It was 10 years ago this summer that I got my first road bike, a Bianchi Eros I bought at Gran Fondo in Nashville on the urging of my good friend, Daniel. I started like a like a lot of people, with toe clips and straps, and a pair of regular shorts over my cycling shorts. It didn’t taken long before I switched to clipless pedals, cycling shoes with cleats and full-on cycling kits. I was hooked. Metric Centuries and American Centuries followed. I traded in my entry level Eros for a more serious Lynskey 330. Soon, weekend rides weren’t enough and I started commuting to and from work. Not only did I see the change in myself, as both my physical and mental health improved; I began to see Nashville differently. If you really want to connect with a city, I recommend you do it on two wheels.
Cycling introduced me to a whole new culture, and invited me into communities of people as passionate as I am about life on two wheels. It’s also taken me places. I’ve been to Italy twice on bicycling trips. I’ve raced a gran fondo in Miami. I’ve ridden the Five Boro Bike Tour in New York City, and climbed up Nichols Canyon in Los Angeles. I’ve biked the flat lands of southeast Missouri and northern Arkansas, and have been up and down the beautiful hills of Tennessee. From the Henry Hudson Parkway in New Jersey, to 30A on the Gulf Coast, I’ve ridden everywhere I could in the last ten years. The bike’s been a trusty companion, too. It helped me through my father’s cancer diagnoses and death. It kept me breathing and moving during a debilitating divorce. And during those nights after my daughters came home from the NICU and were both colicky and not sleeping, it provided a much safer alternative then getting behind the wheel and driving fatigued. I know that sounds crazy, but it worked.
In February of this year, I got into a bad bike wreck on some train tracks in the Donelson area of Nashville. I still don’t know what happened. All I remember is approaching the tracks on my way to work, and waking up in an ambulance being told it was likely I had a concussion. My helmet was cracked and my clothes torn. I blacked out again and woke up in the emergency room. It would be months before I got back on the bike, and even then, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever really bike again. I’m a father of twin one-year-old girls, and those girls need their father. My wife needs her husband. It was all too risky. At the end of March, approaching my 45th birthday, I asked my wife if I could take the bike out to the Natchez Trace Parkway for a 45-mile-ride (one mile for each year). It was a glorious ride, on a road that was one of the first places I had ridden ten years earlier. I had something of a revelation during it, that perhaps this was it for me. That I was no longer a cyclist. And by that I mean: no longer someone who identified with the culture of cycling. I would always be a bike rider. Summer rides near the beach, maybe the occasional bike share ride in the city. Maybe even the occasional long ride with a friend. Hopefully, as the girls get older, we’d attach the trailer and begin family rides. Yes, I would always ride a bike, but no, I would no longer be a “cyclist.”
I was very much at peace with this idea. I had done a lot on my bike. I had a good run. I wasn’t unlike the time, around 2006, when I decided that while I will always play guitar, I would no longer be a “guitar player” and someone actively pursuing a singer-songwriter career. I had a good run with that, too, but it would no longer be something I identified with. It was easy to come to peace with that, too. Just because you do something for a period of your life doesn’t mean you always have to do it.
Two months after my wreck, in April of this year, I had long overdue gastrointestinal surgery to remedy chronic pain I’ve struggled with most of my life. It was another deterrent to getting back on the bike. My revelation was becoming a reality.
Today, I biked into work. Yesterday, I got up early, emptied the dishwasher, packed the girls’ lunches, and went for a ride before work. For all of the life changes and challenges of this year; all of the letting go and reassessing, the bike has been a hard thing to quit. It turns out that it means too much to me. I was amazed when I looked at my Strava profile today, that somehow, with a concussion and surgery and being a new dad, I still managed to scrape together 600 miles on my bike. If you’re a cycling enthusiast, you know this is nothing. Many of my cycling friends will probably wrap up the year with 10 times that amount of mileage. Somehow, though, through the support of my wife, and a desire to keep my mental and physical health in check, I simply kept pedaling. Ten miles here. Twelve miles there. Sometimes two or three miles running errands in the neighborhood. It adds up. Remember that old saying, “I know I’m somebody ’cause God don’t make no junk?” God don’t make no junk miles, either.
Sure, the long 40 to 60 mile rides on the weekends are over, and I may only be commuting about twice a week. But those Saturday mornings I used to spend riding I now spend with my daughters, which is how I prefer to spend them. And when your car commute can be as long as 45 minutes each way, an hour-long bike commute isn’t hard to justify. Maybe that revelation on the Natchez Trace Parkway wasn’t far off. Maybe I’m not a cyclist anymore. But I’m certainly a person who rides a bike, which is a distinction I’ve been thinking about for a while, and wrote about in 2014.
Even better, I’m a dad and a husband who rides a bike. I like that.
Here’s to the next ten years. With some new companions on the journey.