My boy Jackson is working on his cycling merit badge. After work on a warm May evening I joined Jackson and his crew of scouts on their 15 mile ride (they work up to a 50 miler!).
I talked with the merit badge counselor before the ride and offered to bring up the rear so that he could lead the group. A crisp line of bikes strung ahead of you is a beautiful thing. And even as the ride began, I could see one boy struggling to keep up.
Terrence was on a little single gear BMX bike. He pedaled and pedaled to the point of exhaustion before slowing to a crawl to catch his breath. Repeated over and over. All while the the rest of the group sailed effortlessly far ahead.
When we reached the big hills, Terrance’s legs were fried. His slow pedaling soon became slow walking. I rode next to him as he walked. We had lots of time to talk together. The rest of the group was so far ahead that we couldn’t see them.
Terrence was so far behind. But you know what? It wasn’t because he wasn’t trying. He was working hard. Actually harder than the rest of us, who had the luxury of things like….gears.
I felt a bond with Terrence as we lingered at the back of the pack. Because really, we are kindred souls. I know the back of the pack well. In nearly every race I run, I am well acquainted with the back of the pack. I know that little sting of frustration when I am working hard but I am so far back. I know that little taste of discouragement when, despite your best efforts, everyone is cruising up ahead like they are riding ten speed bikes.
I contend that those of us in the back of the pack really are working as hard as the people in the front. Who knows, maybe harder. Maybe we just have really crappy BMX bikes. Maybe we’re the brave ones, those of us who take the risk to register for a race we’re not sure we can finish. Maybe we have more fun back there. (I bet we do.) Take that fast people with your fancy ten speeds!
When we finished the ride, Terrance said “That was fun. Thanks for staying with me.” He didn’t know how familiar I am with the back of the pack. I actually don’t know how to be anywhere else.