I have a good friend who helped me quit being a drunk. He doesn’t know how much he helped, believe me. He was a 40-year South Bay cycling fixture. Good rider. Tough guy. Good guy. Juggling his demons and mortgage while providing for a family, working for a living, and paying it forward by being there for any drunk who was willing to ask for help and willing to put in the effort to stay off the beautiful, lovely, perfect bottle.
Then I heard through Facebook that he was done with cycling. Not “fuck it I’m done” but something far more final: He saw that there’s more to life, this brief arrangement of atoms, than shoving your nose against the stem and riding in the gutter every weekend with the taste of puke in your mouth. There’s more to life than being exhausted by noon every holiday and coming home to collapse in a wet puddle of leg migraines.
Than honey-do lists that ain’t never getting done.
Than weekday mornings begun in a swarming pack of freddies and assassins on the NPR, never more than a pedal stroke away from a massive collision.
Than hurry-ups every Tuesday night to make the Telo beatdown so you can get home in time to drool and pass out.
Than weekend racing, of holiday trips to Phoenix to do the Thanksgiving Ride, of trips to North County to taste the whip, of a life focused around pain, exhaustion, food, sleep, and more pain.
In short, he decided to live. To give his wife a piece of him that hadn’t been mauled a few hours earlier by the Donut Ride, or the whatever ride.
And for that I commend him. It is hard to take a new direction, especially when it involves yoga. I did yoga once in Japan and threw out my back. The only way I can touch my toes is by curling up into a ball. He’s going to address some physical and muscular imbalances. I’m going to try to get rid of these 6-inch biceps that are slowing me down on the Switchbacks, dammit. In short, he’s figured it out while I’m still puzzling over whether the equation is right-side up or not.
It’s okay to honorably acquit yourself from the fray, or dishonorably. There is no right or wrong, and I admire someone who can put down the Garmin, walk away from the carbon, give a cold shoulder to the politics of next year’s team kit design.
What’s funny about stepping off the crazy-sel is that it just happens. One day you’re all in, full on, loaded up with 100% pure carbon that is all carbon, completely carbonized, and the next day you’re saying “namaste” and “I’m at peace with the world.”
There’s no transition zone. Look at Jamie Paolinetti, throat-slitting bike racer turned playwright. Look at Tony Galvan, one day the avenging hammer of Thor, the next day a hair-covered Buddha. And who can ever forget Roger Worthington, once the guillotine of the peloton, now a kindly old fellow peddling spirits to hippies in the Pacific Northwest and encouraging people to be the best version of themselves they can be.
Wish I had a nickel for every valiant hero who had wasted decades on bikes and then woken up, smelled the coffee, and realized that there was a planet out there to enjoy and explore. That people were more than sentient meatbags to chase, drop, crush, and punish. That life was beautiful and life was good.
I admire those people and wish them well. I feel nothing but the most profound respect for their maturity, however late they came by it, and for their ability to adapt their bodies and minds to the realities of passing time.
Of course, they’re dead to me now.
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