When a teenage child wants to spend time in an activity with a parent, and that particular activity promotes health, there are two reasons not to say, "Not now, honey, I'd rather stay inside and can the tomatoes." That's how I came to be atop a bicycle yesterday riding on Skyline Boulevard, a road known throughout the Portland area as a training ground for serious cyclists. That would not be me.
The ride humiliated me. On weekend days on Skyline, you see more bicyclists than motorists. It's where Portlanders go to train for Cycle Oregon, where members of cycling clubs swarm en masse, like hoards of jewel-toned hornets. I tried to make self-deprecating small talk with a group of four who passed us, within minutes of our start, on a painful hill on our road, a road so steep in spots that motor homes must be strategic about how they approach it, but they weren't interested in consorting with someone who was wearing her gardening shoes, had her dirt-stained pants rolled up to keep them out of the chain, and wore a tee shirt that was not made of vibrant synthetic fibers.
Too busy in their search for the sweet nectar of total fitness to give us a smile or a cheery, "Nice day, isn't it?" to soften the blow of their superiority, the swarm moved ahead and soon out of sight.
The humiliation burned a bit, but I decided I'd feel the burn, and use it. After all, I was the mother here, with a responsibility to my daughter. There was obviously no way to look respectable among such sorts so I resorted to moral superiority. We decided we'd wave or say hello to every cyclist and see if we could make the world a better place. Awww.
I've always admired the small, very hip hand gesture motorcyclists give each other as they pass. Not an uncool hand-wag, just the left hand held out horizontally for a moment, enough to acknowledge another kindred spirit. So charming, and so friendly from folks dressed head to toe in skid-proof leather. I love the dichotomy.
And here we have cyclists, too caught up in themselves to say hello to me! And in my own neighborhood! I decided I'd become the welcome wagon lady of Skyline cycling. As we spun off our road on to Skyline Boulevard, I had my first chance, a solo cyclist, a woman, even better, because we women on bikes know from humiliation. I rode Cycle Oregon in 1996 and quickly got used to being passed like I wasn't even moving. That weeklong ride is a testosterone frenzy and if you aren't elite, the best advice I can give is to sit back on your tiny saddle and enjoy the passing parade of male butts in the air. That ride so completely exhausted my interest in cycling that I've been on my bike rarely since then.
So I fell in behind her and said something like, "Great day, isn't it?" and she actually responded! With warmth and some sympathy for our having had to deal with the hills on my road.
We had a great chat for half a mile or so, and she cheered my daughter's interest in cycling, and then buzzed on, leaving us all aglow. Some more women passed and I raised a hand and got a friendly response. But the men... I had no success there. The groups of them, it appears, cannot respond to casual Sunday cyclers in streetwear; it may even be written in their cycling club guidelines. On the hill up from Germantown Road, a solo older guy, one who should have learned at his age a little bit about the smoothing effect of small kindnesses, huffed by me, at a pace not much faster than my own, a pace that would have easily allowed him to turn and respond to my "hey," but he remained eyes forward, intent on his effort, ignoring me like I didn't exist.
I'm not deterred. The women I saw yesterday got it: effort is only part of life, and that getting ahead sometimes doesn't get you anywhere really important.