March 4, 2002
Faking It

I knew it was wrong to fake it. But I faked it anyway.

Deep down inside, I knew I should just come right out and tell David the truth: that it wasn't working for me, the way it was supposed to work ... that it wasn't anything HE was doing wrong: the problem was all  ME ... that I'm sure if we worked together on our technique, as a couple, we would eventually be successful. (And then maybe I would finally understand what all the *hoopla* was about.) But I didn't tell him any of these things.  Instead I faked it, just to spare his feelings.

And that was wrong.

Privately, I figured that this was just one of those things, like mental telepathy, or winning the Miss Universe Pageant -- or actually enjoying Japanese garage rock from the 60's -- that *I* simply wasn't meant to experience.

Until this weekend, that is.

It's called "drafting." In bicycling lingo, it refers to a riding technique where one cyclist rides behind another -- sometimes directly behind them, sometimes behind them and a little bit off to the side -- using the front cyclist as a windbreak. It helps reduce air resistance, meaning that the person riding in back doesn't have to work as hard. The low pressure pulls you forward, while the wake pushes you along.

Or at least that's the theory.

David has been talking about "drafting" ever since we first started riding together last year. A lot of the riding we do around Alameda (and elsewhere) is shoreline riding,  meaning that we are often dealing with wind. I've discovered, during my eleven month bike-riding *career,* that wind can be even more brutal a personal foe than hills, leg cramps and snooty Spandex terrorists put together. Plunge me headfirst into a stiff breeze, and I crumple like an Origami swan in a hurricane. So David is constantly encouraging me to move in closer and ride directly behind him, taking advantage of the aerodynamic benefits of drafting.

"Isn't that better?" he'd shout encouragingly, as I trailed a dispirited and exhausted eight inches from his bumper. 

I would just sort of nod and grimace -- Gosh yes, honey! Lots better! -- while all the while it felt like some great cosmic leaf-blower was trained on my little red Schwinn from all directions. It didn't matter whether I was riding eight inches or eight feet behind him: it felt exactly the same.

Drafting -- if there really was such a thing -- was obviously way overrated.

On Saturday morning, though, we headed back to Fremont to tackle the Alameda Creek Trail ... a scenic, twelve-mile stretch of bike trail running from the bucolic community of Niles, through the Coyote Hills area and all the way down to San Francisco Bay. We discovered this trail a couple of weekends ago -- we rode about half of it that first day, from the freeway to the bay -- but this time we were going to do the entire trail and back. Twenty-four miles total.

The first three-quarters of the ride were mostly uneventful ... and mostly painless. We rode through miles of peaceful countryside, past rolling green hills, past fields of mustard in full bloom, past salt marshes populated by Canadian geese and the occasional egret or hawk. At one point we stopped and had an impromptu picnic: dried plums, energy bars and bottled water. An hour and a half later, when we finally made it to the bay, we paused for a moment to appreciate the spectacular view: the San Mateo Bridge to our north, the Dumbarton Bridge to our south, San Francisco across the bay, and -- directly across from where we stood -- Redwood City, Palo Alto and Foster City.

It was the final quarter of the ride, while pushing our way uphill from the bay through Coyote Hills,  that we ran smack dab into my nemesis.


And not just any wind, either, but a brutal, bazillion-mile-an-hour wind blowing straight down off of Sunol Ridge.

It was like riding a fudking exercise bike. I pedalled and pedalled and pedalled, as fast and as hard as my little legs would go, and yet I never seemed to budge an inch. As a matter of fact it almost felt like I was moving backwards. "Move in behind me!" David shouted, and I reluctantly nosed the Schwinn into the spot on his rear bumper. For all the good it's going to do me, I thought.

And that's when it happened. There was a subtle shift in air pressure -- a change in the *vortex molecules* swirling all around me -- and all of a sudden pedalling got easier. All of a sudden I felt some forward momentum again. All of a sudden the pain in my leg muscles and lower back eased up, and my heart quit threatening to implode in my chest, and I could breathe semi-normally again.

Holy shidt! I was drafting!

Sheltered in the little cocoon of windbreak, directly behind David, I'd accidentally found a temporary comfort zone. Don't get me wrong: riding uphill into the wind still sucked. It was still tough and horrible and painful, and I hated it and I hated David and I hated whoever had invented bicycles in the first place. But the degree of suckiness and horribleness and hatred dipped appreciably.

The reprieve didn't last for long. A quarter of a mile or so up the trail, I hit a bump and abruptly slid out of the comfort zone and back into the wind. By this point, though, the worst of it was over and we were now heading into the final stretch. Nothing but a gently sloping incline for the next three or four miles back to the Subaru. But for those couple of minutes -- when I needed it most -- drafting came to my rescue and made it possible for me to keep going.

Now I'm a believer.

The best part is that this drafting stuff isn't all about *me.* When drafting works the way it's supposed to, it helps the person in front almost as much as it helps the person riding in back. Two people who are drafting put out less energy -- yet cover the same distance in the same time -- as two people who aren't drafting.

In other words: it's possible to enjoy *simultaneous drafting.*

In the meantime, I swear on a stack of Bay Area Bicyclist Magazines that I'm never ever going to fake anything with David, ever again. It's wrong and it's stoopid and it's counterproductive. Our marriage deserves better than that. I'm not going to pretend something is working when it isn't ... or pretend that I understand something when I don't ... or pretend that I like something when I don't. As a matter of fact, as soon as I get home tonight I'm going to sit David down, look him straight in the eye ...

... and tell him how I really feel about 60's Japanese garage rock.

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