The humbling power of a good man

I have a friend who I’ll call “Knoll.”

There are a lot of things I want to tell him to his face, but can’t. Before you think that’s stupid, think of all the things you wanted to say to your mom or dad or brother or sister or close friend, but didn’t. Then, they were gone, and you didn’t forever.

I’m not sure why it’s hard to say things to people, since I generally say all kinds of shit to everyone, seemingly unfiltered. The catch, of course, is that no words are unfiltered, there is no stream of verbal consciousness, there is no exactitude of sentiment or thought or even science.

Everything is an approximation.

Dopers suck

I first met Knoll in that zipless anonymity of the Donut Ride, in 2007. He had a black jersey that said “Dopers Suck” in bold, blocked, squarish white letters.

“What a dork,” I thought, because, you know, 2007 was the apogee of big dope. Today we have smaller riders who dope smallishly. But he was right then, and he’s right now. Dopers really do suck.

I soon changed from “What a dork,” to “What a motherfucker,” because Knoll was one of those guys who went to the front in the face of certain oblivion, shattered the field, and went just so much farther that only the best could follow. Everyone else fell to the wayside with plans for next week or a reason for why following the move didn’t fit with the training plan.

I’ll lead you out

I started doing the Sunday rides out to Cross Creek. Knoll had these Sidis with red heels. I know that acutely because when the group had been whittled down to five or six, or when it was still all massed, as we got two miles out he’d always slap his ass in the universal lead out lingo of “Get on my wheel, bro.” My vision would soon tunnel down to those pounding red heels.

It’s weird to say, but we were only friends from watching each other ride. I’d latch on and he’d bury himself for one and a half miles. No one could come around until he was done. He’d swing off, far from the bridge, done, and the sprinters would blow by.

Sometimes I’d grab on and beat them at their own game, but usually not. The few times I did, it was thanks to Knoll. Who puts himself at the bottom of the pain cave for you just because he likes the way you ride? Only Knoll.

Hey, is that you?

As with so many things, he was a person who revealed himself by degrees. A guitar virtuoso. The funniest writer ever. A raw and exposed human nerve, picking up every sensation and internalizing it, absorbing the pain of others so they could get through the day, however much of a hell it made for him to get through his.

With each peeling of the onion it was voila, a whole new layer, but unlike an onion, it was never more of the same, and always more of the different. We got to know each other over the course of years, time spent riding down PCH, post-coital time spent over coffee at Peet’s, time spent on social media, being, as you’re wont to be, somehow connected and separated at the same time.

I got to know him best of all one day a few months ago. I had lit out from work at ten o’clock, drawn to the pavement by the sunny sky. For some reason I headed down the bike path to Santa Monica. On impulse I stopped at the Marina del Rey bridge and called him. “Hey, man, got time for a cup of coffee?”

He didn’t ask why, or when, or what for. He just said, with a certain kind of finality that only comes from a friend, a true one, “Sure.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen.”


“And I’m broke.”

“Coffee’s on me, then.”

A few minutes later I rolled up and he was there.

26 thoughts on “The humbling power of a good man”

  1. You just never know unless you take the time to get to know some one ! Thanks for write up !

  2. Thanks Seth, that’s super-kind. Coffee is on me for the next few years. I always got the most out of the Pier, Kettle, and Donut ride when the goal was to crack myself and recover and crack myself and recover (I always wanted to see where I ended. Call it the StJohns’ Method) and never wanted anyone to sprint that hadn’t earned the privledge.. so I just tried to make getting to the sprint as awful as I could for everyone, because I love them and mostly because… it’s fun to be alive enough to hurt yourself like that. Everybody is so damn fast out here and we are all in this together…. what a community. I thought on that open highway that the safest and funnest sprints would be the one’s arrived at full gas and sans the folks that drowned out… because I’m a giver. lol. Regardless, a nice note to wake up to whilst waiting to find out if a patient survived detox… and even better because I’m always humbled riding with the locals.

  3. I want to say, “this is what I love most about our sport…dudes like Knoll.” But, there’s just so many things that I love ‘most’ about cycling and this is just one of them. I hold and guard all of these things closely tho, because they are all completely awesome. Of all the friends I’ve made in my life, less than a handful that I’ve met outside of cycling come even close to being as accepting and giving as those I’ve met while on a bike. The best part is they’ve all helped me become a better person in their own little ways. I hope to make many more friends on the bike in the years to come.

    tl;dr…badass write-up, Wank. Guys like Knoll kick ass!

    1. Yeah. They haven’t made me any better, but they’ve sure prevented me from getting worse!

  4. Nicely done. You even managed to get Erica Jong in there I think.
    Lovely sentiment either way.

  5. If you change my name from Knoll to Swoop you’ll get all kind of great hatemail from wounded guys across the cyberverse. So, there’s that. I owe you a lifetime of coffee and showing up for how you and Gerry took care of me when I was dealing with my concussion from the drunk driver that totalled my car. It was so hard to not have a sense of stability in my own head.. especially given my gig… and you both were there for me like brothers. Literally. No one else got how disorienting it was or how much I wasn’t myself.

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