What are you riding from?

March 15, 2014 § 27 Comments

My father rode a bicycle. It was a big, black Hercules with a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub and white handlebar grips. My father’s bicycle was a tool. He rode it to work.

Many years later, I rode a silver-with-brown-highlights Nishiki International. It had twelve speeds, Sugino cranks, Suntour shifters, and Dia-Compe brakes. I rode that bike away from the pain.

My mother rode away from my father and our family in 1979. Mom and Dad took us out to dinner, a very nice Italian place, though we never went to nice anythings. Our royal parents were strangely friendly and solicitous. No one told me to stop smacking or to quit clacking my teeth on the fork. The food tasted so good. I still remember the spaghetti and the crunchy bread with small shards of garlic toasted down the middle.

After dinner we went home and my parents seated my brother and me on the olive velour couch. I scratched Fletcher’s head while he happily thumped his tail on the floor. “We’re getting a divorce,” they said.

The spaghetti didn’t taste so good any more. My brother silently went upstairs and tried to fling himself out of the upstairs bedroom window. I still remember with clarity the panic in my father’s eyes as he gripped my brother’s leg at the last second, the last possible second.

It was organic how profoundly my mother hated her marriage, though her husband was a good man and simply insufficient. What was sufficient? Only a woman knows.

In truth, it wasn’t him she hated. How could she? She hated her father and every man cast in his image, which is to say on some level, all men.

I rode as hard as I could to escape the melee, never escaping it completely, but typically managing to stay a few bike lengths ahead, except, of course, for those times that it overtook me as if I were getting swarmed by a thousand-man field sprint. I learned to pedal like hell, miss the biggest pile-ups, then pedal some more. Or perhaps it was more like going over the falls at Teahupo’o. Hold your breath until you were ready to explode, then pop to the surface with milliseconds to spare. The price of not breathing deeply enough was drowning. In my brother’s case, it was drowning by a gunshot wound to the heart. That was on Father’s Day 2012, just yesterday.

I rode as hard as I could, switching bikes to take advantage of lighter weight, and eventually went all in for modern speed boosters like handlebar shifters and carbon components. The more I rode, the more I saw other people riding hard too, staying a wheel or so ahead of their own private monster. Cycling, the crazy kind, is that way. Everyone seems to be riding from something.

During the ride I had a daughter and two sons. You think that the necrosis of a broken family heals itself over time? You are wrong.

But still I rode and watched the riders around me, the ones who continued decade in and decade out, not the dilettantes or the ones who tried bicycling and then moved on to pilates or surfing or golf or sailing or spin class, rather, the ones who didn’t so much as persevere as they endured. It is, we were told, an endurance sport after all.

After three grueling years, my eldest son breached the surface, sucked in a lungful of air, and told us that he would graduate a year early. I relaxed on the pedals and celebrated in spirit. He was my son. He had never been forced to ride away from us. “How should I arrange all the graduation events and stuff with, you know, the grandparents?” he asked, and I could hear his knotted brow over the phone line.

So I said to him, “Their battle is not your battle. This day of celebration is for you.”

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to.

And in one way at least, my riding days are done.

§ 27 Responses to What are you riding from?

  • Jonathan says:

    Beautiful. Family. Important.

  • Congratulations on creating a family your son didn’t feel the need to ride from and to him for graduating a year early! I still ride but there’s a lighter step in my pedal stroke :-)

  • Brian in VA says:

    Nice about not so nice. One thing about life is none of us gets out alive. I’m okay with that, though.

  • dan martin says:

    Good one WM.

  • Rick says:

    A very nice piece Seth. Made me cry. Ever since Joe’s death I’ve had a hurricane inside me. The other day on the morning ride rollout one of “the strong men” picked up the pace a bit. That increased pace lit a fuse in me that blew open a window and that hurricane inside came rushing out. I went to the front with thunder in my legs. Single file with my friends being spit out the back like cherry pits on a sunny day. The hurricane came out and I slowed down. My friends asked me WTF. I was riding away from deep pain. Riding helps that.

    I am so glad for you and your sons graduation. Watching my son graduate college was one of the happiest days of my life. Congratulations.

  • Ripley Trout says:

    Powerfully restrained writing. Reflects the drive of a lot of sportspeople I think. There’s a great book ‘Beware of the Dog’ by English rugby player Brian Moore about using inner turmoil to drive himself to succeed. Congrats to your son. Nothing better than being able to enjoy someone else’s happiness.

