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There were five others waiting when I arrived for a local Sunday-morning ride. It was the Simsbury Free Bike Posse's first of the year as a group. Their leader was Larry, who I've mentioned before. Larry is in his early 60s and rode more than 8,000 miles last year, and the warm winter allowed him to log another 1,500 to start this one by the time we convened in late March. Still, he was eager to participate in the fiction that his season was beginning—as, in fact, it was for the rest of us. "Easy route," he called out. "Rolling terrain. Nothing too hard."
"This'll be a confidence builder," Larry told me as we set off. "At this point you don't want to do anything that might make you think it's going to be a lousy year. And you don't want to get hurt."
I asked him if he did anything special for early-season rides.
"I take a leave," he said.
This confused me. Did he say he takes a leak? That would make sense for an older male rider. I made him say it again.
"I take Aleve," he repeated. "You know, the pain reliever."
Ah! Everyone seemed to be talking about how they were in terrible shape and nursing a sucking chest wound. "It's your ass," said Steve Mitchell, a car dealer who, paradoxically, is a big bike advocate. "Your ass is the most vulnerable part when you're building yourself back up."
My ass was okay, but the rest of me was feeling pretty vulnerable. I'd been semi-disciplined while trying to ride through the winter for the first time, but I had struggled with frozen feet. For a while I used HotHands foot warmers, which heat up upon contact with air, but when I started thinking about them they freaked me out. How do they do that? Are they made of spent nuclear fuel rods?
So I stopped riding. Eventually I discovered the booties that let your cleats poke through, which are a godsend even if the word "booties" makes you feel stupid. But by then I'd skipped about six weeks.
Getting back on the bike, I now realized, comes in two phases. There was today—my first official ride of the season. And then there were the two times earlier in the week when I'd ridden by myself, just to make sure I wouldn't completely suck. The first time I rode alone I threw up, and the second time I flatted. Omen-wise, this was not a promising turn of events, but I preferred to get these things over with before rejoining the human cycling race. Now I knew enough to avoid chicken Guadeloupe for lunch and the bike lane land-mined with nails.
Larry's course took us out through the (indeed rolling) back roads of Simsbury, which is the only true bike-friendly town in Connecticut, according to the League of American Bicyclists. In this one midsize suburb, cycling has taken hold like UFOs in Roswell. This year the locals are dedicating some kind of bicycling-related sculpture. ("Lady Justice Weighing a Contador Urine Sample"?) The free-bike program is open for rides on a converted railbed.