Used to be, you made friends by spending time with people. You got to know them by the things they said and the things they did, and there weren’t any shortcuts. You called a person a friend because you hung out with them, not because of their posts on Facebag.
Friendship used to take time, and it almost always involved some special event to metamorphasize. Friendship was a bond that resulted from some stressful occurrence, like clay that gets fired in a kiln or like a horseshoe that gets heated in the coals and beaten with a blacksmith’s hammer. We used to say friendships were forged for a reason.
Cycling has always been a place for friendships. We spend a lot of time together and we reveal ourselves, not in perfectly positioned social media posturing, but in the natural and crude and roughly varnished scenarios of 3-D reality. We crash, fight with motorists, swap tales over coffee, beat each other up on the climbs, help change flats, rib each other, and race, race, race, whether we have a racing license or not.
My two teammates, Josh and Eric, were just that up until a week ago. As we all know, teammates can be friends, or acquaintances, or even arch enemies. Then, after spending thirty hours together in a car, six days at a big bike race, and five nights sharing meals and accommodations, we became friends.
That’s because friendship comes from simple things that really aren’t that simple, like trusting some dude to drive while you’re snoring in the back seat. Friendship comes from that quick readiness to be the one to fill the tank, tip the waitress, or lend a hand with bike prep the day before the race. Friendship comes from that slow revelation of character, where the laughter is genuine and the sympathy is real.
Friendship forms when you earnestly plot and strategize and even argue about the best way to win the race, or to cover your opponents, or to designate different roles. Friendship is what’s left after a few good beers and trust have cemented the spaces caused by worry and hope and even fear that when the meatwagon starts hauling off bleeding bodies, one of them will be yours.
Maybe the thing about friendship that is the most surprising is the way it changes you. I went to Oregon convinced that the most important thing was to have a good time and ride a good race, but after seeing the intensity and the dedication and the focus of Josh and Eric I started to think that maybe I needed to be more like them. A freshly-minted Cat 2, Eric snagged an impressive 8th place finish in his first national crit championships after a mere two seasons of racing.
Josh pulled down what was an even more amazing result: A Cat 3 who has only been riding for two years somehow coming up with an 11th place. Both guys went out and finished one of the hardest masters national road races in history, a ride that ended in freezing rain with hailstones so big they actually broke the edges off of Josh’s helmet. Like friends do, these guys taught through example, always admitting their inexperience and trying to learn, but at the same time making no apologies for giving it everything they had, every single time.
These guys had more to show after two years than I have to show after more than thirty. Like friends do, they inspired me. Their ferocity on the bike was matched by their good humor off of it. If I’ve laughed more in the last twenty years than I laughed in the last week, well, I haven’t. And if I’ve ever seen anyone besides Derek the Destroyer come anywhere close to drinking as much beer as Josh and still rip legs on the bike, well, I haven’t.
You’d think that after all that adversity and being away from home and having to drink all that beer and eat all that junk food and sleep in a strange bed we’d have been sick of each other when it came time to pack ourselves and our shit back into the F-1 Prius at 5:00 AM and make the all-day slog back home. But we weren’t.
Because you know, that’s how friends are.