Yesterday evening I got on my bicycle and turned towards home. The weather was beautiful for a ride, cool and clear but not too dry and I trembled all over with a kind of subdued pleasure as I turned on to Charleston because I was sure it was going to be a deliciously fast ride. At the Charleston and Rengstorff intersection I settled in behind the handful of cars waiting for a green arrow. I knew from experience that there would be enough time for me to clear the intersection when the light changed and I find it exceptionally exhilarating at this spot to race right in line with the cars, accelerating as they accelerate until the bike lane re-appears and I peel off to the side.
A bicyclist comes up beside me and then rides up on the line in the narrow space between the two rows of waiting cars and my mood dampens very slightly. If the bicyclist wanders around when the light turns green, he's going to slow all of us down and I probably won't get through the intersection. I'm annoyed and I resolve the catch and pass the bicyclist if I can, demonstrate that you can wait your turn and still be fast. Faster.
The light turns green and the cars start forward and I begin pedaling, click in, begin to accelerate. I've lost interest in the bicyclist now, I'm entirely focused on maintaining the perfect distance behind the car in front of me, watching that no one tries to cut across from my left to the 101on-ramp, bicyclists watch almost everything around themselves when they are in traffic.
I clear the intersection at wonderful speed and am heading towards the next light which is about to turn green and as I fall back into the bicycle lane I see the other bicyclist on the far side of the road. His earlier excursion had led him up on the side of the road where he is now stranded, cut off from the straight-away by the cars who are getting on the 101.
That's why I wait where I do and bike that spot as I do. If you're off to the side you strand yourself. I wave a little as I pass and he gives me some slight grim acknowledgement. Within minutes I see him cut across and continue on behind me and I smile like the nutcase I am and pour on speed earned towing wagons of children around as I head over the 101 and down the other side. I bear to the right and he goes straight.
We effectively take two different sides of a similar box which means that when I turn right onto Middlefield he re-appears behind me and then we are both waiting for the light at East Meadow. Mmmm! Game on! Did I mention that its a beautiful night? The light turns green and I spring forward and he's right behind me, drafting. My tongue lolls out of my mouth as if I were an over-heated Labrador retriever as I pound down E. Meadow and then make my turn onto Bryant. He turns also. I sprint as hard as I can but can't quite lose him. We continue in this manner until we get to a 4-way stop with waiting cars. I stop and wait and he heads through.
Now I'm behind. He must be tiring or maybe I'm just getting a win from drafting but it's easy to pace him exactly and maybe my distance runner genes are kicking in because I'm not working that hard. Two other bicyclists fall in behind me. And then another. The five of us fly up darkening Bryant like this, never saying anything, sometimes trading places but never separating very much. We flow around slower bicyclists just as the evening air flows around our bicycles. When we get to downtown Palo Alto we start breaking off in different directions and by El Camino I am alone again.
Each commute is filled with chances to race, opportunities to join a pack and split away from it, each commute is filled with wins and losses and moment of incredible excitement. What I'm saying is, where else can a middle-aged woman of middling athletic skills have such a fabulous time just heading home from a day at the office?