It’s late October in Texas Hill Country. I’m 20 miles into a 40-mile ride, and already my legs are fatigued. The wind pushes back, but I persist, head down, in the drops, going 13 miles an hour.
We chose Texas for our first mother and daughter cycling trip because we felt the long distances on offer would keep me interested, while she tackled the shorter options available. The trip’s statistics hadn’t impressed me on paper. But roads aren’t ridden on paper, it turns out.
If it’s this hard for me, how is my mom faring? She’s been diligently training all year, but you can’t train for riding in the wind, and she has little experience with it first hand. I feel guilty for starting my ride before her, but she said, “I’m fine, you do your ride and I’ll do mine.”
She came to the sport late, now in her 60s, and I’m impressed at how fully she’s embraced it. She rides the trainer during the winter days, and pays attention to things like cadence and bike fit. She describes her rides with subtle details.
When the trip’s support van passes, giving a friendly honk, I see her sitting in the back seat, waving from the window. Based on how I felt, I know that however long she lasted, it was the hardest ride of her life.
Later, I’m poring over my ride data in the hotel room as my mom starts organising tomorrow’s cycling clothes. I’m proud of how she rode, and I feel she should be, too. 40 miles felt like 80 for me, so her 18 miles must have felt like a century.
But when I look over to vent about my lackluster stats, I see she’s quietly crying. She notices me watching. “I don’t belong here,” she says. “I knew it when I saw everyone in the parking lot this morning. You’re all cyclists, and I’m not. I rode the least amount of anyone. I can’t do this.” She looks up, meeting my eyes and holding them, and says, “I feel like such a fraud.”
For a second, I don’t know what to say. But then I tell the truth. “It was hard, incredibly hard, and you did the best you could. That’s all anyone can do in those situations. Everyone has to ride at their own level. You are not a fraud.”
She wipes the tears from her face, picking at the hem of a folded jersey in front of her. “This was a mistake.”
My mom has always been my touchstone. A constant when all else changes. She has been a sounding board, a confidant, and a voice of pragmatism. When she began riding bikes, though, the roles reversed. She now asked me for advice, and I had the answers and guidance she needed. The lines between mother and daughter became blurred in this new space where I was the instructor and she was the student.
In that moment in the hotel room, we weren’t mother and daughter – we were simply cyclists. She struggled through a moment of crisis, and I gave her a seasoned perspective. I knew I couldn’t say anything to change her mind, so I told her to keep going, because that’s what cyclists do.
Each day, she covers a bit more ground. The final day is 33 miles, and she vows to ride them all. As we pedal together along the banks of the Guadalupe River, her cadence is even, her back relaxed, and her gaze fixed ahead. She says, “I’m glad I didn’t give up. I feel so much better than I did that first day.” We continue in silence, riding all 33 miles, just as planned.
This fall, we’re going on another mother and daughter trip to Death Valley, and she wants to be completely prepared. Last month she emailed Kate, one of our trip leaders from Texas, to ask about the route. When Kate replied, she attached a picture she’d taken that day along the river in Texas. To us, it’s simply mother and daughter. But to anyone else, it’s a photo of two cyclists, enjoying the ride together.