Category Archives: Senseless acts of beauty

Little house of men

MY FATHER MADE it clear to me that I was mechanically inept. “Sometimes it skips a generation,” was the phrase, and we believe what we’re told by people we believe love us. He had it, I didn’t, and because it had skipped me, I never would.

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ALL THE QUOTES are from Pastime, a 1991 Spenser novel.

“Remember,” I said, “there were no women. Just my father, my uncles, and me. So all the chores were done by men. There was no woman’s work. There were no rules about what was woman’s work. In our house all work was man’s work. So I made beds and dusted and did laundry, and so did my father, and my uncles. And they took turns cooking.”

The first thing I bought to improve my kitchen was a serving spoon. I was working at Scholastic Books in Manhattan, and across from it was Dean and DeLuca, a very expensive gourmet shop where sometimes, to make myself feel better, I’d drop several dollars more on a treat than something only a scant degree less enjoyable would have cost at Cafe Duke.

They had utensils there, too, not just tony takeout. I thought about it and bought this big, pretty, satin-finish serving spoon.

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THEN, BECAUSE I was reading Consider the Fork, and she swore by tongs, a pair of those, also from Dean and DeLuca; and thanks to a minor casino windfall of my wife’s, a rice cooker from Mitsuwa Marketplace—the largest Japanese grocery store in the US, which I’d sometimes stop into after riding my bike into New Jersey, to pack my single pannier with sake for me and mochi or candy for my family. Then the Microplane Zester/Grater—I think that was also from Consider the Fork—and I don’t remember the order of acquisitions after that. A thing here, a thing there. All haphazard, probably, from the outside, but tightly integrated to the emerging pattern in here. A pretty serving spoon was only needed if I was going to take food seriously enough to want to present it; we already had black nylon cooking spoons, which we used for both stirring and serving. This would not be used for stirring. Tongs were only necessary if I wanted to risk, on the say-so of a book, money on a utensil I’d never felt the lack of, but which an expert called her most valuable. And a rice cooker is a long-term decision about nutrition, expense, and self-reliance…and I have this Kurusawa/Mifune thing. The ronin in The Seven Samurai—as determined, scarred, and self-reliant as any knight-errant gumshoe—accept rice as payment.

Separated by weeks and freelance checks came: a good garlic press, a balloon whisk despite already having a spiral one, a small mortar and pestle, two nice big white serving bowls from Sur La Table, nested, even though mixing bowls had been serving the same purpose just fine. Each item requiring a second or third thought, and usually a second or third visit, before the purchase.

 

“So all of you cooked?”

“Yeah, but no one was proprietary about it. It wasn’t anyone’s accomplishment, it was a way to get food in the proper condition to eat.”

 

MY MARRIAGE ENDED, after a quarter-century, in July, 2014. She moved first, to the county in Connecticut we’d agreed on so the boys could have good schools and I could have train access to Scholastic. By the time the moving started, Scholastic had given all my work to a much larger vendor that could offer bulk pricing. No time to react. Two weeks later, I landed in the same county, different town.

I got the old raw-wood Ikea utility table. On our first weekend together, I had the boys sand and stain it with me, and it moved into our new kitchen as our new prep table. It fit perfectly. We didn’t have anywhere to eat yet, or even a wastebasket, but I knew what kind of little family of men I wanted.

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THEY TURNED TEN soon after we moved. Now they’re eleven.

I called them to the top of the stairs to their room this evening, and said to the one who’s only intermittently interested in cooking, “There are two things I need done, and you can choose which. One, you can wash some dishes and set the table. Two, I need the chain taken off my folding bike, which is in the bike garage on the workstand, and put to soak in cleaner.”

“CHAIN!”

His brother’s dream is to be on MasterChef Junior; I’ve been working with him on cooking since we moved here. This boy’s equivalent started four days ago, when he began his career as a mechanic by replacing the rear dérailleur and shifter cable on a little secondhand mountain bike his mom bought to keep at her place. His career will probably not be as a mechanic; he wants to be a scientist. I will probably never be able to send him to college, but I was struck, long ago, by Richard Feynman’s stories of being “The Boy Who Fixes Radios By Thinking,” and I can at least give him a tactile understanding of basic physics. The classical simple machines are lever, wheel and axle, pulley, inclined plane, wedge, and screw. Bicycles are compound collections of four out of six, and the other two (wedge, inclined plane) are integral to fixing and riding them.

