Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Stalker On A Bicycle?

A couple of weeks ago I got to thinking about trust and the cycling community.

Why would I get into a truck with two men that I don't know, except that they had bikes in the back of their truck--and I was pretty much in a bind at the time.


What is it that would allow me to ride out into an unpopulated area with two strangers on bicycles?

A couple of years ago, riding back from Tijeras, a lightning storm erupted in front of me. I could see multiple strikes hitting the hills at the mouth of the canyon. I remember stopping the bike and feeling exposed and scared, almost naked on this piece of metal I was riding. Standing at the side of the road, I debated if I should knock on a strange door, or crawl down into a drainage ditch, when a truck, seeing my predicament, pulled up, bikes in the back, and offered a ride. Two of the nicest guys, and a whole boatload of relief.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a great ride up Tramway, caught up with a couple of guys, and asked them if they could take me through the large multi-lane intersection at Tramway and old Route 66, figuring that 3 bicycles were a whole lot safer than one lone, tiny female. I ended up meeting two of the nicest guys, Tony and Joseph, and we rode 20 miles out together. Both men had an extensive bicycle history. Tony used to do triathlons, Joseph was (obviously) a former bicycle racer (what a spin!).

When they invited me to continue with them, a part of me thought about riding so far out on these country roads with people I didn't know. I turned around because I was at my distance limit, but as they continued on, I returned alone, and thought about trust.

I wondered if cyclists are just a special breed of people,

or if having this same passion brings us all together,

or if everyone just seems nice on a bike, but some could really have another side to them that I don't see--

or if there are some really bad people out there on bikes, and I just haven't met them.

Knowing my naivete, I wondered if I could end up riding out with some really bad person and get myself into a bad situation.

Today, I was riding on Tramway, a slow, easy, spinning-the-pedals kind of ride, when a man rode up along side and told me that my seat was too high. I laughed and gave him some rationale. He then told me that I was not pedaling correctly. Again, I laughed, and gave him a rationale. He then made a comment about my hips not rocking on my seat, and I thought, "What? Was he riding behind me and checking me out? And, what's he doing talking about my hips!"

He asks me about a cycling event, and I tell him I don't do bicycle racing.
"Oh," he says, "You're a tri-ath-ah-lete."
It's an almost belittling comment, and I think about the ridiculous cyclist vs. triathlete perspective that some people have.

He keeps riding beside me and he never stops talking.
I hear a whole litany of medical woes.
I hear about his difficulties with weight gain.
I make a couple of gentle suggestions regarding habituation to exercise and the benefits of weight training to raise his basal metabolic rate. They are simple and effective, but he shrugs them off. At his age, and with the medical aspects that's he's enlightened me with, he can't afford to--but I don't push it.
He drops names and seems to know something about everyone we pass.
He used to ride with a local group.
He talks about endurance events.
He brings up some couple that rides tandems.
He talks and talks. He's a large man, with a big voice, and he talks until I can't hear myself think anymore.

He moved here a couple of years ago.
The altitude is still an issue.
He can't breath.
I hear about the places he used to live, and the break up of his marriage.
He asks me if I'm married.
He asks me my history of marriage.
He asks me if I'm a lesbian.
Questions that I find invasive and repulsive, and information that I generally don't impart within 6 miles of riding with someone I don't know (if at all).
But I continue trying to be polite.
Then he mentions how he met two lesbian riders a few weeks ago.
And then he starts talking about how it's easier for him to think about two women being together, than two men.
At this point, the repulsion factor has escalated about a hundred fold, and I just want to get away from him.
At the same time, he also seems like a sorry sort of fellow.

I don't really know how to tell him to go away, because I think about all the people who've let me ride with them, and I think turnabout is fair play--but by now he's impacting my riding line, and it's driving me a little crazy. He doesn't adjust his riding position based on road conditions, but just sticks right next to me. On one side of me is traffic, and on the other side is him. And, he's a BIG man. I feel hemmed in. I think about how the local boys, when I was younger, would never let me be the one closest to traffic. By this time we're on Old Route 66--and I want to be able to move away from traffic if I need to.

As we near Tijeras, I realize I don't want him riding with me up the hill. There's a lot of gravel and scree on the shoulder, and the way he rides feels unsafe. Plus my normal m.o is to ride up the initial hill in my big ring. So, I drop it in, and take off.
He sticks with me.
Coughing and struggling, but he makes every attempt to hold on.
At least he's not talking anymore.
Near the top I pull over at my usual rest stop. It's a small guard rail that I usually sit on to eat a bar and enjoy the view. I'm so worried about this guy, that I don't enjoy the view, and I realize my lone, meditative ride, which is so much my style, is anything but.
I root around in my pocket to pull out my cell phone--and realize I don't have it with me. Not good.
Meanwhile, I think he's gone, but then he circles around, goes back down the hill, comes back up and passes me. OH no.
I think he keeps on going, but that's just my own stupidity, because then I hear, "Are you going up or heading down?"
"What?" I look up startled and I don't know what to say. He's standing right there. This is the second time that he's asked me where I'm going. Why doesn't he have his own itinerary?
He repeats his question, and I find that I can't lie, and I tell him I'm continuing up after my break.
Fortunately, he continues without me.
I wait awhile, then get on my bike. I'm happy he's gone, but the thought crosses my mind that he might wait for me at the top of the hill. I can't believe that he would really do that, but obviously, in the back of my mind, I'm seeing another side of a cyclist.
As I head up, I see him riding down with someone else.
At the top, I continue out on South 14.
The road is broad and open and it's a relief to be alone again.
A few miles out, he pulls up alongside me from behind.
Where the heck did he come from?
I groan aloud.
I can't help myself.
I snap and tell him to leave me alone and go away.
And, I'm lucky that he does.

Back at the car, I call T in Tuscaloosa to find out how his race went.
I tell him about this man who was so determined to ride with me, and the things he said to me.
I'm remorseful for snapping at a stranger for an unconstructed reason.
I ask T "Was he a stalker or just socially disoriented?"
I can tell from T's response that I will probably never ride outside of town, alone, again.
T's radar is WAY better than mine.