If I had a penny for every time I heard "On the left" on Sunday, I could buy a decent bike to ride around Lake Tahoe in next year's America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride.
In case you're wondering, "on the left" is the universal shout out in the cycling world that implies, "Get out of my way. You're slow."
At least I have a fair excuse for my ineptness.
My red Huffy Scout 10-speed mountain bike is the excuse. Wearing a cheap black helmet and hoisting a green Jansport backpack full of the essential reporter's items, bottled water, and a few foodstuffs to keep me going, I was not hard to miss on Sunday.
I was the anti-version of everything a person riding 72 miles would want to be. I knew a mountain bike wouldn't cut it, and my stubborn instinct wouldn't let me ride a street bike, or wear spandex (I covered them up with regular shorts), or wear neon, or ride on slick tires. I refused.
Basically limited to two gears, riding the Huffy around the lake was brutal, and me choosing to do so proves my stubbornness. After hearing repeatedly that I had to have a road bike and that I could never do it, each dissenter fed my desire to be the first ever to ride a Huffy Scout around the lake (if you've done it before, please e-mail me). I was forced to skip the mostly uphill 17-mile stretch by riding the SAG van from Kings Beach to Spooner Junction, so I only sort of conquered the loop.
It was ugly, but I made it 55 miles on a bike that spent years under my parent's deck and four rough, unkempt college years in Chico. It also made it 31 miles in one day in Reno, 23 around the McCarran loop.
The chain guard is rusted from many days and nights left out in the rain, the front reflector is broken, the handle bars are slightly crooked, the sound of the gears changing is hideous, and the brakes squeal like a stuck pig. Why wouldn't I ride it around the lake?
It was the little Huffy that almost could, and that was good enough for me. I didn't mind being a glutton for punishment. I still have my pride, even though I made a number of pit stops on the side of the road.
If you didn't pass me on your bicycle, perhaps you passed me on a unicycle on the way to King's Beach. Perhaps you saw me from your car walking up Dollar Hill south of Tahoe City or running up Round Hill just before Stateline (Yes, I wanted to finish so bad I was running).
My biggest feat was making it up the steep incline overlooking Emerald Bay only stopping a few times. One of those times was after I saw the sign, "Photographer 100 yards ahead." I saved up my energy so I could look cool and relaxed for the Kodak moment.
The best response from a fellow rider came from Monica Kohs, a woman I repeatedly ran into over the course of the day. Kohs called me her hero for even attempting to ride an old, beat up mountain bike (but she also said, "And you're riding a bike like that!" after I told her I was the sports editor for the Sierra Sun.)
Other riders weren't so forgiving. I got a few sarcastic "Good luck" comments and many people told me I needed to raise my seat. I just kept chugging because I figured nothing would make it easier.
I know it wasn't a race, but when it came to people riding Huffy Scouts, I had to be in the running for first place.
It was about early March that my fiancee Tiffany informed me that we were registered for America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride in June.
I thought the idea was fantastic, but I only had one small problem with the entire thing. The conversation went something like:
"I registered us for a race around Lake Tahoe," she said excitedly.
"We don't even have bikes," I said in a discouraged tone.
"It's OK. My parents have awesome bikes, and they'll probably let us use them."
"Oh, cool. In that case, we'll be fine."
"We'll just meet them halfway in Mammoth."
Well, the business of the world never allowed that meeting to take place. Tiffany's parents live near L.A., so it became too difficult to set up a meeting.
Meanwhile, I figured Tiffany and I had to train somehow for the event. In a return visit to Chico (where Tiffany and I graduated college) to see my friends, I took back my Huffy that I had never taken when I left college.
Old Red was in bad shape, but I took him to a bike shop in Reno, and they did the best they could. I suppose it's comparable to taking an old man to the doctor and asking them to give him new legs. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I revealed my intentions of riding the bike 72 miles around Lake Tahoe.
So Tiffany had to either rent a bike or borrow one. We tried a cycling class at 24 Hour Fitness in Reno, but that only lasted one class. Not sure why. My uncle let Tiffany borrow a mountain bike, and Tiffany and I managed to complete the 23-mile McCarran loop in Reno and eight other miles on a path along the Truckee River. That sums up the essence of our training for the ride.
Then came the week of the ride, and my uncle wanted his bike back. So it was obvious Tiffany would have to rent a bike, and I chose to stick with my Huffy.
Tiffany chose a road bike from the Back Country in Truckee and had very few problems making the 72 miles after she got a feel for changing the gears. I, on the other hand, felt like somewhat of a cheater for skipping the uphill to Spooner Junction, but I tried to explain to someone at Kings Beach (the 43-mile mark) that I had already done enough work on my mountain bike to go 72 miles on a good road bike (I'm no physics major, but a lot of Joules were involved).
Anyway, Tiffany and I were impressed by the precise organization of the event, and we both thought it was neat that there were so many people cheering us on throughout the race. The people we met were exceptionally nice, and people were very willing to interview for the story.
The 13th Annual America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride was a great experience, but I'm still not sold on wearing spandex or neon, or neon spandex.
Matt Brown is sports editor for the Sierra Sun.