I dug into the backlog of emails this morning, the mass of messages, links, videos, shout outs, images, and naughty bits that has (once again) piled up over the last week. This one knocked my socks off. This one needs sharing. We could all learn something from this, this man, this writer, this story, this email. As his story is quite personal, I will call him simply “S”. I thank him for sharing. And, I hope you do as well.
Subject: Starting paralegal Monday…
We’re going through similar straits. I feel your pain. But as they say, we reap what we sow. It’s a wonder that I ended up where I am doing what I’m doing, and you’re probably thinking the same thing. I used to live a triple life, where one third of that life was cycling. I lived in Tucson, and rode to the base from the Feldman neighborhood every day, which was 9 miles each way when I worked EOR. On Saturday and Sunday, I logged upwards of 150 miles with team Fair Wheel, and I was sometimes the only one meeting up at Swan and Sunrise that rode to the ride, instead of putting my bike up on my car to go to the meeting place. Through this pain and suffering and glory and suspended heart rates I found enough strength in my thin, genetically inferior body to finish El Tour de Tucson in 1999 in under 5:00, the goal of many.
I stopped riding in packs and found great freedom and loneliness in some long tours alone. I rode through hell and rode through heaven. I shouted to no present adversary on a long climb in W. Virginia – “You think you’re bigtime! Now you’re going to fucking die, bigtime.” in as close to a Pacino growl as I could. I passed unloaded cyclists on hills and told them to ride all day every day if they want to be strong.
I sat in a park in some bombed out southern Illinois town with a half pint of SoCo and lemonade, devout in my superior loneliness, as a black youth came up to me and told me this park is a bad place, and I shouldn’t be sitting there, citing the stabbings and robbings, and I just laughed at it. No one is going to fuck with someone as rugged as me, I thought. I got a knife too.
I had adventures. Lovers. Porches built and doors hung. Mad weed and then no weed, and some weed again. College; trudging in the snow and masturbating in the locker room after a good iron pump. Pissy roommates and good roommates. Frisbee throwing in the morning dew. Through it all, I was and still am cyclist. I ride the bicycle, and that is what makes me who I am. I have the ownership of a car and the option of getting behind the wheel to bring my ass around, but I choose the more correct path, and get on two human powered wheels instead. My church is the road, my religion is the endless white line.
I had big plans for success based upon my brainpower and education, or just my high ego and all that. What the fuck happened? Well, I signed up for being blown by the wind. I met a chick in Minneapolis that took me on her big adventure, and broke my truck’s transmission carrying her and my shit halfway across the continent. Then we continued our adventure back to Tucson, and when she found such a cool group of spiritual wingnuts, decided that me and my living room bike shop weren’t cool enough. The second bike I built for her was a very nice Raleigh with Dura Ace.
I left Tucson with a dog she stuck me with, whom I now consider a great companion. He is now well adapted to running alongside the bicycle. We went up through California and I finally saw the central valley. The image that sticks with me the most is a radio station truck at a small block party in the blazing sunny dust, the face on the side of the Mexican DJ with a smile so extreme it was a look of pure pain, and his two thumbs up in equally pained enthusiasm. Right before we got to Eugene, I hit a doe and it destroyed the left side of my front end, and I dragged the deer off of the highway to watch it die. I took what meat I could from it, fed my dog his first taste of fresh venison, and spent five miserable weeks in Eugene trying to live there. The city chewed me up and spit me out.
Then I arrived in Portland. It was magical. I was in love with the Rose city. Even the sewer caps are pretty. It’s got its underbelly, for sure, but Portland’s parks in the fall shined gold in the sunlight, and those days were full of riding around the East side, taking Lance to the park to run with other dogs, teaching a 6 year old to ride his bike without training wheels, and $2 MacTarnahan’s 22oz’ers. I worked for pay a grand total of 2 days. I lived the summer and fall with a dysfunctional family that badly needed my help fixing their fence.
When winter came I found myself living in a fancy house with no heat, and my bicycle inadequately fendered. It was my first winter away from the sunny madness of Arizona. I did fine, in fact, I found a place of yin that taught me some things about myself that the distracting life of continual sun, shmoozing at the Epic, and cheap pot couldn’t bring. I moved across the river to Van-shithole and went to Clark college, every single day my car sat and I rode the bicycle, sometimes numbing my hands in the 3 mile ride to school, every time the pavement was wet, I endured seeing the spread out drips of motor oil that people allowed to drip onto the street, and could do nothing about it. I was angry at the idiots who wouldn’t fix their oil leaks, but still considered their privilege to drive to be unalienable. I finished machining my frame jig in April but I’ve yet to build a frame.
Then I met another woman and this one came with a 3 year old. I moved up to Northern Washington with her and when the work involved in maintaining the relationship got to be too much effort for her, we split up. I now live in a house across the street from the college I’m probably going to be attending on Monday, and check this out – I’m going to study Paralegal. Why the fuck not? Sounds good, I’ll take it. I sit here in the admissions office waiting around and looking at the line.
I wanted to write this to you to today to tell you that I’m in a less than ideal place, but at least I have my two dearest bicycles and I have a dog that loves to run. The ugliest women in America live in Mt. Vernon but maybe one of them might be fun for a while as the rain sets in and I need someone to share my double bed with. I’m not drinking beer anymore but I’ve got a consistent wine habit to the tune of 1/2 – 2/3 of a bottle a day. About once a week I make the ride to or from Bellingham, which is about 30 miles. The only time I feel sane and normal, and like myself, is after that ride. Back in 2000, a 30 mile day would be light. A 15 mile day I would casually call “A day off the bike” and a 90 mile day would give me a high that no wine can even dream of giving. Every day I ride down a bike path with Lance, the two miles to the coop for my $1 coffee, and sit there and pop open my heavy laptop, and do the virtual rounds. I read the DC blog every day.
I feel your pain, and I suggest that you make the time and the effort to ride one of those great bicycles of yours, and pull a trailer if you need to, and do so even if it is painful, because the pain of atrophy is far worse than the pain of exhaustion. Racing is merely bike-jitsu. The bike-do, the way of the bike, is the true path and the path of the warrior. It is simpy using the bike to get you somewhere, whether that is from downtown PHX to the eastside or from Big Sur, CA to Speculator, NY.
That guy you see cracking the 40oz on the park bench in the morning is a dead man, one of the nameless fools that winds up falling over dead on a Phoenix sidewalk in July. All men are created equal, but many many men fuck this up and become lesser beings. Not heroes. Joe six pack is no hero even if he has a steady job. None of that matters. If you spend three days with nowhere to be, doing nothing but drinking and feeling low, and you can’t get up on that fourth day when you have someplace to be and get in the saddle and ride away the tormented recent past, then it’s time to die. Some of us thrive on extremes. Some of us thrive on routine. Nobody, and I say nobody, thrives on the drive.
I hold this truth to be self evident: A cyclist is someone that rides the bicycle.