THE TWEET WAS aimed at another writer/cyclist and me:
It was sent by a third writer (and former cyclist), and was meant affectionately. And it didn’t bother me—but what did bother me is that I’ve never been able to put my finger on why. Why? Why brevets? Why distance? It’s been two years since my SR series (a 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K in one calendar year), but why was that so meaningful—and why is it still?
Because you think you can outrace death. No, that’s not it. That’s dumb. That’s a line I heard on HOUSE.
On a bike podcast recently, Grant Peterson was discussing the appeal of gritty, Rapha-advertising-type “epic rides” to middle-aged men, and he hypothesized that it had something to do with regaining a feeling of athleticism lost since youth.
I had no athleticism in youth.
By my standards, I still have none. I’m not trim at this moment, I’m not ripped. I’m of decent build for a man who designs books, tall, with better-than-okay legs and butt, but essentially usual above the belt. I’m not someone you look at covertly because of how beautiful I am. At this writing, I weigh 210. I should weigh 195. That means I should weigh 190. And while I do technically have abs, they do nothing besides facilitate the movement of my torso between pelvis and ribcage, and are entirely subcutaneous.
When I said recently, to a 1200K veteran I was about to ride a 200K with, that a 200K isn’t that impressive, he corrected me, pointing out that “Most of the population thinks we’re crazy for what we do.”
This is true. But, I said, “That’s because they don’t know a 200K is mostly just about being smart, and managing your nutrition and hydration.”
I could also have said, “And because there’s really no reason anyone should do this stuff in the first place.”
ALL THIS TIME randonneuring—my first brevet was April 11, 2009—I haven’t understood why. During that time, I’ve also heard, “A bike racer is chasing something. An endurance athlete is running away from something.”
I tried that one on. It was cut wrong too.
Tonight I was thinking about Grant Peterson’s take on it, his theory about regained power, when I understood:
I haven’t regained my power. I’ve found it.
It’s going to leave me when I die. It’s going to diminish as middle age tightens its chokehold, or evaporate with my next MS exacerbation. But I found it.
NOT ALL OF it—no one gets to find all of their power. It’s all potential. We were all children, and children have nothing but. And then large chunks of what the world doesn’t ruin, we ruin ourselves. I’m blogging right now instead of writing a page. I’m on Twitter instead of knocking out my paying work faster and using the resulting 20 minutes to create another few notes of music. The short films stopped when the recession hit, the Wall Street investors for the feature vanished, and I had infant twins and debt and was tired. (God, was I tired.) There may be half an inch of scotch later, for bliss and anesthetic.
So—partly I do it. Partly the world does it. Nobody gets to transform potential into kinetic without loss, and sometimes the cost is greater than the result, or the result is not viable, or the work that doesn’t even get you to where you can do more work is just too, too, too effing hard.
So it slips away. The power, the potential, all of it, as liquid as time.
This one’s mine, this riding a bike far and getting there by a certain time, and doing the hill that gets you to the next hill that gets you to the next hill. In some ways it’s an easier power to capture than those others, and real hills are less abusive than allegorical ones; in some ways it’s harder. It’s certainly simpler. But I am this, now, and when I reach in to see what I am, my knuckles hit something solid.
RANDONNEUR IS A lifetime title. You do it once, finish a single 200K, and you can keep calling yourself that for as long as your self-respect lets you. Novelist is like that, too. You did it. They didn’t.
No point running from death. When that window closes, it’s all a matter of how you filled the frame.