The details matter

I rode out to the memorial ride this morning for Stuart Press. He was 39, and left behind a one-year-old son, wife, grieving mother, and devastated cycling community after fighting a brief battle with brain cancer.

I never met Stu.

Well over three hundred riders massed at the start of this Sunday’s legendary west L.A. Nichols Ride, which had been dedicated to him. Like me, many of the riders had never met him.

One block up from the start there is a Starbucks, and riders crowded into the small store to get a snack and a cup of coffee. They had come from all over, with the Surf City team fielding six riders from as far away as Orange County and Long Beach. Starbucks is a natural place to start a ride from, simply because so many cyclists enjoy a quick jolt before they start pedaling in earnest.

But you don’t start the Nichols Ride at Starbucks. Founded by Raymond Fouquet, the oldest and most venerable ride in L.A., the La Grange ride, always began at Raymond’s restaurant. That restaurant, long gone, is now the site of an anonymous west L.A. office building. A few years ago the tradition of starting at the former site of Raymond’s restaurant began to erode, just because it was easier to roll out from the Starbucks.

The old guard saw what was happening, and quietly put the word out: Get your coffee wherever you want, but the La Grange ride starts where Raymond’s restaurant used to be. The new folks got the message.

Why should anyone care? It’s only one block. And why start from an antiseptic office block when you could start from a food-and-coffee-infused eatery?

The answer of course is that details matter, because history is in the details, and our present is constructed on the building blocks of the past, and our future will be built based on how we conduct ourselves now. This is another way of saying that sentiments matter. Because Raymond Fouquet was beloved, and because the things he began changed people’s lives, and because those he affected felt love for him, the sentiments surrounding something as simple as the starting point of a bike ride have meaning. By honoring the past we are honoring the sentiments of the past, and we are allowing those sentiments of love to stay alive and empower us, even though the people themselves are dead.

It’s through the details that we cheat time, and cheat death.

If you ride bikes, and if you write about bikes, you will become familiar with death. People fall, get hit, get sick, get old, and then they’re not around anymore, forever. But in our cycling community, those losses are keenly felt. Riders we used to laugh with, race against, talk trash about, and count on are people who have made us what we are, for better or worse, and almost always for better. When they die, it hits us so much harder than the passing of a distant relative in a distant place, or a celebrity on the screen.

When Stuart died, we all gasped and said, “That could have been me.”

We hit the lower slopes of Nichols Canyon. The only other time I had done this ride, three years ago, KP and Surfer Dan had exploded the massive field and gone on to “win” the ride. It was a searing exercise in endless pain and abject terror as we shot through red lights, bounced over chugholes, and flailed our way to the breathless finish.

Not today. We climbed slowly and densely bunched. We descended quickly but carefully. We ended in Brentwood still filled with adrenaline and excess energy, a huge group of hundreds that had done anything but “leave it all on the road.” Along the way we talked about Stu, we talked about our own mortality, and we gave thanks, each in our own way, for simply being allowed the gift of life.

The details of where we started, where we finished, and what we did in between to honor the life of a good man, those details, like the details of Stuart’s life, mattered.

END

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9 thoughts on “The details matter”

  1. Very well said, sir. Holding Stu in the light.

    I spent time yesterday riding with my wife, feeling fortunate for a life being well spent.

  2. Because Raymond Fouquet was beloved, and because the things he began changed people’s lives, and because those he affected felt love for him, the sentiments surrounding something as simple as the starting point of a bike ride have meaning.

    FWIW, Raymond told me he spent years doing that ride with some variation of alone or just a couple of riders. It had the same structure and purpose from early on. He’d greet riders and do the ride.

    This idea of structure and purpose despite the lack of others was a revelation for me at the time because I was very young.

    For me, keeping the ride in front of “the restaurant” is his enduring legacy of structure and purpose and I’m glad to hear the leadership at VCLGW is protecting the tradition.

    While I do not attend the ride now, I’m hopeful someone from the club continues his tradition of greeting all riders. Roadies can be an insular bunch at times.

    1. I didn’t see anyone greeting all riders, but it had a very friendly and welcoming feel.

  3. Raymond’s restaurant was actually where the California Chicken Kitchen is now, kitty-corner from the office building where the ride starts. However, that’s where the ride starts, and that’s where it always started, and tradition dictates that it will always start there. Why? Tradition. And the regroup at Sepulveda until 9:25? Tradition.
    It was great seeing you yesterday. Thanks for coming to join us in grieving for a great guy who really loved to ride his bike fast. You would have liked him; he would have been on the front pulling, for sure.

  4. Thank you and all the other riders who never got the privilege of meeting and knowing Stu like I did, for coming out and supporting us, all of us riders. When I started racing years ago he was one of the group of cat 5’s in LaGrange that started together. I stopped racing and he continued on to greater things, even in racing. My respect for him grew over time as I saw him develop as a rider and saw what an inspiring person he was. Tears still sting my eyes thinking of him just now.
    His passing is another difficult reminder to look toward one another and appreciate who we are, how we unknowingly affect each other and look around appreciating what we can do.

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