I once had a friend when I lived in Colorado named Calamity Jones. That wasn’t his name. His name was Sam. But we all called him Calamity because no matter what he did, he did it wrong. He couldn’t piss his name in the snow without getting his feet wet.
Calamity was the nicest guy. He was a great skier, too, one of the best on the mountain I worked at, Keystone. But even skiing he was always getting hurt. One time he fell off the chairlift and broke both legs.
Another time, in the summer, he went mushroom hunting and came back with a harvest. “Psilocybin,” he said, and tried to give them away. But no one would take one because it was Calamity. “You first,” we said.
They were poisonous, of course, and he wound up at the ER in Dillon getting his stomach pumped. He almost died.
Calamity caused a bad traffic accident coming down Loveland Pass once. He got a DUI. He forged a check. He and a buddy tried to rob the safe at Keystone by crawling through a duct late at night, but they were too heavy and fell through the ceiling and both got arrested and both did prison time. I have no idea what happened to him, but he was a good person, the kindest guy, and things never worked out for him. At the pivotal moment he always chose wrong.
This guy had a lot of friends but he didn’t have any way to get through his troubles. He had no way across from his good intentions to good actions. He had no bridge.
I have another friend who is nothing at all like Calamity Jones, but he is a guy who, like everyone else I suppose, has had his share of hard times. He’s a good guy who took a couple of left turns when maybe he should have gone right, but unlike Calamity he got things straightened out, and a lot of the straightening he did with a bike.
He got himself sober and the bike kept him there. He lost a bunch of weight and made a bunch of friends. The bike gave him something to do with his free time after work that didn’t involve hanging out at the bar or hanging out around drunks. He bought a bunch of bikes and rode pretty good. But more important than his cycling prowess, he was friendly and fun to be around. If you flatted he always stopped and if you got dropped he usually hung back and waited for you. He always had an extra tube, too, and an extra CO2 canister.
Then he quit riding his bike. You see, he has a young son and he figured that as much as he liked riding his bike, he liked hanging out with his son and being a dad a whole lot more. Way, way more.
The last time I saw him was at a party. A bunch of people were standing around talking with him, and they were all cyclists, and they were peppering him with unasked for advice about how to get back on the bike.
“You need to do easier rides,” they said.
“Get a ‘cross bike,” they said, because the solution to any problem is n+1.
“Have you tried MTB? No cars!” they said, even though he’d never mentioned being bothered by traffic.
Finally, a couple of people started listing all the great things about cycling and about what a strong rider he was and what a shame it was to give all that up. He smiled politely and listened but he didn’t appear swayed.
I said a few words to him before he left. “You’re over it, huh?”
“Yeah, I’m over it.”
“Everything okay?” I asked.
“Everything’s great. My boy’s only going to be young once. I’ve got my priorities straightened out and he’s it.”
I knew what he meant. For some people the bike is an obsession. For some it’s a status symbol. For some it’s a holy health grail. For some it’s a vocation. For some it’s a pressure release valve. For some it’s a lifestyle. For some it’s a political/environmental/social statement. For some it’s transportation and for some it’s an escape.
But for some people it’s a bridge that gets you across troubled waters. And when you’re on the other side you realize you don’t need it anymore, and you keep on pedaling through life, better off without it.
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