Thursday, December 10, 2009

On the road

All good adventures deserve to be chronicled.  Sometimes, the chronicler knows that there words will serve as a record of important events.  Other times, one simply chronicles the day to day activities of life and history sheaths those words with the mantle of importance.

This is neither.

Jeff and I are heading to Bend, OR for the US Cyclocross National Championships. This will be my first time at an event of such magnitude but I plan on handling it with my usual steely aplomb.  Jeff is typically reserved, but his inner schoolgirl is decidedly giddy.

We headed out this morning from Lenoir at the ungodly hour of 4 am in order to make our 6:40 am flight in Charlotte.  Rain varied from cats and dogs to gigantic buckets of water being poured across the car as we drove down 321, but we made it safe and sound to the airport and began our cattle drive trip through the labyrinth of American air travel.

I will be posting here as time and internet access permits, but will also do photo tweets and video uploads through our Ustream account to maximize your participation in this particular little adventure.

But for now, I’d like to just reflect on everything that has happened since I last wrote a blog entry (which has been far too long for anyone to even be expected to still be visiting this site, but I am posting nonetheless).

This ‘cross season has been, or at least felt, long.  For the first time, I have been able to race as a family since Golden has decided to race ‘cross this season as well.  Owen has logged many miles in his command module in the Element without complaint.  We have raced in two states other than North Carolina this season and Oregon will make another for me.

I have made the incremental improvements that I had set as goals this season, but haven’t set the world on fire with anything stellar.  I have long ago determined that bike racing is something I do for fun, plain and simple.   Enjoyment is in the doing.  Meeting new people, seeing new places and overcoming the personal challenges are what makes it enjoyable.

For me, racing is a conversation with myself.  Sometimes I yell, sometimes I whine, but I am always honest and it is learning to talk yourself through the immediate stress of the situation that personal change emerges.

I recently finalized a project that I had been working on for years.  My very first race bike, a 1986 Trek 760, has been through the wringer over the past 23 years.  Nothing but the frame remained, and I had been lugging it around the country with every move with the intent of building it up again.
Justin Pogge, of Old Field Cycles in Tallahassee, was the first piece to fall into place.  I had Justin build up a nice steel fork with similar lugs to the frame as a step towards building the bike back up.  The fork was so nice, I decided that I should get Justin to build a custom steel stem for me as well.  The two looked perfect together and made the reality of riding the bike again a bit closer.

All of this languished again.  On hold for lack of paint.  I finally sat myself down and started calling local paint and body shops asking if they would paint a bike frame.  The guys at American Paint and Body were the first ones to say, “Sure.  I don’t see why we couldn’t.”  I went down with the frame, fork and stem, handing them over with reluctance.  This bike frame was an important artifact of my childhood and adulthood all rolled into one.  This was Bike Zero for me.  The starting point that launched me on this trajectory that I still find myself on.

I went back in a few days and was immensely pleased with the job that American had done.  The frame was a deep, sparkling grey; nondescript, yet classic.  I took it to the shop and started building it up with the SRAM Force group that I’ve been riding for the past few years, slapped some fenders on it and started commuting on it to school.

The first ride brought sheer amazement.  I floated along the road, buoyed by a flood of memories the bike brought forth.  I was that 16 year-old kid finding his dream bike by the tree on Christmas Day again.  That joyful floating feeling of freedom and possibility that I got every time I rode as a kid came back in spades. It was beautiful.

My mom tells a story about me that I have no memory of.  After my first serious MS attack, I couldn’t stand up without assistance and walking without a cane was out of the question.  When my parents took me home from the hospital, my mom stayed home with me for a while.  I somehow convinced her to let me go for a bike ride.

She helped me to the drive way, helped me onto the bike and then held the bike for me while I clipped into the pedals.  The deal we struck was that I would ride for five minutes.  She watched me wobble out of the driveway, head down the road and disappear out of sight, doubting the sanity of her decision to help me get on the bike.  Five minutes later, I came riding by and yelled, “five more minutes” before disappearing out of sight again.

I rolled up the driveway and mom helped me off the bike and up to my room.  Mom says that I slept the rest of the day, lying in bed with my clothes and bike shoes still on.

I am incredibly thankful everyday to be able to ride a bike. Now I am able to ride THAT bike once again, and that is special beyond words.  Thanks mom, for helping me ride that day.  And thanks mom and dad for that Christmas 23 years ago (the best Christmas I ever had before Owen) when you made my dreams come true with the gift of that teal and violet road bike that people always told me was ugly, but was beautiful to me.  That bike launched a thousand others and I love you with all of my heart for putting me on this path.

For everyone wishing for the latest and greatest technology and for all of the endless debates over the minutiae of cycling, I hope that you learn that sometimes the bike is so much more than the sum of its parts.  Sometimes, a bike can be a part of life itself.
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