When I sat down to write about cycling and what it means to me, I ended up writing for about two hours and basically documenting the history of my love for bikes throughout the course of my life. Rather than posting the Complete Works of Paul Halupka, please enjoy the following excerpts:
|Exquisite fashion sense from the first purchase.|
ON THE DISCOVERY OF BIKES AND THEIR INHERENT EPICNESS
I started riding a bike when I was very young, riding lots with my little brother in my ample front/back yards in Alabama. I had this little blue Huffy that I rode the crap out of, and no manner of throwing it around or leaving it in the rain to rust could destroy it. Oh, the years of my life spent on coaster brakes… I remember them with a special gravel-skidding fondness.
Fast forward to my early teens, and the purchase of my first real bike. Some how I came up with $180 and threw down for this awesome candy-red Mongoose mountain bike at Wal-Mart. Holy crap, aluminum frame! Suspension fork! 21 Speeds! I didn’t know why that was good, but I liked the sound of it.
I found some amazing adventure on that bike.
I remember my first two epic rides. The first was with my dad and little brother. I may have been 14, my brother would have been about 11. We rode on Easter day. It was cool but sunny. We pushed so far into the mountain’s trail system that we eventually were just riding dry creekbeds and descending into raw forest. Two hours into the ride, we were riding and walking through this patch of the woods that looked like an Alabama Ferngully. I’ve never seen a piece of woodland that looked so verdant, mossy, and lovely. We eventually exited the forest by riding out into a cow pasture, climing over a couple of barbed wire fences, and riding the main streets back to the other side of the mountain where we’d parked. Mom was pretty pissed because we were super late for the nice Easter dinner she’d prepared, but in my mind I didn’t regret it for a second. My dad died a couple years later. My little brother and I remember it with a glowing fondness, a singularly special bonding moment for the three of us.
The second epic ride was with the first guy I ever considered a bike teammate. Alex, a friend since elementary school, got his hands on a dual-suspension Mongoose. After a few months of mountain biking, we went and bought matching Primal Wear jerseys and formed our two-man bike team. Throughout high school, we would throw the bikes in my van or on his bike rack and drive to the nearby mountains to tear up the trails. On one of these rides, I had a brilliant idea. Let’s ride around the military base, which was nestled into the mountains and foothils, and just climb every hill we can find or think of. I learned that day the true joy of overcoming gravity, of conquering just a tiny piece of the earth. There’s no feeling quite like it. The day closed with a ride to the top of the tallest mountain on-base, on a gravel access road that you’d need a tank or Humvee to climb, as demonstrated by the ruts everywhere. We found ourselves at the peak eventually, where we stared up at the radio towers that we’d seen our entire lives, flickering at us from miles away. That day we took the sky and brought it closer, then we descended like maniacs, racing furiously and nearly killing ourselves like teenagers are made to do.
I recently found a trip on the REI website where you fly to France and do all the great climbs of the Tour. Yes, please.
|The mud keeps the flies off.|
ON FINDING THE SPIDERMONKEYS AND WHY THEY ROCK MY WORLD
I ran half marathons in 2010, and then took on my first Olympic tri in Spring 2011. Once my little tri training crew started breaking apart, I decided it was time to find a bike team. I started digging around online, and narrowed it down to xXx. (Yeah, no shit.) Something about the serious attitude of the club was really attractive to me, despite how ugly the kits are, and that a bike team has the same name as a Vin Diesel movie.
On paper, they were the perfect fit for a newbie rider with competitive aspirations. But a couple of things fell through where they shouldn’t have, and I was left feeling like they weren’t the right fit. Next on my shortlist was this bizarre listing online for a club called Spidermonkey. The website was about three years outdated but I thought it was worth a shot. So I emailed the Info account, and of course Vanessa was incredibly warm and welcoming from the get-go. And we both liked that my orange bike matched the kits perfectly. I did the Saturday ride, felt the love, and knew this was the right move.
|A truly happy boy.|
ON FALLING IN LOVE WITH CYCLING AND DISCOVERING WHAT PASSION REALLY FEELS LIKE
At some point in 2011 it occurred to me I could watch cycling on TV. I watched the Tour de Suisse and the Dauphine, just kind of learning about team tactics and time trialing, things I’d never really knows about before. Later in the summer, I started watching the Tour de France. I DVR’d the entire thing and watched every stage from the prologue onwards.
In the second week of the tour, I realized there was a deep and unsettling change occurring within me. Something about those Saturday and Sunday mornings and coffees and muffins, something about watching “Little Tommy Voeckler” ride years off his life in the mountains, something about Wednesday night rides with the sprints and competition and respect, with the High Lifes and barbeque chips, something about the colors and logos of skinsuits, the smell of fresh chammy butter on my bibs, the feeling of wearing a kit that matches the man you’re drafting, the battery acid burn of pushing your limits, the barbaric nature of moving a chain and cogs in a battle with the forces of physics…
Oh shit. It hit me.
I called my girlfriend. Though I meant to share the catharsis I was experiencing, the realization of my first true passion in life, it came out like a warning. I may have been warning myself as well. The truth is, I had no idea, but my instincts were right. I was swept up by a tsunami of all things bike-related.
Since joining the Spidermonkeys, which I affectionately refer to as The People’s Bike Club, I’ve learned so much about this sport. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a culture. It’s steeped in tradition and history, both ancient/European and recent/local. The list of cycling’s attributes is long and interesting, but everyone has their own favorite stuff so I’ll keep it to myself.
We can all agree that it has many beautiful facets. But perhaps my favorite is the sublime characteristic of the bike team, a poetic interlocking of the ways we carry each other, both physical and spiritual. We physically break apart the atmosphere, creating a safe space in which we carry our friends. Think about it. That’s a powerful gesture, and a grand metaphor for the friendships we develop here.
As cyclists, I think we take pulls for each other in life as well, through smiles or a shared beer, or full-fledged friendships. These things are both simultaneous and reciprocal as we rotate through the paceline. At least that’s what I’ve found in it. Maybe it’s contrived, but it’s one of the realest things I’ve known.
Thanks to all of you for being a part of that, and for being a part of my life. Here’s to more epic rides, more love, and grander metaphors to come. Here’s to the People’s Bike Club: my beautiful, maniacal Spidermonkeys.
|You look like you need a hug. Or a back rub.|