Your fellow riders are out ahead of you, somewhere. You think you saw one of them around that last curve, but you aren’t sure. Your heart feels like it’s about to beat out of your chest, you’re sucking in breaths through your mouth because your nostrils just don’t pull the air in fast enough. You keep pushing through it so you can catch up.
You finally reach the other riders because they’ve stopped to wait for you, or because they needed a break.
“Oh, there he (or she) is,” they say.
You can’t talk through your labored breathing, so you nod and wave to say you’re okay, even though you’re pretty sure you’re about to die right there on the trail.
They jump on their saddles and start pedaling again. But don’t worry. After you survive this stop you’ll catch up and see them again eventually.
At some point in our mountain biking history, we’ve all done this. If you’re the exception, then you must have done something that kept you in shape before your first group ride.
Just because a ride is no-drop doesn’t mean you will always see your fellow riders. Whether they’re superior pedalers or faster descenders, you might lose sight of them. If you’re riding at night under a light, make sure you have strong batteries.
What if you get a flat? On any group ride where I’ve seen a flat–even one where a photographer was trying to beat the sunset–we have not left the sufferer behind. In fact, the whole group stops and takes the opportunity to tell stories. No-drop group rides are as much social as anything else.
Occasionally there’s that rider who takes point and you rarely see them again, but usually they hang back at least long enough for everyone else to catch up or to see where to turn at the next fork in the trail.
If you ever find yourself wishing you never had to stop, then take a moment to remember it is a group ride. Reflect on how it feels back there, nearly dry-heaving because you’re trying to keep up with the group. Next time you or someone else on your ride gets a flat, use that time to get to know people. Why else are you on that group ride?