There is a section of Louisville where cyclists strength, agility, and nerves are tested to the brink. Surprisingly, there are no steep hills, sharp curves or even a single speed bump involved. It is actually a fairly straight section of road with river views and amazing homesteads lining the landscape. The CHALLENGE of this ride is the road itself. It is a narrow 2-line road meant for far less traffic than it occupies now. Cars frequently ignore the 35mph posted signs and like to double or triple those numbers as they pass small, slow, cyclists. It is as close as cars can get to you without causing death or bodily harm (although death has occurred). It is not uncommon to hold your breath when you hear downshifting coming from behind or the high pitched squeal of a tire hugging the pavement to maneuver around you.
It is NOT a ride for the faint of heart. Beginner riders will often avoid this section even though it is a gateway path to scenic, challenging riding. For a “smooth” ride, you have to be comfortable on your bike, not too squeamish with cars, and generally prepared to make evasive maneuvers around tattered carcasses of creatures too slow for the speeding Porsche (R.I.P. possum). The phrase “holding your line” is a rule as only a few inches separate you from a littered strewn ditch (on your way out of town) or careening your bike into the murky, haphazard waters of the Ohio River (on the return trip). To cap off the challenge of the ride is the fact that a headwind will surface at times in BOTH directions forcing your calves, thighs and lungs to push for continuous momentum.
With all of this…you may even question why ANY cyclists would go through all this trouble to accomplish a ride. A new rider this weekend firmly indicated to the four woman group that she wanted to “push herself” and with little conversation, we all agreed that River Road will push your limits. One might have referred to this ride as the “Tour De Baptism” as in “Baptism by fire" while others may compare it to a hazing ritual reserved for some Greek sorority minus the secret handshake. We have rules for “newbies”…including (1) they never pull for the group. There is no sense in adding the pressure of setting pace, calling out maladies in the road, and pedaling until your knees blow out. (2) We never put a newbie in the rear. Again, no need to add pressure to the one pulling up the rear by announcing squirrelly cars or suggesting pace adjustments. So, we put “newbies” in the middle. Their ONLY job is to pedal…not crash…and stay alive (these are really rules for EVERY ride).
As the one pulling up the rear this time, I can tell you that I rode a pace a bit slower than usual finally settling to “big ring” it. I offered the newbie encouragement who surprisingly took to this bike path like a duck to water. She closed gaps and held her line amazingly. She even felt some of the full effects of drafting. Other than her own personal frustration in understanding her gearing, she found on the return trip a scenic picture in a final turn which is the Louisville downtown skyline. I told her I used that as a visual marker to indicate I was almost home and left with only a few more miles of truly dangerous road to travel.
Ironically, this treacherous and sometimes annoying section of cycling byway has become one of my favorite rides. It can set the tone for a upcoming challenging ride and offer a nice reprieve on the tiring return trip when all your legs can do is spin. It has become a rite of passage for several of my cycling friends. It is a moment where you may decide to abandon cycling all together or hopefully it will cause you to only want to do it more. Some people may call us masochists—I couldn’t agree with them more.