It’s Wednesday, which means I should have woken up early this morning to go ride bikes around Mission Bay with my dad and a bunch of other old dudes. But it’s raining, which means I didn’t. Instead, I woke up early this morning to go drive to a coffee shop and hang out with my dad and the old dudes there, instead.
This Wednesday ritual – the old dudes, the biking, and the coffee – was in existence long before I had a bike to give me the option of tagging along. When I first got my bike and was struggling with the intensity of riding it, my dad thought to invite me to this more laid-back ride, to show me how cycling can be fun and relaxing, to give me a chance to get comfortable with the equipment and the exercise in a safer and less challenging environment.
It worked: every Wednesday for the last nine or ten months, Doug and I have been regularly going on this ride. It’s a part of my week that I look forward to, and the other regulars were more than happy to accept a couple new riders some 30-40 years younger than they are, as well as their first and only female rider.
For the guys, most of whom are retired (my dad is not), this ride is an opportunity to socialize. Some of them are experienced riders, using Wednesday as an easy/recovery ride, and show up with their fancy road bikes, padded spandex shorts, and clip-in shoes; others only pull out their bikes once a week, for this purpose, and show up in t-shirts and flip-flops. They ride two-by-two, rarely getting over 10mph, and stop at the halfway point to get coffee and shoot the bull for an hour or so.
Some days on this ride, I still kind of feel like a tagalong, as the guys mostly talk about cycling or retirement. They apologize before they make comments that they feel would be inappropriate in the presence of the lady, even though I’ve reminded them on numerous occasions that I am no such thing. But I’ve made my way onto their group email list, and Doug and I were invited to a Wednesday Riders dinner one of them held in his gorgeous apartment overlooking Balboa Park, so although I look like an outsider, I trust that I’ve become part of their group.
It never occurred to me, when I started riding with these guys, that there was anyone but us making a ritual out of Wednesday mornings at the bay. I mean, the coffee shop guy knows to expect us, but as far as I was concerned, everyone else out on the boardwalk on those overcast mornings – the people that we have to swerve to avoid, which can be fun or nerve-wracking, depending on how big/slow/clueless they are – were tourists, wandering along the coastline in spite of the fog, because it’s San Diego, and that was what they came here to do.
That is, until a few weeks ago. It was warm out, so the boardwalk was particularly crowded. I was toward the back of the pack, talking to my dad like I usually am, riding on the outside of our lane (closer to oncoming foot-traffic) because dad’s deaf in his right ear. We were approaching a group of women who were spread out across most of the boardwalk, walking and chatting, and I heard one of the women say to her friends, “There’s no girl today?” Then, as I rode by, “Oh, there she is!” and I realized she hadn’t been talking to her friends at all, but to my friends, the old dudes riding up ahead of me, and that she recognized them, and knew that they usually have just one young girl with them, sticking out from the pack like a sore thumb, but with them nonetheless. And that young girl is me.
What happened then was that I felt both silly for thinking everyone else on the boardwalk must be tourists – obviously this woman and her friends meet at the bay every Wednesday morning, too – and proud of being a recognizable part of the group. It occurred to me suddenly that not only am I not a tagalong or an outsider on these Wednesday rides, but that when I say I’m doing nothing with my life except biding my time, waiting to start a family, I am categorically wrong.
This is what I’m doing with my life these days: I’m going out on Wednesdays, riding my bike, and joking around with a bunch of men twice my age. This is something I could not do if I was pregnant or had a baby in tow. This is something that Doug and I will look back on fondly in a few years’ time, or tell our children about, and their children, once we ourselves are filling the roles of the old dudes, when the current old dudes have gone on to a bigger and better place: “Remember when we used to go ride on Wednesdays? Remember how much fun it was to freak out the people on the boardwalk who got in our way? Remember that day that it rained, and we sat in traffic for 40 minutes just so we could meet the guys for coffee on the other side of the city, just so we wouldn’t feel like we’d missed out on our Wednesday morning ritual?”
This is my life right now, and it’s, to steal some of my dad’s favorite words, “pretty cool.”