So, I'm out on my Friday night one-hour sprint to purge the work week's poison. Had not been out on a bike since Sunday, and had not been on the road bike since KevinF pulled me along on pavement three weeks ago. I'm 12 or 15 miles in and come to a stop sign. I have to clip out and put a foot down because several cars are coming, and one of them is actually driving ON the shoulder, so noodling in a slow, tight circle seems suddenly risky. (I'm not a track stand master.) As I look more carefully, I see that the approaching cars are actually stacked up behind another rider. There must have been oncoming traffic preventing them from passing him easily. Anyway, this guy tools by and he's got the classic commuter setup: shoebox-sized bag perched on top of a rear rack, flat bar, several blinkies, fluorescent jacket, two mirrors, etc. I wait for the cars, clip in, and start to ride up to this dude. Or so I think!
We're on a relatively flat section, which gradually transitions to a slight downgrade. I'm in the drops, in the big ring. He's maybe 150 meters ahead. Half a mile later I'm still more than 100 meters back. Awkward 90 degree left turn onto a different street coming up, with sand all the way across the apron. You can't cut it off because there is no line of sight to cars emerging from the street. Guy disappears behind a rise. When I crest it, he's gone. He must have taken my turn! Time for me to make the corner now ... not my best effort. Crap. There he is, now 150 meters up again, or more. Damn! Okay, now I'm really after it. Who is this dude, riding the slow bike fast? This road is rolling but mostly up. Looks easier than it is. I am hurting. I am catching up, but SLOWLY. He is up there, standing on the pedals, turning over this stupid huge gear. I start to wonder if it's a singlespeed with a big value or something, because he never seems to get past a cadence of about 20rpm. But he is MOVING. WTF?
Okay, I say to myself, I have to just spin up with as much dedication and focus as I can muster, but stay within myself, because obviously I am not going to catch this rider, whoever the hell he is, with one big anaerobic push. So, I do that. And gradually I inch up. It takes me two miles of this, and I am really, really working, but eventually we get to a down-up sequence where I make up a lot of ground in a short period, and then I know I can finish it. I roll up to the guy and tell him how impressed I am with his riding. I'm barely coherent, I'm panting so hard. He turns around and he's an older dude, with a very weather-worn face. He resists my praise. Introduces himself. "Peter." Turns out he rides every other day, 30 - 50 miles. He's 72, he says. We ride side by side for a mile or so. Slowly, thank God. He starts telling me stories about riding in Utah, explaining that he rides standing up because he got so saddle sore out there on the first day of a three-day trip years ago, he couldn't sit down for the rest of the tour, and just never bothered sitting down again after that. He was a super-nice man. I suck, but I have hope that maybe I will suck less in 22 years.