By Maggie Slepian
Regardless of the image I carefully curate for the internet, I do plenty of activities apart from hiking, and I’m bad at a lot of them. Many of these are attempts at indoor recreation, from the OrangeTheory class that Hailey and I turned into a competition (why is there a Leaderboard if you aren’t fighting everyone else?) to Beginner Clogging where I wound up so off-beat I threw off the entire class’s attempt at Cotton-Eyed Joe.
I was inspired to write this by a friend’s recent essay about his soul-crushing foray into church league basketball, and in solidarity with those who have memories that make us cringe so hard we smack our foreheads against the shower wall.
My last post for this site talked about a failed bikepacking trip with Hailey (of OrangeTheory Legacy). This time I wrote about another time I sucked at cycling. Except this bike wasn’t even moving.
“In an effort to simultaneously move my body and do something social, I agreed to a spin class with Hana, my brother’s adorable fiancee.”
It was Christmas of last year, and I was visiting my family in New Hampshire where I have no friends, hobbies, or mode of transportation. In an effort to simultaneously move my body and do something social, I agreed to a spin class with Hana, my brother’s adorable fiancee. She picked me up at my parent’s house (embarrassing) in an Instagram-perfect GymShark set, her hair in a springy ponytail, fancy spin shoes on the passenger seat. I was wearing grubby running clothes and I hadn’t showered since I’d left Montana.
When we got there, I paid a ridiculous amount of money for a drop-in slot, was directed to the rental shoes, then swiftly reprimanded for putting them on in the lobby instead of the special spin room. I chose a bike in the back, a few rows behind Hana. The room was tight and dark, and everyone who filtered in looked like a version of Hana. Matched set crop tops, high ponytails, immaculately made up.
“The room was tight and dark, and everyone who filtered in looked like a version of Hana. Matched set crop tops, high ponytails, immaculately made up.”
I ride flats on my gravel bike and mountain bike, and as everyone filtered in, I was helplessly kicking my feet around the clipless pedals, trying to wedge the shoes into their little homes. Hana glanced back and unclipped herself (how?) and squatted down, twisting my feet until the shoes slotted into place.
She hopped back on her bike as the unfairly attractive spin instructor pranced to her spot on a pedestal, the lights banged off, and the music started.
From here, it was a blur.
I assumed a spin class encompassed pedaling a stationary bike. Sometimes you stand up, sometimes you pedal faster, sometimes you turn up your resistance. But the thumping bass, bellowed affirmations, and rapid-fire commands were as far from my idea of spin as possible while still technically being the same activity. I was immediately lost in a sea of people who very clearly did this on a regular basis. And they were all smiling.
Then they started dancing.
There was choreography, and everyone seemed to know it. I whipped my head around as the instructor’s demands changed from fast pedaling / slow pedaling to mind-boggling dolphin dives, side-to-sides, up-and-downs, front-backs.
There was a truly horrifying 30 seconds where people got off the bikes and did squats to the beat of a song I vaguely recognized sped up to 360 beats per minute. I could see the bobbing heads in the mirrors that cruelly lined every wall.
In unison, every perky ponytail rose and fell at the same time, except my head in the back left corner. As they went down, I went up. Their shoulders dropped to the pounding beat, my head popped up like an animatronic whack-a-mole. And it didn’t matter that I was trying to be anonymous in the back row. The entire room was mirrored so I could see myself flailing from every angle. It was like a dressing room of horrors with my feet structurally attached to the pedals.
“The entire room was mirrored so I could see myself flailing from every angle. It was like a dressing room of horrors with my feet structurally attached to the pedals.”
I finally sat back and just spun my legs, watching Hana out of the corner of my eye as she popped up and down out of the seat, leaned forward, clapped her hands, dolphin-dove back and forth in perfect unison with every other impossibly hot person in the room.
The instructor screamed things we should love about ourselves. I prayed for a lightning strike. Everyone sprang up out of their seats at another indecipherable command. I imagined a tidal wave taking out the studio. For a final 30 seconds, the other 20-some-odd sets of toned, tan legs spun the pedals faster than I’d ever pedaled a bike as the music crescendoed and I figured I’d just never come back to New Hampshire again.
Then it was over. The instructor said some more inspirational stuff, poreless foreheads were dabbed with towels, and everyone smoothly slid their feet out of the pedals and tap-tap-tapped out of the room. Except me, who still couldn’t figure out the mechanics of the clipless pedals. Finally I pulled my feet out, left the shoes dangling from the pedals, and slapped out of the room in my socks, leaving little sweaty footprints on the rubbery floor.
There are people who are comfortable outdoors and people who thrive inside. The luckiest people feel good everywhere. In my years of social observation and relentless pursuit of dignity, I’ve found that I am cool neither outside nor inside. But at least when I’m outdoors, there are fewer mirrors, less chance of surprise choreography, and it’s a lot easier to give up and go home.