When the past calls

April 26, 2014 § 22 Comments

The bigness of the SPY 2014 Belgian Waffle Ride has almost gotten out of hand, such that it’s having a hard time fitting inside the vast vacuum of even my own head.  Most of us are going over the details, endlessly. Will my iPhone battery last? Will my food supplies last? Will my tires last?

And of course, “Will I last?”

But that’s not all. Some have taken to the airwaves to bash the event, a sign that you not only can’t please everyone, but if you do it right, you’ll displease exactly the right people. Others have sneered and point out that THEIR ride is longer, harder, dirtier, more grueling, etc.

And of course there are the daily BWR emails from the organizers that whip you into a frenzy just as soon as you’ve settled down. Don’t forget to set up a Strava account! Don’t forget your Garmin! Don’t change waves! Don’t speed on the dirt descents! Don’t be a wanker!

For some, the pressure gets to be too much, and that’s when the doctor’s notes, the lingering boo-boos, the kiddy soccer matches, the honey-do’s, and the stark reality of “I haven’t been training hard enough” begin to knock riders out of contention before the ride even starts. Yet it does beg the question, “Why in the world are you doing this?”

Why, indeed?

Matt McSuccess

I wish you’d known Matt McSuccess in his heyday. He was blonde, handsome, quick on the bike, and more filled with smack talk than a heroin wholesaler. But like so many, he walked away from cycling to raise a family, build a career, and live a normal life. We had stayed in touch sporadically over the last thirty years, usually thanks to his willingness to reach out.

As I was riding down San Vicente this morning, the phone rang. I pulled over and answered it. It was Matt. “Hey, man! How are you?” I asked.

“Great!” Then he got straight to the point. “I’m training and racing again. What’s up with you?”

I told him, and we made plans to get together in June, when I’ll be in Houston for a week. He’s going to drive down from Austin and we’ll spend a day enjoying the hell out of some riding and perhaps some beer as well.

His phone call put me in the best of moods. It brought back so many memories, memories of funny things, like the morning he rear-ended a Honda in his giant Suburban in front of the whole gang. He was late for the ride and driving there instead of riding. The Honda driver wasn’t hurt, and we laughed ourselves silly at his mistake.

Sad memories, too, like the passing of Matt’s best friend — and a friend to all of us –Richard Turner. Richard was a great bike racer and talented triathlete whose heart stopped while doing a swim workout.

And of course happy memories, like his marriage to Cheryl in the big Catholic church there on Guadalupe in Austin, right across from campus. These things that we experienced in our youth, all connected somehow to cycling, became memories which, in turn, became part of the fabric of my life. Hearing Matt’s voice brought it all back.

Kids do the darndest things

As I finished my ride, pedaling through Hermosa Beach, I saw Michelle. “Seth!” she yelled. She was standing with a group of about eight kids, none of whom were older than about eleven or twelve.

“Hi, Michelle. What’s up?”

“Do you have a wrench for this?” She pointed to the front fork of one of the bikes. It was a fixie with no brakes, and the wheel was secured with a bolt rather than a quick release.

“You’ll need a crescent wrench,” I said. “I don’t have one.” The kids didn’t know what to do, and they looked lost. One of them had a big backpack that must have weighed thirty pounds. “What’s all the stuff in the pack?” I asked.

The oldest kid swung off his pack and unzipped it. He was carrying a floor pump. “We figured we might need something if we got a flat,” he said.

“Where are you kids coming from?” I asked.

“Compton,” they said.

“That’s a long, long way.”

“Well,” said Michelle. “If you keep going to the pier and go up the hill there’s a bike shop next to the ice cream shop. It’s about a mile from here.”

The kid with the flat looked anxious. “How much are they gonna charge me to fix it?”

“I don’t know,” said Michelle. “Don’t you have any money?”

The kids looked at each other. “We got about three dollars if we put all our money together,” said the one with the flat.

Michelle dug into her jersey pocket and fished out ten dollars. “Here,” she said. “This should get your tire changed.”

The boys all grinned as if something amazing had just happened which, in a way, it had. What had happened is that they had started out on an adventure, and unpredictable things had happened, and by the time they got back home that night they would have stories to tell.

