I miss Stathis the Wily Greek, and I’m not the only one.
Stathis was like a roman candle. He rose quickly, surpassed everyone, blew up, and then moved on to something else. As strong as he was as a rider, he was a terrible racer, at least to the extent that his results never really aligned with his prodigious physical strength.
I still remember a photo from the Nosco Ride a couple of years ago. Stathis was cresting Deer Creek ahead of some of America’s top pros. He made everything look easy, especially the uphill stuff. By the time he was breathing hard or struggling, you had long been shelled and kicked to the curb.
The best thing about Stathis was the way he took the fun out of it for everyone else. Cycling, unlike running, has a massive delusional component. You can endlessly manipulate the goal posts to feel good about the fact that you suck. This is in fact the business model of Strava.
Not with Stathis. With him, you always sucked. My second-fondest memory of riding a bicycle happened with Stathis. He had dropped the entire Donut Ride and had attacked me at the bottom of Crest. I’d hung on.
We got about a hundred yards past the wall and he drove over to the double yellow line, cutting off any hope of staying out of the crosswind. He looked back and saw I was still there and attacked. I struggled onto his rear wheel. He looked back and attacked again.
It was a look of amusement mixed with contempt. No quarter, no mercy, no adjustment for our age disparity, no respect for effort, just an icy calculation of “Now.”
It was the most deliberate, cool, piercing jettison job I’d ever experienced. He easily rode away. At the top of the radar domes he nodded, barely acknowledging that I was on a bike, and proceeded to crush the rest of the ride.
I savored that flaying for over a year. It’s rare that someone who is both a friend and a cyclist will destroy you so casually and so intentionally. If he’d been a Greek warrior he would have been Achilles.
And Stathis did that to everyone. One friend confided that he had given up the Flog Ride because there was, mathematically, no chance of ever beating Stathis. When the Wily Greek showed up, dreams took flight, the way investments in penny stocks take flight. Away. Forever.
This angered a lot of people because we cyclists cherish our delusions, kind of like Costco shoppers who think they’re superior to Wal-Mart because their conglomerate pays a higher hourly wage to its slaves or because their luxury eyeglass brands are 15% cheaper than at Lenscrafters, as if Wal-Mart, Costco, and Luxottica aren’t different versions of the same terrible thing.
Stathis didn’t allow you those delusions, and for me, reality, always obscured, enhances life the clearer it gets. Embrace death. Embrace the absence of an afterlife. Embrace crazy. Embrace the fact that you will never be good enough to even see Stathis finish. Embrace suckage.
My best day on a bike also involved Stathis, because I beat him on the same stretch of climb about a year later. Maybe he was sick, or tired, or more likely, he wasn’t even awake. Didn’t matter. By destroying and tattering my illusions hundreds of times, my one tiny “first” meant everything. It was stripped of everything except fact. I savor it still.
Now that Stathis has taken up something else, I’ve been riding up to the top of his cul-de-sac street, which I now know is the steepest and longest climb on the peninsula. I keep hoping that one day I’ll get to the end of the road and see him putting on his running shoes or oiling his pogo stick or adjusting the harness on his hang glider, but I never do.
But that’s the benefit of having good memories. They stick around long after the person who gifted them.
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