I wasn't going to write about The Pickle Ride.
I've come close to deleting my notes on it twice. I've also tried and failed to write about it in any straight-up, conventional way: the mileage, the sights, the location of the bike shop along the route, in case you bust a part.
Only now, eight weeks on, do I understand that the worst part of the Pickle Ride was also the most interesting part, and the part worth telling.
It began as a weekend spin on a sunny day along the Minuteman Bike Trail. It was the day before the Boston Marathon this year, a steamy one. My biking friend and I began our ride in North Cambridge, ducked under Route 2, cycled past the backyards and ballfields of East Arlington, then Spy Pond and the Great Meadow, and on into Lexington.
We were sharing the road that day with every species of rider: Intense cyclists racing expensive, lightweight bikes as if they were late to the starting line, but also tots on My Little Pony three-wheelers. The Minuteman Bike Trail is a community ride, and at its most enjoyable if you think about it that way.
What I was thinking about during much of the ride, however, was food. My stomach was growling. My biking friend and I had agreed, before we set out, that we would stop for lunch in Lexington.
But my biking buddy, he's not like me. He doesn't stop for lunch when hunger strikes, and especially not when he's on his bike. No, he makes himself earn his food.
Which is why, even though it was well after noon, that we biked right by our designated lunch spot. My friend cycles many more miles than I do, so I didn't argue. And on we spun, past beautiful stretches of greenery on the way to Route 128, then across the bridge over the highway, and into Bedford. Just beyond the Bedford depot is a lesser-known treat: a wooded trail that runs through conservation land and a wildlife preserve. We paused at the trail head.
“Let's go for it,” my friend said. “We'll grab lunch on the way back.”
Because stopping when you are hungry is for wimps.
The added miles were beautiful, no question, but by the time we doubled back to Lexington, it was 3 p.m.
“Let's split a veggie roll-up,” my vegetarian biking friend said.
“Sounds good,” I said, though I could have eaten a whole roasted cow. Hunger, it seemed, had damaged my ability to think.
Fortunately, just as he began to order, my friend had second thoughts.
“Maybe we should each get our own,” he said, and asked for two.
As I watched the deli guy assemble our roll-ups, though, I grew alarmed. Sure, there was a slice of Swiss in there, and a scoop of hummus. But most of the sandwich I carried outside to eat consisted of every pickled pepper on the planet: banana peppers, marinated red peppers, pickle chips, some sort of chopped sweet green pickle, and those were just the ones I recognized.
We sat on a bench and unwrapped our sandwiches. As I ate, a steady stream of pickle juice dribbled out the bottom of my roll-up. Napkins weren't up to the job; I had to hike forward over my spread knees to keep the spatter off my clothes and legs. Trickling madly, and three bites into my sandwich, I discovered a separate something tucked in next to my sandwich. Shocked, I extracted it: a generous wedge of new dill pickle wrapped in its own drippy square of white butcher paper.
I held it out, showed my friend.
“I think I'm hallucinating, here,” I said.
Have I mentioned that I was very hungry? My friend was having no trouble eating his roll-up. So I ate my peck of pickled peppers sandwich, or most of it. When I finished, I was brined to the eyeballs.
And we still had to ride from Lexington back to Cambridge. Not far, but not nothing.
My riding buddy popped up off the bench, refreshed, in good spirits, suffering no ill effects. He eyed me, still bent over on the bench.
“Maybe all that salt will be good for your electrolytes,” he suggested.
“I don't know,” I replied, gazing at the puddle between my feet. “I'm pretty pickled out.”
It came to me, after a moment, that I needed an antidote. Some sort of quick anti-pickle. I am not proud of what came next, but to be fair, my options were limited. I couldn't face the deli again, and nothing in a nearby bakery looked palatable.
So I bought and ate a small bag of malt balls. Just thinking about it now makes me feel ill, but in the moment, somehow, I thought they might be a counterbalance.
And they were, briefly. We got back on our bikes and rode back to North Cambridge. I have to say, I had plenty of pep.
“All that salt and sugar seems to be working for you,” my friend called to me from behind.
He couldn't see the expression on my face. He didn't know that I was riding fast to finish off those sloshy, vinegary, sugar-crusted last miles as quickly as possible.
Is there a moral here? Most definitely. When you're biking, keep it simple. Tune in fully to the world around you, but don't forget to tune in to your own body. Stop and eat when you're hungry. And don't mix pickles and malt balls.
Don't do The Pickle Ride.
Susan Meyers is a Brookline writer. Her memoir about sight, blindness, and her relationship with her brother, titled Check This Box If You Are Blind, was published last June by Climbing Ivy Press.