Emily carried her cleated racing shoes into the kitchen. She had her long-sleeved winter racing kit on, with a bright orange microfiber buff around her neck. Katharine motioned to the table and set out bacon and eggs. Emily put the bread in the toaster.
“Why the bicycle kit, Mom?” Katharine was wearing a winter riding outfit, but with sneakers.
“We’ve gone out past Earlysville to Dyke before. You don’t have to drive a sag wagon every time I ride.”
“I know, but I want to, and, besides, I enjoy the back roads.”
“Why not ride with me?”
“You’re too fast. I’d only hold you back.”
“Not that much. Dad is the slowpoke.”
Katharine looked out the window. The second weekend in January was brilliant with sunshine, and unseasonably warm. Especially compared to Kansas. She sat down and kicked off her sneakers.
“OK. After breakfast, I’ll get my cleats while you clear the table. How far do you want to ride today?”
“At least 60 kilometers.” Emily’s bike computer was still set to metric, a quirk of her coach in Kansas.
A half-hour later, the two women were blasting up Berkmar Drive on the new bike lane. They rounded the south end of the Charlottesville Airport and headed west toward the Blue Ridge mountains. Traffic was light, mostly shoppers headed the other way to the Hollymead Town Center or to US Highway 29. They kept up a fast pace, breaking 70 kph on the downhills, and not dropping below 18 on the climbs, one ravine after another. Katharine was working very hard but noticed that Emily had a sweat stain down her back, too.
The sun climbed to their left, high enough not to cast annoying shadows from the bare trees. On the flat stretches, large farms extended away from the road, some with horses, others with grapevines, and still others with cows. They climbed Simmons Gap Road to Nortonville and turned right on Dyke Road. They overtook a foursome of women in University of Virginia colors riding toward Dyke. With a friendly shout, Emily and Katharine passed them, which started an impromptu race to the Dyke General Store.
Emily led the pack to the side of the store, where they leaned their bikes and introduced themselves. Two second-years, one third-year and their coach, who was racing while working on her PhD.
“Emily Dempsey!” said Mariana, the coach, a Latina with jet-black hair. She might have had more curve if the years of racing had not burned off all her fat. “You were on the cover of Peloton magazine last summer.”
Emily blushed. “Yeah, that was me.” She looked down.
“You beat Augusta Bivens in the Air Force Invitational. That was awesome!”
“No wonder you blew past us,” said Megan, a red-headed second-year.
“You are strong riders,” said Katharine, taking some of the spotlight from her embarrassed daughter. “Is there a team at the University?”
“The Cycling Club at UVA is sanctioned and races on the intercollegiate circuit,” said Jane, the fourth-year. “Are you at UVA?”
“I am,” said Katharine. “We just arrived this week.”
“That’s unusual, transferring in the middle of the year. Where were you before?”
“Wichita State. I didn’t have any ‘Part-Two’ courses in the spring, so it’s a clean break.”
Emily interrupted. “Sorry, guys, but I think we need to ride. I’m cooling off too much.” That led to a general donning of helmets and clicking of cleats on the concrete as they returned to their bikes.
“If you’re looking for a coach and a team,” said Mariana, “I can introduce you to the CRC people and the UVA team.” They swapped phone numbers on their phones.
“Thanks,” Emily said. “We’ll be in touch.”
The UVA group turned back toward Charlottesville, while Emily and Katharine continued north.
They bent east to Amicus and then down Buffalo Mills Road to return to Earlysville.
“Thanks for distracting them, Mom,” Emily said, as they slowed to cool down on the bike lane on Berkmar Drive.
“You’re welcome. I know what it feels like. I never did get used to the attention when I was competing.”
“I don’t think that they realized that you’re a professor.”
“If so, I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Let’s ride by Blue Ridge Cyclery to ask about the CRC. It’s here at the Hollymead Town Center.”
“OK.” The coach and the team were out training. The wrench, who was also manning the counter, gave them the USA Cycling forms Emily needed to transfer her license, and a schedule of local rides.
Back at the house, they changed and spent some time checking out the other teams and stores in the area. Mark came back laden with groceries from Costco.
“I thought you had a meeting in Richmond,” Katharine said as they formed a brigade to carry the groceries into the kitchen.
“I did, but I took the shopping list off the refrigerator with me.”
“I love you.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek, careful not to drop the heavy box of almond milk.
“’Cause I’m domesticated?”
“That, too.” Katharine grabbed the four-place bike rack and closed the lid. “Hey, we met our first UVA students today.”
“Oh, I thought you weren’t going to go on campus until Monday.”
“Its ‘the Grounds’, Dad, not ‘the campus’.” Emily said. “It was a foursome from the Cycling Club at UVA on Dyke Road. We raced them to the Dyke General Store.”
“If they are any indication, Emily should have no trouble finding competitive A-level rides for training around here. The ravines in this area really burn the legs.”
