For health reasons, I joined Zwift in November 2019 so I could keep cycling year-round. In those beginning days, I could barely do 5 miles. I remember the day I did 10 miles. I thought that was a big deal! I was happy with my progress. At least I was able to ride and I loved the game aspect of Zwift, so it was fun.

One of my local cycling friends who is also on Zwift suggested I should look for group rides because they were a great way to get stronger. I was still trying to learn about Zwift; how things worked, and all the lingo and terminology, so I wasn’t too sure I would do that. But I told her I would consider it.

Not long after that, I was on Facebook, reading posts in some group I had joined called The Herd Cycling. Cute name, I thought. I was looking at their page and it said something about a 1-hour group ride that was between 1.0 and 1.2 watts per kilo. I didn’t know what that meant and I had no idea really what a group ride meant except it wasn’t a race. I had never seen any of my numbers go over 0.8 so I figured it had something to do with that since it was decimals. I thought to myself, what do I have to lose? The worst that’ll happen is that I get dropped. So I went on Companion and clicked to join the ride.

I remember that morning I got up earlier than usual to make sure I was all ready for my first big group ride. I had laid out my cycling clothes the night before. I made sure I had coffee and an extra water bottle. I put a box of tissues and a towel by my bike. I was going to be as ready as I could be for this ride, doggone it.

As I clicked to join the ride, my heart was pounding. I was really nervous. I kept telling myself to relax. You’re going to get dropped anyway. Just ride. It’s not like you’re gonna get lost!

The timer ticked down to zero, the red gate disappeared, and suddenly there was such a flurry of riders that flew past me, I could almost feel the wind from my screen. I felt like I was standing still. I summarily ended up at the back of the pack, and despite all my efforts to hang on for dear life, got dropped in less than a minute.

Stages Smart Bike

At that time I was very bad on hills. I’m certainly not great now by any stretch, but I’m a little better than I was then. I didn’t know about spinning. So on the first hill, I was just grinding as hard as I could. I got to the top of that huge 3% hill and was very happy to see far ahead that the rest of the group was flying down a hill instead of climbing another hill around a bend. I just kept going at my own pace because at least I was seeing a new part of the course and it was fun.

I continued down the hill and saw there was a single rider ahead in the far distance. “Wow,” I said to myself, “it would really be cool if I could catch him.” I pedaled like my life depended on it and sure enough, it seemed like I was getting closer. I saw the seconds between us were getting smaller and smaller very quickly. “Damn, I might catch him,” I thought. Sure enough, I caught his wheel, and I was elated. I guessed he was just trying to catch his breath at the bottom of the hill.

“Gee, apparently I’m not as weak as I think I am,” I proudly decided. “This poor guy. He must be really tired. As soon as I can actually breathe again myself, I’ll pull for him.”

Once I reached the rider, I rode in front of him. That lasted a hot 5 seconds until he pulled in front of me. I repeatedly tried to take my turn at the front, but every time he would just go by me to the front. I said to myself, “Aha, the poor guy, he must be embarrassed! He probably feels like he has to pull because here we are, the last two people in this ride, and the guy must be trying to save his pride.” So I most graciously allowed him to stay in front. 

I clicked on his name and saw that he was somewhere around level 30. I thought, “That’s odd. I would think somebody at level 30 would be a little stronger of a rider than I am, but apparently that may not be the case.”

Every time we reached a hill, I got dropped. I pushed up the hills as quickly as I could with my 2 mph massive speed, and every time I reached the top, I could see this guy at the bottom of the hill. I thought to myself, “Wow, he must not be very good at going down hills.” So I would speed up to catch him at the bottom of every hill, and would you believe it, I caught him every single time!

This went on throughout the whole ride. I was very happy about my generosity with allowing this gentleman to feel better about himself, because it surely showed that I was not acting with pride or ego. 

During all this, the chat was very active. I could not type anything into the chat due to a connectivity glitch of some kind on my end, but I could read everything. Suddenly something caught my eye in the chat. Someone said something about going to the back of the pack to act as a sweep. I asked myself, “How the heck do you sweep a virtual road that has no actual debris?” Then someone else said the sweeps are the heroes because they sacrifice their ride to stay with the dropped riders.

Enter epiphany.

I shook my head in self disgust. “YOU MORON!” I yelled out loud at myself. “You didn’t catch him! He was waiting for you every time to ride with you! He’s a sweep, you dingbat!”

I thought to myself, “This poor guy. He could have had a great ride, but instead, he chose to stay at the back of the pack to pull me around, and here I am, thinking I’m all that and a Di2 groupset.” I was ashamed that I had been so pompous and supposedly magnanimous. I was filled with a tremendous amount of respect for this rider. I made sure to remember his name. I was so frustrated that I could not type into the chat to thank this guy. I figured he must have thought that I was totally ungrateful. By that time, I was not feeling very good about myself at all and I was pretty mortified, and glad no one could read my prideful mind through the computer.

As soon as the ride was done I got on my computer and got on the Herd page. I wrote, “If anyone knows K. Kondo, please tell him that my chat wasn’t working but I want to thank him so much for waiting for me throughout the whole ride! He was great!” 

I got immediate responses. Oh that’s Kuni, he’s wonderful. Yes Kuni is a great guy. Kuni is the best. And then I saw somebody named Kuni Kondo comment, “It was my pleasure.” I was so happy to be able to thank him personally! If I could have hugged him through the computer, I would have. 

As a result of this ride, I knew that I wanted to be a part of The Herd. These people truly embodied the spirit of cycling as a group, with no cyclist left behind. I knew this was the group for me. These days, every group ride I’m in, I am very happy to moooo in the chat at the start.

One day I hope to be strong enough to be able to go to the back of the pack and be a sweep, just like Kuni. 

But for now, if you see me at the bottom of a hill, I’m probably just trying to catch my breath.