The bigness of the SPY 2014 Belgian Waffle Ride has almost gotten out of hand, such that it’s having a hard time fitting inside the vast vacuum of even my own head. Most of us are going over the details, endlessly. Will my iPhone battery last? Will my food supplies last? Will my tires last?
And of course, “Will I last?”
But that’s not all. Some have taken to the airwaves to bash the event, a sign that you not only can’t please everyone, but if you do it right, you’ll displease exactly the right people. Others have sneered and point out that THEIR ride is longer, harder, dirtier, more grueling, etc.
And of course there are the daily BWR emails from the organizers that whip you into a frenzy just as soon as you’ve settled down. Don’t forget to set up a Strava account! Don’t forget your Garmin! Don’t change waves! Don’t speed on the dirt descents! Don’t be a wanker!
For some, the pressure gets to be too much, and that’s when the doctor’s notes, the lingering boo-boos, the kiddy soccer matches, the honey-do’s, and the stark reality of “I haven’t been training hard enough” begin to knock riders out of contention before the ride even starts. Yet it does beg the question, “Why in the world are you doing this?”
I wish you’d known Matt McSuccess in his heyday. He was blonde, handsome, quick on the bike, and more filled with smack talk than a heroin wholesaler. But like so many, he walked away from cycling to raise a family, build a career, and live a normal life. We had stayed in touch sporadically over the last thirty years, usually thanks to his willingness to reach out.
As I was riding down San Vicente this morning, the phone rang. I pulled over and answered it. It was Matt. “Hey, man! How are you?” I asked.
“Great!” Then he got straight to the point. “I’m training and racing again. What’s up with you?”
I told him, and we made plans to get together in June, when I’ll be in Houston for a week. He’s going to drive down from Austin and we’ll spend a day enjoying the hell out of some riding and perhaps some beer as well.
His phone call put me in the best of moods. It brought back so many memories, memories of funny things, like the morning he rear-ended a Honda in his giant Suburban in front of the whole gang. He was late for the ride and driving there instead of riding. The Honda driver wasn’t hurt, and we laughed ourselves silly at his mistake.
Sad memories, too, like the passing of Matt’s best friend — and a friend to all of us –Richard Turner. Richard was a great bike racer and talented triathlete whose heart stopped while doing a swim workout.
And of course happy memories, like his marriage to Cheryl in the big Catholic church there on Guadalupe in Austin, right across from campus. These things that we experienced in our youth, all connected somehow to cycling, became memories which, in turn, became part of the fabric of my life. Hearing Matt’s voice brought it all back.
Kids do the darndest things
As I finished my ride, pedaling through Hermosa Beach, I saw Michelle. “Seth!” she yelled. She was standing with a group of about eight kids, none of whom were older than about eleven or twelve.
“Hi, Michelle. What’s up?”
“Do you have a wrench for this?” She pointed to the front fork of one of the bikes. It was a fixie with no brakes, and the wheel was secured with a bolt rather than a quick release.
“You’ll need a crescent wrench,” I said. “I don’t have one.” The kids didn’t know what to do, and they looked lost. One of them had a big backpack that must have weighed thirty pounds. “What’s all the stuff in the pack?” I asked.
The oldest kid swung off his pack and unzipped it. He was carrying a floor pump. “We figured we might need something if we got a flat,” he said.
“Where are you kids coming from?” I asked.
“Compton,” they said.
“That’s a long, long way.”
“Well,” said Michelle. “If you keep going to the pier and go up the hill there’s a bike shop next to the ice cream shop. It’s about a mile from here.”
The kid with the flat looked anxious. “How much are they gonna charge me to fix it?”
“I don’t know,” said Michelle. “Don’t you have any money?”
The kids looked at each other. “We got about three dollars if we put all our money together,” said the one with the flat.
Michelle dug into her jersey pocket and fished out ten dollars. “Here,” she said. “This should get your tire changed.”
The boys all grinned as if something amazing had just happened which, in a way, it had. What had happened is that they had started out on an adventure, and unpredictable things had happened, and by the time they got back home that night they would have stories to tell.
They would have memories, and my guess is that they would be memories of a lifetime, simply because they got up one morning and decided to go ride their bikes.
Since you asked …
Whether it’s Matt and the rear-ender, the nice lady who gave ten bucks to a bunch of kids, or the 136-mile odyssey through North County San Diego on the Belgian Waffle Ride, the thing that makes experience more than an existential pinpoint is the memory of it. Delete the emails if there are too many of them; forget about your gearing and tires; to hell with the fact that you’ll finish in the bottom third if you finish at all.
Do it for the moment, do it for the memory.
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