills, and I think me panting past one of the other riders finished him off. We regrouped at the top of the hill, and he managed to get some words, one of which included "bonked" out, and he headed for home. Then it got interesting. The war of attrition had reduced 8 to 6. Who was going to be next, I wondered. My answer was the bearded dude next to me. Neither of us were capable of carrying out conversation as the pace started to punish us, but somehow when I saw him slipping behind I managed the yell of "pace" to get our leader to slow down. It was good, I wasn't the worst, I didn't represent womanhood badly I feel, staying in the group.
Interestingly, and I know I'm harping on, I find it increasingly weird that there's discussion and argument circling around on various cycling websites about how our cycling clubs don't cater for women. I don't know what other women are looking for from a club. I really like that my club caters for cyclists. I don't need anything special; I don't need help with punctures, I don't need a coffee stop, I don't need a wheel to sit on and I don't need to be given a pink option in the club kit.
What is it, I wonder, that women want?