Cami M. Pack grew up in Oregon and Washington, reading books perched in pine trees and biking in the rain. In Utah for college, she fell in love with the mountains and stayed on teaching college composition, both at SLCC and USU, as well as literature for a private boarding school. Cami’s favorite activities include reading aloud with her husband and exploring the local canyons, often spotting exotic birds through her binoculars.

Of the thousands who frequent my gym across the Wasatch Front, I’m one of a handful that doesn’t go dressed-to-kill. I’m proud to say, wearing sweatpants and t-shirts, I’ve never been “picked up” in the gym: well, sorta proud [clear throat]. Anyway, today I ventured into the stationary biking room; it’s a dark little cave hidden away at the back of the gym. I didn’t even know it existed, but it looked fun. I shimmied up on one of the bikes while a bunch of hard-core riders came in. You know the ones: padded-butt shorts, Nalgene bottles, neon polyester, moisture-wicking tops—the people that call bikes “cycles.”

The instructor turned off the lights, turned on the fans and a disco ball, and hit the music. Awesome! Techno scene flooded the room. I tried to pretend like I knew what I was doing: turned this knob, turned that knob, looked nonchalant while my face alternately glowed blue and yellow, and my hair blew everywhere.

We’d been pedaling a few seconds when the lithe instructor yelled, “Turn it up a notch! This is our Level 3 flat course. Let’s get going!” My veins pumped with energy. I was totally in my element. Right away she took us up this huge imaginary hill in the dark, and my heart picked up the fast-track when we peaked at Level 9. “Stand up! Sit down! Tuck your bum! Elbows out! Tighten those abs! Straight backs! Back in the saddle!”

[Breathe. Breathe.]

That’s when I noticed that I was the only one panting. And by panting I really mean hyperventilating, gulping and sucking down lung-searing air while the woman to my left smiled to herself. I’m not making this up; her face had assumed the kind of repose mine only possesses on the beach, watching the waves, you know, reclined in warm sand with a piña colada.

“Turn it up a notch! All right! Doing great!” The instructor chanted. Everyone obediently reached down to turn the knobs that controlled each bike’s resistance. I died. Really: five minutes into the workout, I was ready to go coffin shopping.

That’s when I conceived a strategy. Every time the instructor yelled, “Turn it up a notch,” I reached down like everyone else and let my wheel squeak in the opposite direction (it was dark; they couldn’t tell), and then I pedaled slower, like I’d turned up the resistance hard and could barely push. I was careful, though. Since I’m obviously not a biker, erm cycler, I made sure to go a little slower than the beach-lady. That way, I wouldn’t give myself away.

There was only one problem. Even though I pedaled slower, it felt like someone was pointing blow torches at my legs. Wind from the fans lashed my face, the techno blared too loud, and my lungs felt like hot coals. While everyone whipped out a Level 8, I’d moved down to Level 4 and was still d-y-i-n-g!

My thoughts went something like this: I can’t do it … I mean [gasp], of course I CAN do it [gasp]; I just don’t WANT to do it [gasp];  It’d be better to build up to it [gasp], come back next week and get dinner ready on time [gasp]; if I leave, I can get dinner ready on time; I have to leave.

Snarfing my air, I noticed the beach-babe; her head was bent, like the others, over stationary handle-bars: focused, transported to her magic Zen place. That’s when my ever-present, never-resting, fun-loving, gotta-have-it PRIDE took hold inside that fiery spot where my lungs used to reside.

What would they think of me? I screamed inside my head. (Note: I was screaming because of the pain, and it didn’t matter to my pride that I’d never seen these people before.) They would think I couldn’t do it! I answered practically, still yelling.  And then the balanced daughter-of-a-psychologist side of me came out for positive self-talk about my planned retreat. Oh come on! I cajoled. Who cares if everyone sees me walking out? Hah. Whatever! It’s only been ten minutes, but I have dinner to make! I can work up to it gradually. It’s not failure! I should respect my ten minutes!

What a quandary: vanity versus pain, dinner versus working out. Only because I’m still alive, I’m proud to say pride won, held me captive through 30 minutes of torture. It doesn’t even matter that my lungs feel blistered right now, three hours later, or that I completed the last twenty minutes on Level 1. To all appearances, I owned that workout, and in return, rather than laughing at my human folly, I’ll rejoice that the pretend-gladiator in me pulled out 300 real-calories.

I’ve come to a realization. Instead of promoting self-confidence and  moderation like Oprah, we could make millions marketing pride to the masses, selling vain catch-phrases to keep people at their gyms: “Pride! Pretend to own that workout! “Pride! The American Way!” “Pride! I won’t walk out!” What a genuine motivator, a caffeine kick-start, a French way of living! The pounds keep dropping. I think I need a new gladiator outfit, the kind with a padded-butt. After all, I’m actually looking forward to cycling next week. (Then again, I’m still riding an endorphin wave, and who knows how that’s affected my reasoning.)