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Pedal by Pedal This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I'm the girl who shows up to her first group ride with unexplainable blood on her knee. I stand in the parking lot, feeling young and immature, with my bike beside me. Terri, the ride coach, is chatting, but I'm in no mood to talk. I'm nervous: everyone else is much bigger and older, and from my magnificent height of five feet, I feel rather … small. Imagine that! My dad gets back from REI with a helmet, as I'd left mine home, and Terri lays down the rules. I feel like a mix between a fly and a showoff, with my dad's expensive bike. With that, we're off.

I'm last, of course. Terri sticks beside me and offers advice. She's wearing her bright blue Minn Dakota's jersey that shines. She has frizzy copper hair and a very, very positive attitude. I'm doing pretty well when we get to a ramp that has a sharp turn and is guarded by a metal fence. I'm imagining myself crashing dramatically. Terri coaches me through. As we descend, she and my dad (who is also flanking me) swap Tour de France cyclist news, “Did you hear about blahbetyblah?”

Soon, we get to a hill. I pass first Gray Shirt and then Blue Shirt, although the ride is taking its toll. My throat is burning and my back and shoulders hurt like crazy. I go down the hill cautiously, wishing that I felt confident enough to grab my water bottle. I shift gears and pedal furiously. I glance down at the speedometer. We've only gone five miles. Fifteen more.

Terri asks, “Have you ever done gymnastics?”

I think for a second. Does one second of tumbling at a nearby circus in second-grade count? “No,” I answer. Quickly, we come to a huge hill. It looks ominous, as if it gobbles up amateur cyclists with fancy bikes for breakfast. The path is long and winding. As we start up, I struggle, and words from a Kelly Clarkson song pops into my head. “What doesn't kill you makes you stronger….” I'm breathing harder, forcefully, almost panting. My lungs are killing me. I want to give up, but I can't. Hey, that's weird. A Kelly Clarkson song that actually relates to my life. Panting harder, harder than I need to, I keep trudging up the hill. I get a sudden burst of energy and go up the hill a little bit faster, meeting two riders, along with my dad, at the top.

We go down a hill and keep riding quickly. Soon, we get to another hill. I scale this one easily, and as I get to the top, I go faster. I am the first one up, and I know my dad and Terri are behind me, watching. I can't resist the urge to show off, so I do. I speed up, going about seventeen-miles-per-hour. It's mile ten, and my dad's impressed. He compliments me, and we wait for the others. We start going down, steeply, I am once more at the back. We pass through quiet neighborhoods. I am dependent on the pack; Terri and my dad have both confused their directions to me, so we've stopped talking and are relying solely on hand signals. This is very much where cycling depends on others. If everyone doesn't give the gesture to turn left at the same time, someone can get lost. Since the signals are pretty basic, I know most of them. Many times when I'm riding with my dad, he'll call in a voice that sounds like an auctioneer's, “Turn left!” or “Rolling!” As we pedal, I am struck by how much of cycling is quiet. I've always been quiet, but now I feel like I'm ruining a crucial part of cycling as I make my little platitude-like comments and grumbles about the road.

We make our way past parks, and we get to another big hill. Again I pass first Gray Shirt, who I learn is named Jackie, and Blue Shirt, Greta. As I scale the hill, I pass Troy, the only male rider today other than my dad. I'm really thirsty, but I know I'll swerve and crash if I reach for my water. Soon, we turn down the hill, and although I slow at first, not wanting to hit anyone, I soon speed up. We're going really fast: 22 miles per hour! It feels like I'm flying; cliché, I know, but true. Normally when I'm going about 17, I feel like I'm going to die, so 22 is a lot – at least for me. After we get to the bottom, we take a picture, bikes on the side of the road.

At the next hill my dad and I quickly pass everyone, and talk a little: “I think you have a better weight-to-height index than I do.” We go down the hill quickly, and then slow. “Stop!” he cries, his voice tinged with urgency. I slam on the brakes as a car passes. With that, we cross the street and continue.

We go quickly; I'm surprised at my speed, though I am still second-best, beat only by my dad. Of course, he does century rides. We go over the long bridge we had passed earlier, and I wrinkle my nose. It's hard going uphill, there are lots of cars on the road just twenty feet away and, to top it off, the air is fermented with the smell of sewage. Lovely, eh? My back and shoulders are burning, and again I want to give up. I pedal on doggedly, my legs moving in quicker revolutions. At last, we get to the top of the hill. And decide to wait for the others.

I look at my speedometer. It reads 20 miles, the distance for which our ride was scheduled. “Hey Dad, how much farther?” “About a mile,” he replies.

I groan and say with is a teasing tone,“I only signed up for 20,” .

I take the opportunity to get some water. As Terri had said, nobody's left behind, and so we wait. Soon Troy gets to the top, and the rest join us quickly. We stop for a minute, and then pedal on. Terri tells me that I'm a climber, and I accept the compliment, albeit awkwardly. When the light turns green, my dad and I follow Greta and pedal furiously, and in about two minutes, we circle into the parking lot where we began. The others follow, single file. “Darn, I only got third place,” I tell my dad teasingly, knowing that I did pretty well.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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