“You rode, too, I take it.”
“Could I waste a day like this?” Katharine pointed to the sunbeam coming into the living room window.
“We stopped at the store that sponsors the local racing club on the way back. They have rides on Tuesdays after school in season.” Emily snagged a banana and began peeling it. “One of the riders we met is a coach at UVA, who recognized me from the Peleton article.”
Mark chuckled, looking at Katharine. “So, the world-famous professor of feminist literature meets the student body at UVA and Emily is the celebrity?” Katharine shrugged and grinned.
“I’ll have the last laugh. I recognized her name. Mariana Vásquez is a PhD student in the Department, and I’m replacing her advisor. Imagine her surprise on Monday.”
“I think they thought Mom was a student. She just said she was ‘at UVA’ when they asked.”
“I would make the same mistake, if I didn’t know her.”
Katharine punched him playfully on the arm. “C’mon, you’re supposed to say that. But thanks anyway.” They hugged while Emily did an exaggerated eye-roll.
The next day, they went to church at Saint Paul’s, which was next to the University. They found that it offered a 5:30 service on Sundays, which was geared to University students, but attracted all ages.
“That’s an option for all those Sundays that you have races or team training rides in the morning,” said Katharine.
“I like the music,” said Mark. “What do you think, Emily?”
“Works for me. I missed going to church on all those Sundays in Newton. Some of my best friends were in the Youth Group.” They had lunch on the Corner near the church, and resolved to come back again.
Monday, Emily walked to Charlottesville High School, which was only on the next block from their house. It was her second week of school, and already she looked forward to class each day. Newton High was a good school, but the variety of backgrounds of her classmates at CHS, and the level of the teaching surprised her. There weren’t any dull teachers, although she heard kids complaining about one or two that she had not met yet.
“Hey, Em! Over here!” Emily carried her lunch over to the table where Fran Monroe was sitting with a girl who had to be a freshman. “You have a fan.”
“Oh?” Emily looked at the younger girl, who sat immobile, staring wide-eyed at Emily. Her big brown eyes were set in a chocolate face.
“This is Taniqua Jackson. She asked if you were Emily Dempsey, and I ratted you out.”
Emily noticed that Taniqua had her hair cut short evenly all around.
“Hi, Taniqua.” Emily extended her arm. Taniqua took it cautiously, then shook it with a surprisingly firm shake.
“I saw you on the cover of a magazine at Community Bikes. I thought you lived in Kansas.”
“I did. We moved here over Christmas. Are you from Charlottesville?”
Taniqua nodded. “I ride, too, but nothing like you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I ride to school, and to church, and everywhere else. But I can’t race.”
“Are you fast?”
“I don’t know. I never raced anyone, but I try to get there as fast as I can.”
“Taniqua lives next door,” said Fran. “We all take the bus, but she convinced her mother to let her take her bike when she started CHS, and she has ridden every day, except during that blizzard.”
“School was closed for that, anyway,” said Taniqua.
Emily looked at Taniqua, then thought of something.
“Hey, Taniqua, if you are really local, I’ll bet you know where everything is. Could you show me around the city on your bike? My folks don’t know the town any better than I do, really.”
Taniqua grinned. “Sure. Where?”
“I don’t know, just around. The downtown mall, bike stores, where the movies and churches are, the different neighborhoods, whatever.”
“OK. Do you have your bike here?”
“No, but I only live over on Foxbrook Lane. We’re renting a house there. I can get my bike and meet you after school any time you want.”
“OK. I’ll ask my mom. She works at the UVA Medical Center on the afternoon shift. She won’t mind, as long as she knows what I’m doing.”
“I’ll check with mine, too.” The bell rang. “See you later. Ciao, Fran.” She packed up what she hadn’t eaten and headed for World Studies in the B concourse.
The rest of January and most of February, the days were pleasant and sunny more often than not. Emily settled into the routine at CHS easily, making friends with Fran’s friends, some of the girls who were also in Girl Scouts (not many at that age), and a couple of classmates who had arrived in the fall. Taniqua showed her around Charlottesville as promised, so that soon Emily could find her way across town faster than Mark or Katharine could in the car. She could drive, of course, but she preferred her bike. She found that most of the motorists were used to bicycles, because there were so many of them almost everywhere.
Mariana told her that the Cycling Club at UVA rode on Tuesdays after school. She showed a serious interest in Emily and invited her to ride on the A+ rides with the Club. That kept Emily in shape, waiting for the racing season to begin. Jane and Megan became good friends.
Emily joined the CRC and quickly made her place on the Juniors team. She was easily the fastest rider, so that after only three rides, the coach, Sam Wallenborn, suggested that she train with the regular USA Cycling riders. She registered for the Cavalier Criterium near Richmond and the Tidewater Winter Classic in Williamsburg, both in late February. As a high-school student with a USAC license, she could race in the junior category intercollegiate races.