They would have memories, and my guess is that they would be memories of a lifetime, simply because they got up one morning and decided to go ride their bikes.

Since you asked …

Whether it’s Matt and the rear-ender, the nice lady who gave ten bucks to a bunch of kids, or the 136-mile odyssey through North County San Diego on the Belgian Waffle Ride, the thing that makes experience more than an existential pinpoint is the memory of it. Delete the emails if there are too many of them; forget about your gearing and tires; to hell with the fact that you’ll finish in the bottom third if you finish at all.

Do it for the moment, do it for the memory.

END

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Stop

December 17, 2013 § 13 Comments

Sometimes the things he says take a bit of decoding, and sometimes the things he says leave you scratching your head, but sometimes my pal G$ will let a pearl of wisdom drop that is practically Buddha-like in its wisdom. So you gotta be on your toes and you gotta be patient, sometimes extra, extra patient, because when one of those nuggets plops down if you’re fiddling with your Garmin or yapping about your last indoor training session, you’re gonna miss it.

We were coming back from a sedate little pedal up Mandeville Canyon, and we had hit a traffic light, I think it was on San Vicente. When it comes to traffic signals I am like a Republican mom who’s got a double tall chai mocha soy latte in one hand, an outgoing text message on her iPhone in the other, three squalling kids in the back seat, all while running five minutes late for li’l Becky’s ballet lesson.

In other words, my preferred mode of travel when riding alone is to blow through anything that doesn’t have a cop or oncoming traffic. Red lights are suggestions, and stop signs are bad ideas that won’t be adopted in this draft of the presentation.

As I’ve gotten older and more concerned about the opinions and terror of others, though, I pretty much stop at red lights when I’m with a group, and I’ll even slow way down for a stop sign. It freaks people out too much otherwise.

So we came to that ol’ stop light and put our feet down. G$ looked over at me and grinned. He’d been talking about pole vaulters and how they were put together different from other track and field elite athletes, especially when it came to beer and curfews and careful dieting — that is, pole vaulters apparently didn’t believe in either. I was concentrating as hard as I could, trying to remember what pole vaulters did, and trying to follow the details of the bus ride back in 1983 from Kansas down to El Paso in which the pole vaulters had caught a skunk and fed it beer and then let it loose in the opposing team’s locker room.

I was trying might and main to wrap my brain around how you “caught a skunk,” much less “fed it beer,” into a reality framework, and it wasn’t happening, when G$ let drop a nugget. “You know,” he said, apropos of nothing, which is his finest contextual context when it comes to nuggets. “Stopping is good.” Of course, we were stopped.

My brain ground to a halt. He might as well have said “Wife beating is good,” or “Heroin injected through the tip of your penis is good,” or “Bat sandwiches are good.”

Stopping? Good?

“Dude!” my brain screamed, but didn’t say. “Stopping is TERRIBLE! Stopping is the OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE DO! Stopping is to biking what books are to Kanye West!” But instead I just looked at him kind of mutton-headed and said, “Huh?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I used to want to go all the time. But now? Stopping is good. Every time I stop it’s like, you know, good.”

“How’s that?”

“Aw, you know. It just feels good.”

We waited for the light to change while he picked up the story where the skunk and the other team’s star miler found one another, but I had tuned out because I was focusing on my leg, the one that was anchored to the ground and not pedaling my bike. Then I focused on my other leg, which was also not pedaling my bike. All of the pedaling juice that had backed up inside my veins from the trip up Mandeville ebbed away as we stood there doing nothing.

My heartbeat tailed off. Everything relaxed. I looked to the left and smiled at the Brentwood mom and her double latte.

The light turned green and off we went. At the next stop light it happened again; we stopped and it was good. It wasn’t an annoyance or an obstruction or a deliberate plan by the auto-industrial-military-Republican-anti-Obamacare-complex to force me to carry a gun, it was … good. Stopping was so good in fact that, once I’d left the group and couldn’t be observed by anyone who knew me, I stopped for a stop sign.

Then I began to ponder the Oracle of the South Bay and the deeper meaning of his utterance. “Stopping is good.”

What if it wasn’t just about cycling?

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