  • Winemaker says:

    My father was killed in Vietnam in 1966. Only job he ever had. He was in the Army…joined at 19, Dead at 55. I was twelve and started riding that summer…racing three years later,… it was all that loneliness, the deep scorching kind, that led me to cycling and the impossible days of suffering while training or racing…Took me until 1988 to get it all out, and just in time, as my daughter was born that year, and my son a year later. Reading your post today made me weep, and while it reminded me of my own pain (obviously still present), it also reminds me of the many days I have ahead that are relatively pain free.
    thanks, Seth.

  • Toronto says:

    Eloquently concise and so relatable to my world.

  • Erik MacDonald says:

    Wow. Way to go deep. Beautiful. Kafka once said that you don’t get to real writing until you have the experience and ability to go through the deep muck of banal existence, until you’re past the platitudes and can take on the real.

    Looks like you’re there with this one. You’ve outdone yourself today and we’re all the richer for it.

  • Arkansas Traveler says:

    That is some good stuff. Thanks.

  • sibex9591 says:

    Very powerful piece Seth. So sorry to read the fate of your brother. I grew fond of him while reading the early Turner pieces.

    My own Dad came home one day with a Schwinn that looked fast. It seems kind of weird now because I am searching through the Schwinn catalogs of the time, and based on my memory, he could only have come home with a Paramount, but the Super Sport name rings a bell in my head. His bike did not have the chain barrier on the rear wheel nor the one on the front big ring. It had a tight racing cluster and that bike oozed speed, but it seems inconceivable that he would swap out components on a low end bike to make it a higher end sweet machine.

    Anyway, personally I had a Schwinn 5spd Collegiate and on Sunday mornings he kitted out in his leather shoes, wool shorts, jersey, leather brain wrap and cotton mesh gloves, and I in whatever I could throw on, would ride down to Brookdale Park and do laps with local racer/enthusiast crowd. I could always manage a few laps with them, but I just didn’t have the gearing options, nor the endurance to stay with them up the hill on the NE quadrant. Fun it was though.

    My parents separated in 73 and for some stupid reason my Dad left his bike in the garage. By that time I had moved up to a banana yellow Continental 10 spd and I just never felt right about taking my Dad’s bike out for a spin. It was still his bike. Unfortunately, my sister didn’t have the same reservations and took the bike out, and when she same home and left it in the front yard unattended, somehow it found the energy to find itself a new home. We never saw that bike again. My Dad was pretty mad, but really, it was his fault for leaving it there in the first place.

    In the heritage department, neither D1 nor D2 expressed any early interest in the bicycle as an integral part of daily sanity and physical fitness. When I asked D1 why she couldn’t either walk or ride her bike to the high school (1.5 miles) her reply was “The only kids that do that are the Mexicans”, and I guess none of her peers at the time could accept that. D2 was never so rude, but she found cycling within the boundaries of London proper and grew to love her ability to get around all parts of that city day and night. She had two Kryptonite locks, a reflective vest, and flashy rear light, and a front facing “be seen but cannot see” limited lumen handlebar mounted light. She liked that bike enough that she ignored my advice to sell that bike there before we picked her up, and I had to break that thing down and wrap it up for airline transport home where it now sits hanging in my garage while she is attending more university in China.

    Cheers

    • fsethd says:

      What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.

      • sibex9591 says:

        Called the “Old Man” today to see if somewhere in that spaghetti western of tangled neurological highway of memories past was lingering the same recollection as mine. Not a chance burrito brothers! “Huh?” The only confirmation I could get out of him was “I am sure it wasn’t the Paramount because if your mother ever found out I spent that much on the bike, our separation would have occurred just that much sooner. Point understood. Further research on my part I found the Superior brand which seemed to fit the criteria of not being the Paramount (campy equipped in those days), but not a cheap POS clunker either. The Superior could be raced, and raced well. Personally I don’t think that was it. My recollection, not reflected in the catalogs I have found online, is that from my Collegiate at the time, there was (turning pages in the more expensive direction) Varsity, Continental, Something better, something even better, My Dad’s Bike, Paramount. That is my story, and I am sticking to it! ;).

      • fsethd says:

        False memory always trumps fact!

  • Wild Bill says:

    This one is powerful, Seth. Thanks for putting so much of yourself out there for us to read. Makes me feel more human.

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