I arrive late for the Charles River Wheelmen’s Saturday morning fitness ride at Nahanton Park in Newton and as I approach the entrance to the starting area, a small group of guys is heading out and I ask one of the guys what ride this is and he says “28 miles, 18 to 19 miles per hour” and even though I was planning on doing the 42-mile ride at 17 to 18, I jump on. I’m already moving, I figure and I’ll just work a little harder to keep up with these riders. We cross the river and head up a small hill that takes us over Rte 128 because they all maintain their speed uphill I know these guys are strong. This isn’t going to be easy, I think. But then I realize that the guy who responded to me is a guy I rode with a week ago and he and I were pretty evenly matched.

So we move along. I get in line. 5 or 6 guys in front of me. But the guy right in front of me isn’t staying close to the guy in front of him. So you figure he’s one of these guys who is just going to stay at the back and draft the whole time rather than taking his turn at the front, leading, or “pulling” as in pulling the other riders along in his slipstream. I pull ahead of him and fill the gap between him and the rider in front. We move along in a paceline. Pass a few other slower riders. Turn right. Turn left. Riders drop off the front and drift to the back, letting the next guy in line take the lead. Somehow I end up behind a guy who has already pulled once and I’m thinking that he’s pissed off at the rest of us because he’s going to be doing more than his share of work.

And, as guys drift back down the line after pulling, I say “good work” or “good pull.” I don’t notice other people doing that, but the fact is I appreciate a guy doing a good pull at the front. Just means that I don’t have to work as hard for that stretch.

A long straight stretch with a couple of red lights. Across another river. Up another small hill and then a right turn with a small hill. The group begins to fall apart. I work hard to stay with the two guys in front.

Another right. Another left and we’re on Claybrook road, which runs along the Charles, so it’s a nicely winding flat road through a pine forest. Out of the sun it’s cool and it smells good. I’m behind big guy, and I’m hoping he doesn’t pull long because this is my favorite stretch. I can really move along. Then he drops back, I push hard on my pedals, drop my hands to bhe lower part of my handlebars and really kick it. I pump up the mph to 21, 22 mph and we fairly tear along. And I love this. Glance back to be sure the next guy is right on my rear wheel and I say ot myself, “pull for a mile.” I started at 14 according to my odometer. I stare at the road in front of me, staying near the white line at the right side of the lane. And just push. I can feel my thighs straining, and then there’s a little bit of a rise. I push harder to keep up the speed. Breathing hard. Five guys being pulled along behind me. And I know I make a good draft because my friend Lee calls me the Freightliner.

Then I hit 15 and I know we’re not far from a stop sign ahead and so I pull off to the left and drift down the line of riders. One guy says “good lead!” Nothing could make me happier at the moment. “Thanks,” I say, and look at him. Maybe I rode with this guy a couple of weeks ago. Make a mental note to check for him next time I’m out here on Saturday. We seem to move along at the same pace and we both believe in encouraging the others in the paceline.

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