I love cycling, and really got into it two summers ago. Even named my road bike Dolce Luna. She was my panacea during the pandemic. While the world was shutting down and tearing itself apart, inflamed by racial and cultural divisions, I was spinning my wheels and escaping to a blissful state of solitude. So with my birthday coming up, and a cloudless forecast for Sunday, I decided to go for it. Forty-two miles for my 42nd year.
I thought of making this a chill, solo trip, just me and Dolce Luna on the open road, but instead I messaged some bike buddies. We’ve bonded over our love for bicycles, but have only slight connections. I couldn’t tell you all the gigs Kwame Edwards does for a living. I’ve never asked Kareem Jones his daughter’s name, but I do know he calls his bike Black Mamba. I think I know where Danny Williams lives but when he hosted a backyard BBQ last summer, I passed on the invitation. And Keshia Roberson — we’ve talked only once before Sunday afternoon.
Still, they all showed up at Anacostia Park, ready to take on the hastily drawn route I planned on a cycling app.
So, I admit, I’m that annoying friend who posts her cycling workouts on Instagram — complete with GIFs and a backing hip-hop track — but these four are way more experienced riders than I am. Kareem, who also works at The Post, is so serious he’s logged 700 miles already this year. Kwame, the co-founder of Saturday Night Bike Club and essentially a semipro cyclist who travels for competitions, messes around some days and ends up riding a metric century. And Keshia, the baddest woman on wheels, will lead an all-Black lady ride from New York to Washington this spring.
I may have the gear and workout videos to make me look the part, but they are cyclists. And this became abundantly clear around Mile 2.
We weren’t out of Anacostia before I realized that my fast was their cool down, and I was getting dropped like a Toni Morrison book in a Southern school district.
I hated feeling like this, like I was the weak link they needed to wait for at intersections. I’m supposed to be the head, helping others and pacing the way so that my own forward momentum doesn’t stall. That’s how I’ve lived my life.
There are some vivid memories from my childhood of being let down by people. As an adult, I’ve put down my dukes long enough to learn that sometimes being in love feels like getting sucker punched. Because I never want to be disappointed again, I decided not to rely on people at all. To keep my guard up and depend on the only human who won’t fail me: Me.
Plus, moving through this sports journalism world as an outsider (Black and a woman) has made me fiercely independent. So most acquaintances have been casual at best, or transactional, as I cringe to type. If anyone wants in, great, but they’ll have to do so at my speed and at a distance. There’s always a separation between the conductor and the caboose.
But by time I huffed through the Arboretum — the three guys already chilling by the columns — I was the caboose and it felt terrible. I was frustrated so I tried to save face and told my bike friends that they should take off because I want them to have fun on this beautiful afternoon. Before I could really get into this martyr’s monologue, Danny interrupted and said something along the lines of: ‘Listen up. I’m going to say this once. We’re here for you. We could have chosen any other ride today, but we want to celebrate your birthday.’
Then, he gave me a package of quick energy jelly beans. Pretty much crack in candy form. Don’t know what’s in ’em, don’t care, all I know is they were just what I needed. But Danny’s words provided even more of a boost.
Apparently, I hadn’t been humbled enough yet because the next time I trailed, and the gang had to take another unexpected rest, Kwame tried to advise me on how to shift gears properly. I’m sure he felt the icy stare I was sending from behind my super cool cycling shades. I was arrogant. He was just trying to help. We biked on.
About three hours into the ride that was supposed to take 3½, Danny had to peel away for family business. We were only in Bladensburg, with more than half of the journey still unfinished, but before Danny pedaled back he opened his toolbox and adjusted my seat, thinking my problem was that I was sitting too low and working too hard to power the pedals. My seat went up, and so did my confidence. Through College Park, I could now locate the back of Keshia’s gray sweatshirt!
Then something happened. With no-coast Kwame going all gas, no brakes on his fixie, Doomsday, and Kareem out front, trying to navigate the chaos I had mapped out, and Keshia stopped mid-hill to wait for me, I whimpered four words I had never said out loud before.
My pride — or really, my fatigue — wouldn’t let me cry (tears take too much effort when you’re climbing hills). I wanted to quit right there, just call it “21 miles for 42 years,” then call an Uber to take me back home. Then it hit me while ascending Western Ave. to Pinehurst Circle NW, the 2.7 percent vertical grade wiping me out: These people weren’t going to let me quit. And they were going to make sure I had fun.
At the summit of the next hill, all three were waiting, and yelling out encouragement as I rode up. Kareem even said I looked like a pro.
When I ride, I like to pretend I know what I’m doing, like I am a pro. And in life, I like to pretend that I’m better off taking care of myself, like I’m an island. But this ride taught me something that I had been trying to suppress for my previous 41 years: That it’s okay to show weakness. When someone proves to be that reliable and patient friend who will wait for you at the top, it’s okay to let go and trust them.
Besides, I had no other choice. Without trusting my new best friends, I would’ve been pedaling for dear life in the darkness, alone.
We were getting close to reaching my milestone, but first we had to survive Rock Creek Parkway: where District drivers think they’re on the Autobahn. We decided to take the roads — and not the bike trail — for practical purposes. Only Kwame and I had bike lights, and it would’ve been more dangerous going blind on the trail. There were speeding piles of steel racing past us, but at least their headlights illuminated our path.
We paired up, two by two, and tried to make ourselves look like a car. We filled an entire lane, the front riders yelling out warnings for the back pair (“HOLE!” “RAGGEDY ROAD!” “CAR RIGHT!”). Keshia couldn’t stop laughing. I should’ve been scared but I was too busy hollering instructions, squealing whenever my tire hit a pothole and cackling at the absurdity of life, too.
By the time we played chicken in front of Lincoln Memorial — the only way through was to face incoming traffic — we hit our Mile 42. We ended up going longer, 48 miles in all, and I’d never felt more joy on my bike.
The whole adventure lasted nearly seven hours but this was what I wanted. I just didn’t know how much I needed it. Not the exercise or the challenge, but the life lesson that we all need people. I needed Danny to fix my bike seat. I needed Kareem to give me pickle juice when my thighs cramped. I needed Kwame to hold up traffic when I was trailing at the yellow lights. I needed Keshia to wait for me, always smiling and never complaining.
More than that, I want people. I want them to see my vulnerability, because behind this fortress I’ve built is a woman who sometimes needs a break from being the strong one all the time. I want to ask the people I trust for help, feeling secure that I won’t be judged for my frailty and won’t allow myself to be disappointed by theirs — because we’re all just trying our best here. Mostly, I want to keep showing up for the people in my orbit, and know that in return, I deserve their same effort.
Now 42 years old, I’m deciding to let people in. The right people. A perilous yet heavenly bike ride with four good ones taught me that it’s okay to trust again.