Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

That dot on the map, the one moseying along thousands of miles behind the rest of the pack? That dot would be me, on my bike, dragging my team down.

My friends in Idaho got me into this, the Ride Across America. It’s a virtual bicycle race that follows the path of what will one day be the Great American Rail-Trail, stretching from Washington, D.C., to Washington state. The virtual competition has riders logging miles outside on trails or roads, or inside on stationary bikes.

I’m the slowest person on a pretty fast team. As of last night, I’d cycled a total 126 miles since March, compared to the 1,010 miles logged in by our team leader. Thanks to his pedaling – as well as the pedaling of others – our team is 95% of the way across the continent, and in 49th place in a pack of 99.

That’s no thanks to me; I’m still huffing and puffing my way trying to get through Maryland. I’m ashamed of myself.

There’s nothing like a rationalization to take the sting out of being the slacker, so here goes. Normally, by this time each spring I’ve put a few hundred miles on my bike. But I’m in the middle of producing a documentary, so I don’t have much free time. Also, the weather’s been cold and rainy, so I’m not riding outside. The stationary bike in the basement bothers my knee. Oh, and I have a swollen tear duct this week, so there’s that.

“Ol’ Ten Speeder,” is what my friend Margot calls me. She and I did the D.C. to Pittsburgh trip some years ago, during which I averaged about 10 miles an hour, a rate which felt somewhat zippy to me but, according to her, is actually quite sloth-like.

In this race, she’s in 301st place out of 794 riders. I’m in 663rd place. That might mean she’s twice as fast as I am or, more precisely, I’m twice as pathetic.

Most of my 126 miles have been pedaled inside. Some nights I’ll watch TV as I spin through a few miles. If I remember to, I log into the site and report my miles. The other night I did 10 miles. That same day our team leader did 19, “all uphill and very windy.” Most days he does at least 50 miles. Show-off.

When I finally logged in those measly 10 miles, I mistakenly entered my time in hours, not minutes. Our team leader caught it.

“You’re even slower than usual,” he wrote in an email. I’d reported it had taken me 44 hours to pedal 10 miles; in other words about 4 hours per mile. At that rate it would take me 10 years to complete the course.

Our team will probably reach the finish line sometime next week. Me, I hope to be in Ohio by then, or at least Pennsylvania. Unless I spend every walking hour on a bike, there’s no way I’ll make it to the west coast by the time the race ends later this month. If the rankings hold steady, I’ll be among the slowest riders, but there will be 131 riders even slower than I am. It looks like some of them are still back in D.C. Poor pokey things.

The actual cross-country trail is expected to be fully connected in the next decade or so. I hope to ride it – for real, outside. If you see me out there – probably still in this neck of the woods – give a wave as you go by. I’ll be lagging behind.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at cootiej@aol.com.

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