|In the blue (between Jack and Sam), at the top, after eating a bee, at the Harmon.|
Unlike some, I do not remember much about my first few bicycles. I think one was red, the other blue. Both had road tires and more gears than I could handle. And both, I imagine were nearly as heavy as I was. But I didn’t care. What I do remember with absolute clarity, though, is the first time that I rode my bike to school, just as I remember the first time I rode my bike not to get from point A to point B, but just to get away. I remember the feeling I had the first time I breached 20 miles per hour on my bike and thought that I could never go faster. Then I breached 25, and 30, and last year 50. I remember my first century and the first time I bonked on a ride; I remember how I felt the day after too. But I also remember always wanting to get back on my bike and how the pain seems worth it after 5 minutes of pedaling.
I convinced myself at one point that I became a “cyclist” because I couldn’t make it as a tennis player. I spent the better part of 15 years playing 5-6 times a week to make it to the collegiate level, and maybe beyond that. I got close. Then my senior year of high school my coach berated me in front of my teammates for not winning my match fast enough; that the grueling battle I had with my opponent did not matter. I quit the next day. It’s the battle that matters, whether against a tennis opponent or that last hill in the final kilometers of a century.
My first year at college I bought a bike again and I started riding. Just myself and the road. It was familiar and it was perfect. I made friends with a few fellow cyclists that I came across in the hills of Madison, Wisconsin. I joined a team and raced for 2 months, until I crashed. Then I stopped riding for a long while.
Some 8 years later, in 2008, I moved to Chicago. I needed a break from work so I again got back on my bike. Back and forth, Chicago to Sheridan to Highland Park. Repeat. One Saturday I was sitting at the Perfect Blend halfway into my ride and a bunch of cyclists sat down beside me and started talking. I can’t for the life of me remember with whom I spoke, but happily I did remember they called themselves Spidermonkeys, and that they looked like cyclists that were simply having fun riding. I remember my first Saturday group ride with the Spidermonkeys last summer, and I remember being told to keep on Brandon’s wheel when he broke away for the Highland Park sprint. I remember that not turning out as planned in my mind, but it was fast and fun.
|My wife and I during Bike the Drive|
If you read through the Spidermonkey blogs, so many of us appear to have “fallen back” into cycling, like relapsing addicts. Explain to a non-cyclist that you enjoy destroying yourself for hours on end for no other purpose than it makes you feel free and 99% of them will think you are mad. Maybe cyclists are. Some of us ride to win races, others just for fun. I think I ride because riding is pure, because it is simple. Your phone and your email do not work when you are riding. There is no one to yell at you but your legs and your lungs. When you are riding you need not think of anything but how far and how fast you want to ride. And every once in a while you have that perfect day on the bike and remember why you look forward to each and every time you get to ride. As I write this I realize that many of you probably do not know me yet. I hope that changes soon. I’ll probably remain fairly quiet on group rides. Half the time I admit I’m imagining that I am one of those Rapha Continental riders searching for the next gravel road on some epic double metric.
Since joining the Spidermonkeys I seem to ride alone much less. There is something inexplicably wonderful about knowing that the person you trust to ride just a few inches away from your wheel is your teammate and shares the same passion for cycling as you do. I bought my first cross bike a few months ago; I shaved my legs for the first time this summer; and 2 weeks ago I thought about racing again for the first time in 10 years. All since becoming a Spidermonkey this summer. That’s pretty cool in my book. It’s 3 AM and that’s all I can think of saying. Here’s to a great upcoming season of riding. Cheers.