10 July 2016

I'll Be Fine: I Went For A Ride

I once held a racing license.  And I actually rode in a few races.  Ergo (and you thought it was only the name of Campagnolo's "brifter"!), I was a racer.  Right?

Well, maybe not so much.  I fancied myself as one.  I even managed to convince a few people (and a couple of actual racers) that I was one.  I rode racing bikes, wore racing jerseys, shorts and shoes and ate and drank what I thought racers put into their bodies.  

And I actually placed well in a couple of races.  A third place, even!  For a time, I thought that if I rode just a little longer and a little harder....

(These days, it's difficult for me to think about doing things longer and harder.  But that's another story:  perhaps one for my other blog!)

Realistically, I knew I wasn't going to challenge Bernard Hinault.  But I thought that if I moved up a category every year I could become...a champion (of what?)...a pro?

So what, exactly, caused me to realize that I wasn't going to realize such lofty goals?  No, I didn't crash and break my leg and wreck my Colnago during my next race.  Nor did I admit that, even at the relatively young age I was, I didn't have much (if any) of a "window":  There were riders my age who, even if they hadn't won a major race, had at least been riding for years in the European peloton.  The pack in Prospect Park, as invigorating as it could be, simply didn't compare. But even such an admission would not have been enough to make me realize that I wasn't a racer.

I think I finally understood, today, for the first time, why I never  was, or could be, truly a racer.  It has to do with an observation someone I was trying to woo years ago made about me.  According to this person, I don't care about things or experiences so much as the emotions and memories I have about, or associate with, them.

To this day, it remains one of the most perceptive things anyone has said about me.  Of course, back then, I didn't want to hear it, because she was one of the many attractive women I tried to make my "arm candy", I mean companion, in order to convince the world (in reality, myself) that I was indeed a macho heterosexual guy--if one with a sensitive soul.

Anyway, today I took a ride that really was bits and pieces of other rides I've done, spliced together.  I packed a bag of tortilla chips and some salsa I made into the Ruth Works Randonneur bag on Vera, my green Mercian mixte.  I intended to enjoy a roadside picnic somewhere along the way.  But that is not the only reason I chose Vera:  Yesterday, we had heavy rains; puddles and even mini-ponds lined the streets and roads, not to mention the paths.  Vera has fenders, with a flap on the front.

A gray glacier of clouds crept across the sky; after riding along the World's Fair Marina and Flushing Bay to Fort Totten, drops of rain stuttered across my skin as I ascended Bell Boulevard to Northern Boulevard, where I turned left and rode across a roadway that slices through a tidal marsh to Nassau County, where I followed no planned route.

So I found myself pedaling through shopping centers, suburban subdivision, country clubs and a couple of parks that had something resembling nature in them.  Finally, I found myself on a road that twisted through a wooded area--not exactly a virgin forest, but green nonetheless:  actually, quite soothing under the cloud cover that seemed to follow me, even if it didn't spill any more rain.

From Cyclopology

I knew, generally--though not specifically--where I was.  That is to say, I knew I was somewhere in the middle of Long Island, probably heading south or east, but to where I didn't know.  If I was lost, it wasn't such a big deal: I could get only so lost.  If I rode south for a few miles, I'd reach the ocean; if I pedaled east, it would take me a good bit longer to reach the Atlantic. (That's why it's called Long Island!)  And if I went west, I'd be in the general direction of home; going north would take me back to, well, the North Shore, where I could turn left and head in the direction of my apartment.

The real reason I was riding, though, wasn't to explore or get lost--or to challenge myself. (The wind would do that for me when I pedaled into it on my way home!)  Instead, I was riding with the echo, if you will, of a conversation I had last night with someone I hadn't talked to in a few years.  There was no "falling out" or other rupture in our friendship; life had just taken us in different directions for a while.  

We actually worked together for a time; neither of us is at that job anymore.  She decided to return to school and is almost done with the coursework for her PhD and, luckily, found work that allowed her to support herself.  But, along the way, she broke up with the fiance she had the last time we talked.

I, too, ended a relationship I was in at the time.  But mine didn't end as amicably as hers; it couldn't have.  She knew that and asked, several times, how I'm doing.  Better than I was in that relationship, I said.  

"Good.  Don't look back."

"I don't."

The funny thing is, the tears that rolled down my cheeks as I descended from the ridges in the center of the island to the South Shore weren't for him, or for what knowing him cost me (two jobs and an apartment)--or about what it took to get him out of my life.  I am happier in my current job than I was in the ones I lost.  

And, to answer another question my friend asked, I am finally working, again, on a book I started writing years ago--even before I knew her.  "Great!  You're going to be all right!", she intoned.

I hope she's right.  No, I take that back.  I know she's right.  I have no idea of how that book will turn out, but I know I have no choice but to write it.  When I started it, I was a different person, living a different life--literally.   But I know I was carrying much of what's in that book--at least in its current state--long before I started to write it.  

She understands:  She is a writer, too.

"Just keep writing it.  You'll be fine."

That is how I felt while riding today.  I didn't know where I was going, but I knew I'd be fine.  Whether or not by design or choice, where I'd been had gotten me to where I was.  All of it:  All of my rides, all of my work, all of those days and years I lived a life not quite my own and, finally, in a relationship with someone who, just as I was claiming my own self and life, almost kept me from living it.

The road that had gotten me to today's ride: My old friend reminded me of it, and why I continue--even if I don't know where the ride, the journey, continues or ends.

Has any racer ever thought of his or her ride that way?


  1. It looks like your last line got chopped - but I think I get the idea. I tried racing when I was young - high school and college - but never did so well. Certainly never as high as a 3rd place finish. I was reading this and could relate to a lot -- I loved riding, and racing bikes, and the look, and so on, but in actual racing I just didn't have something that more competitive people had. Not sure what it was or what to call it -- a killer instinct? I don't know. But what I loved (and still do) about riding was the exploring, and the way I could work a lot of things out in my head. Thinking, reflecting, and wandering. That's a big part of why most of my riding has always been solitary.

  2. Brooks--The last line was indeed chopped, and I'm going to fix it.

    You may have surmised from reading this blog that, like you, I have done, and still do, a lot of solo cycling. Occasionally, I will go with friends. Back in the day when I had a "crew", if you will, I actually did more riding without than with them.