Yesterday, in beautiful Greenville, Texas, I did my 19th bike rally of the year and my 415th overall. The weather was gorgeous. Although the temperature reached 90° Fahrenheit later in the day, it was mild (with low humidity) when we departed downtown Greenville at 8:30. At least twice over the years, the weather during the Cotton Patch Classic has been bad. One year, it was cold, wet, and windy, so I did a short course (45 miles). Another year, it rained so hard for so long that police officers pulled riders off the course. Even the wind cooperated yesterday. The average wind speed for the day was 6.7 miles per hour. I don’t count it as windy unless it reaches 10 miles per hour.

None of my home boys showed up. They’re wimps. They act like other things matter besides bicycling. At the start, I met a young man named Chris (from Denton), who said he was in his first year of rally riding. I chuckled and told him that it was my 415th rally. I added that my goal is to do 1,000 rallies. He told me that he had ridden 100 miles in Wichita Falls three weeks earlier, which surprised me, because he didn’t look like a serious rider. Boy, was I mistaken. I went out hard, falling in immediately with a number of other riders. We had a slight headwind going out of town (to the north), so it was in my interest to ride in a pack. About 30 minutes into the ride, I noticed Chris. He had been with us the entire way! When I got next to him in the pack, I said, “You’re doing great, Chris!” I figured he’d be dropped soon.

Nope. Even though we covered 21.9 miles during the first hour, Chris was still there. We were flying. At one point, we caught—and passed—the women’s Category 4/5 racers, who had left several minutes before the rally riders. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t supposed to happen. The race organizer must have assumed that the women’s racers would go faster than the rally riders. At about the one-hour mark, I was dropped by the pack. (Phil, the master of euphemisms, would say that he “let them go.”) I was gasping for air. I hadn’t planned to ride hard in Greenville. In fact, knowing that my friends wouldn’t be there, I brought my Zune music player (loaded with 7,086 songs) so I could listen to music. No sooner had I put my earphones in than one of my old riding acquaintances, James, came alongside. He, too, had been dropped. I asked how far he was riding. He said he hadn’t ridden 63 miles this year, so he’d better do 54. I talked him into riding 63 with me.

The first thing we had to do is get up the Leonard hills. This is a series of increasingly steep hills just north of the town of Leonard. They’re not long, but they’re steep. When we got to the first ones, I told James they were appetizers. “The main course is yet to come.” We got up the hills shortly thereafter and rolled into Randolph. At this point, we picked up a quartering headwind. Another acquaintance of mine, David, happened to be near, so the three of us decided to take turns pulling. I suggested half-mile pulls. When we picked up another acquaintance, Keith, there were four of us. What it meant is that each of us got to rest for a mile and a half between pulls. We weren’t trying to go fast; we were trying to save energy. It’s estimated that riding in someone’s slipstream uses 70% of the energy it would take to break the wind. You can do whatever you want with this saved energy. You can either go faster now or save it for later, or some combination of the two.

My first and only stop of the day was in Bailey. I used the porta-potty, ate the PowerBar I had carried, ate a handful of purple grapes, ate a handful of cantaloupe chunks, ate a slice of watermelon, sipped a cup of cold water, and, just before departing, gulped a small bottle of pickle juice. As the four of us were leaving, I noticed Chris. He must have rolled up shortly after I did. He looked as though he was ready to leave, so I called out to him to ride with us. By then, I knew two things about him: first, that he’s a strong rider; and second, that he has good bike-handling skills. He hustled to his bike and rolled out with us. As it turns out, he was a valuable addition to our phalanx. We fought the wind for another seven miles before turning south. I covered 17.2 miles during my second hour of riding, which gave me an average speed of 19.55 miles per hour.

After the turn in Wolfe City, our speed increased significantly. Our little group continued to grow as we picked up stragglers. Before long, there were eight to 10 of us. I was feeling strong, so I did plenty of work at the front. Chris continued his fine riding. I covered 18.2 miles during the third hour, which gave me an average speed of 19.10 miles per hour. I’ve averaged over 19 miles per hour in only one rally this year (Cleburne), so I was determined not to lose it. When we reached the final rest stop, with about seven miles to go, most of the group, including Chris, stopped. James, David, and I continued. We didn’t have a pure tailwind, so we had to work hard to keep our speed up. Somewhere along the line, a man in a black jersey fell in with us. He never took a pull. Every time we rotated, I saw him out of the corner of my eye, sitting in our slipstream. What a parasite, I thought. He had to be strong, or he couldn’t have stayed with us; but he wasn’t doing any work. Then, with a couple of miles to go, he rode around us and left us behind. What gall! I have too much self-respect to do that sort of thing. If I can’t share the work, I have no business benefiting. This is not something that’s distinctive to bicycling. It’s a general principle, applicable to any life situation. It’s why we have terms such as “parasite,” “leech,” “moocher,” “free rider,” and “freeloader” in our language. You will note that all of them are pejorative.

Our hard work paid off. I averaged 18.94 miles per hour for the final 20:16 of the ride, which gave me an overall average speed of 19.08 miles per hour for 63.7 miles. That doesn’t count the time I spent at the rest stop in Bailey. See how much my home boys slow me down? When they’re not present, I go faster! Downtown Greenville was crowded with people because of the Cotton Patch festival, so I didn’t hang around. (Among other things, there was a go-kart race taking place on city streets.) I wanted to get away from the madness. I’ll see Chris at some other rally. Who knows? Maybe he’ll join our little gang. Unlike Joe, Phil, and Randy, he doesn’t seem to suffer from wimpiness. I hate wimps. I hate wimps almost as much as I hate the New York Yankees. I hate the very idea of wimpiness.

Here are some statistics. I burned 2,005 calories. That meant guilt-free eating the rest of the day. My maximum heart rate, which occurred early on (while I was in the fast-moving pack) was 157. My average heart rate was 126. My maximum speed was 33.2 miles per hour. The drive to Greenville and back is pleasant. I live two miles from Interstate 30, which connects Dallas and Fort Worth. Once I get on I-30, I stay there for 75 miles, passing through Dallas. When I exit, I’m two miles from where I park. (I’ve been doing bike rallies in Greenville since 1989.)

Two things marred an otherwise fine day. First, I came upon an accident during my ride. Someone in front of me—perhaps one of the racers—had crashed. An emergency vehicle was on the scene, and several others came roaring past me as I rode, sirens blaring. I hope the injured rider is all right. Second, I saw several dead raccoons on the road during my ride. These animals know nothing of high-speed automobiles. One minute they’re going about their business, as raccoons have done since time immemorial; the next they’re dead. I also saw a dead armadillo.