Almost six years ago, I took up biking. I’d always wanted to do it and had reached an age where it was time to either bike or shut up. So I bought a hybrid bike (what is now called a “leisure bike” to appeal to aging Baby Boomers) and off I went. Two years later, I bought a road bike and discovered speed.
One of my regular rides is Grant’s Trail in suburban St. Louis, which has its northern trailhead about 1.5 miles south of my house. Door to door, it’s a 20-mile ride for me. It’s a relatively easy ride – no hills (although there’s one major “false flat” that looks flat but is actually a mile-long incline), fairly long stretches without having to cross at streets, and some interesting side scenery like the Clydesdale horses at Grant’s Farm, which used to belong to Anheuser Busch but is now owned by InBev AB.
I’ve biked the trail at all times of the day, weekends and holidays. And I’ve noticed there are at least two distinct communities who “inhabit” Grant’s Trail – one I would call “The Community of the Early Morning Trail” and the other “The Community of the Early Evening-Weekend-Holiday Trail.”
In the early morning, from 5:30 to about 7:30 a.m., the trail has a small but regular group, and they they’re either bikers, runners of walkers (the rollerbladers wait until the late afternoon or early evening during the week). I’ve noticed that they tend to fall into categories:
Second Childhooders. They always ride the trail by themselves, invariably are men in their 60s, and they will bike as long as they can without using hands, just like they did when they were children. (“Look ma, no hands!”). I can’t explain why they do this other than they’re reliving when they were 9 or 10 years old.
Professionals in training. These are lone riders who are training for a race, criterium or century. You only know them by the breeze they leave behind them as they pass you at twice the speed you're riding. They never smile. Never. They do, however, scowl. Some scowl so well that they must practice for hours in front of the mirror.
Teams in training. At least four people, and usually six or more, who are training for a race. You can tell because they are drafting – lined up in single formation and riding very, very close to each other’s back wheel. They’re usually moving at something approaching the speed of sound. Unlike individuals in training, team members will smile. Sometimes. One might even say good morning as they leave you in their vapor trail.
Triathletes. They’re always on a bike (they can run anywhere and the trail isn’t conducive to swimming). You can tell triathletes by their clothing (black biking shorts and a black armless t-shirt) with a monitor attached to their arm to check pulse, heart rate, etc. They also never smile or speak. If you tell them good morning when your stopped at one of the street crossing lights, they might grunt in reply.
Doctor’s Orders Walkers. These are usually men who’ve been ordered by their doctor (or their wife) to get exercise each morning. They’re on the trail against their will, and their countenance will prove it. They walk face down and not very fast. They are enduring a daily trial, and they are not happy. This is the group that if you say good morning, they will respond with “What’s so good about it?”
Jubilantly Athletic Walkers. This is the group, usually women in their 40s and 50s, who enjoy walking, usually in pairs or trios. They talk and walk fast. Some carry five-pound weights and are vigorously moving their arms up and down as they walk. They are so engrossed in their conversation s that they are generally oblivious to other walkers and all bikers, so this is the group you usually have to be the most careful as you ride near them on an early morning ride.
The Walking Tea Party Ladies.”Tea Party” here does not mean a political group; it takes the original meaning. These are generally ladies in their 70s who walk the trail each morning. Sometimes it’s only two; other times, as many as six. They chat with each other; smile at and greet other walkers and bikers; and don’t seem to mind the stone-faced, scowling, mad-at-the-world crowd. They will strike up a conversation at the crossing lights. They have a set time and routine, driving to the parking lot of the Trailnet office, walking from there to end of the trail and back (about 1.5 miles), and then they go home. I like this group the best; it’s always nice to see their smiles.
The group I fit in – Professional Amateurs – isn’t usually riding the trail in the early mornings. Next week I’ll cover them and others in “The Community of the Early Evening-Weekend-Holiday Trail.” This is where things can get nasty.