“Mom, could we bring Taniqua with us to Richmond?” Emily asked on the day that she registered for the two races. “She has never seen a race, and I think that she would just love it. She loves everything to do with cycling.”
“Sure, honey. Tell her to have her mother call us.”
Taniqua was beside herself with excitement. Her mother was pleased, having been following the growing friendship between her daughter and Emily. She rode to the Dempsey’s house the night before the Cavalier Criterium with her backpack in a milk crate on her bicycle rack.
“I don’t have any luggage, or much to put in it,” she explained.
“It’s just for tonight. You won’t need much.” Emily showed her where to put her bike and carried the backpack up to the bedroom with her. Staying with Emily was like an old-fashioned slumber party for the two of them, except that they both went to sleep early.
A criterium race consists of multiple laps over a short, closed course. It is challenging, because the mass start can be messy. There are many turns, and it requires a lot of individual technical skill. It was not Emily’s best event. She excelled in the longer races, where endurance counted as much as speed. Nevertheless, she placed second in the Women’s Collegiate A race and third in the Women’s Open A race a few hours later. The youngest racer in those events, she became something of an instant sensation.
Mariana and her team were at the Criterium, because the UVA Cycling Club hosted the race. Jane was in the collegiate race with Emily, coming in fourth. It was her best position to date, and a personal best, so she was happy for herself and for Emily. Mariana almost crushed Emily with her hug after the podium ceremony. Emily cried more from the love these women had for her, a newcomer, than for any other reason.
The next weekend, the Dempseys were off to Williamsburg for the Tidewater Winter Classic, again with Taniqua. As they cleared the traffic on the east end of Richmond, Taniqua fell silent.
“Something wrong, Tani?” Emily asked.
“My bike is such a clunker. I could never ride like you.”
“It’s not a clunker. It’s a Bianchi Volpe, in the original Bianchi celeste color. I have the same bike, which you know I ride more than the Colnago.”
“But yours is all clean and shiny. My mother got mine at Community Bikes. It was donated by some guy they said rode it thousands of miles. It’s got dings and chips and the chain is rusty.”
“You can fix all that.”
“We can’t afford to take it to a shop.”
“You can fix it yourself.”
“I didn’t know anything about fixing a bike until last year. I took a course in bike maintenance. I could show you. We could fix it up together.”
Taniqua brightened up. “You’re the best, Em. I never had a friend like you.”
“I like having a friend like you, Tani. Nobody knows the back roads of Charlottesville or the county like you do.”
They lapsed into a companionable silence until Mark pulled into the motel in Williamsburg. He had reserved a room for the girls and another for the grownups.
The Tidewater Winter Classic was a 9.5-mile race on mostly flat land. Being too young for the Women’s Open race, she had registered for the Collegiate A event. That meant racing alone, because she wasn’t a member of any college team, and none of the young riders on the CRC team had qualified for that level. The older CRC riders were racing in the open events.
Emily broke from the pack on the last lap of the race and dodged the domestiques from Virginia Tech who tried to move out to stop her. She overtook the pack and caught up with the race leaders in the last 200 meters. Sprinting past the Tech rider, she managed a third-place finish behind Jane from UVA and a Dutch woman wearing a Cornell University kit. During the awards ceremony, Mariana, Megan, Taniqua and the Dempsey’s jumped up and down with excitement. That made Emily smile from the podium, which delighted the photographers.
The 3rd of March, a massive winter storm came out of Canada and blanketed the East Coast with record-breaking amounts of snow. Power was only out for a day in Charlottesville, but schools were closed for a week, while the city dug out. By then, it was only two weeks until her first local event, a new international race along the Blue Ridge Parkway. She shifted back to training with the Juniors team, riding Thursday evenings and Saturday to get ready. This was going to be a long, regular road race, requiring teamwork and strategy. Emily was expected to be the leader, but they trained hard, taking turns as leaders and guards, sprinting, changing positions, and simply riding long and hard to build endurance.
Emily and Taniqua met after school on Mondays in the garage of the Dempsey house. Emily and Mark showed Taniqua how to clean and oil the drive train, change parts like the cassette, the cables, the brakes and the chain, and how to true a wheel. The young Charlottesvillean especially liked learning to repair a flat.
“I have a bunch of inner tubes at home with holes in them. Now I can get them all working.” Mark gave her a pair of tube repair kits from their stash in the garage.
“Do you have a place to work on your bike at home?” he asked.
“Not really, but Community Bikes is just down the street. They’ll let me put the bike on their stands and work on it for free.” She wheeled her bike out to the driveway and turned on the lights. Waving to Emily and her stepfather, Taniqua rode back across town to finish her homework before her mother came home.
NOTE TO NEW READERS (and returning friends): if you want to read this serial novel from the beginning, choose the “Emily & Hilda ” subcategory to get just those chapters on your blog feed. Enjoy!
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,