And not just of basic physics, but of applied physics; felt physics. Reading about springs and being able to repeat that they store energy is not the same as getting your finger pinched when a dérailleur snaps back on its hanger. The abstraction of reading says the physical world is readily understood and easily manipulated. The orneriness of reality teaches you that perseverance and endurance are the only things that really ever manipulate it.

The bike garage is the only room in the house where he’s allowed to swear.

I’ve struggled with dérailleur adjustment for two years, since I bought my first workstand and bike tool set during the same life epoch that pushed me to buy the serving spoon. Lightly guiding my budding mechanic through his own first repair blew away the last of the obstacles. I now get it. Last night after seeing my boys at a school concert and then leaving them and driving half an hour home by myself, I needed to make myself feel better, so I shouldered my randonneuring bike down the basement stairs and tuned up its winter-beaten drivetrain. I didn’t refer to any of my previous printouts from the web. It just makes sense.

It made sense to mechanical boy in a single day. Mostly I just tightened things his hands were too small for, made him stop when he jumped to the wrong conclusions, and told him not to hit himself in the face with the cable.

I also had him touch the cable near the shifter while turning the grip, to feel what’s going on up there, and then had him do it again while watching the dérailleur. His light bulbs went off so much faster than mine ever have. He’s got that thing I don’t.

 

“Your father sounds as if he were comfortable with his ego,” Susan said.

“He never felt the need to compete with me,” I said. “He was always very willing for me to grow up.”

 

SO I HAVE my fantasy house, my little family of men. I yell at them sometimes, which Spenser’s fictitious father and uncles never did, and feel unforgivably shitty and apologize. I’m trying to be an ideal, and that’s something nobody can maintain outside the hermetic chamber of a book. But even an unattainable ideal lies in a direction, and if we don’t aim for it, we don’t travel in that direction, and can’t get reshaped by the effort.

We’re still jerks sometimes, all three of us, including the one who’s not eleven, but I think we’re teaching each other how to be better men, one generation to the next.

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IT WAS A very simple dinner tonight because of work and being tired and not-recovered-yet broke, and as a pan heated, I went downstairs, plausibly to make sure the mechanic knew where the Chain Brite was before he got started, but really to see about fingers not being pinched, and he was already done. The chain and master link were soaking in the yellow Domino Sugar tub. So I agreed that yes, it is very fun and he should totally do more of this kind of thing, and went back up to the kitchen and his brother said, “Can I butterfly these sausages for you, Dad?”

I know how I got here. I don’t want to sound disingenuous. It was intentional.

This is just a night when I had that moment, and am amazed.

house_of_men

 

 

 

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Simple machine

I WAS DEPRESSED when I woke up yesterday morning, and weight loss had reversed since I got sick earlier in the week, and it was 15° out and gloomy and there seemed no point. So I posted on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.28.48 AM

Because I’d posted something all tough-sounding, now I had to be able to say later that I’d done it, so I eventually found all my winter cycling clothes (not the Lycra ones, the jeans and parka ones) and went outside.

Because I keep a very cheap bottom-end single-speed fatbike outside, and still have the buckskin mittens I got in the Arctic and never thought I’d use again, I could ride to my new workspace without worrying about getting stuck there if it snowed during the day.

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Because cycling drives your psyche clean, I got there in a good mood, and because even 3.7 flat miles is a workout on a 60-pound bike with 15psi tires, I got there in a good mood and invigorated—and hungry.

Because I was now in Danbury, I didn’t have to eat random leftovers out of the fridge.

And because I was invigorated and fed, and have always loved any unfamiliar cold sweet drink, I was friendly and happy.

Because I was friendly, I got into a friendly conversation with one of the guys who started the Hackerspace, and because I’m “the book design guy,” was taken forcibly by the lapels and hauled across the street, to a medium-small press, where I was introduced to the publisher and acquiring editor.

Because I don’t have a headlight on this bike yet, I rode home just before dark.

Because I was home before dark, I had time to check out Open Mic Night at my local coffeehouse, which I liked better than the open mics I’ve checked out at local bars. I have a new song that’s almost done.

Because I hadn’t written all day, I felt the day had been a failure. But not the kind of failure where everything’s hopeless, which is how I’d felt in the morning; the kind where you know it actually is a failure of sorts, but because you got your riding in…eh, you know, no point being despondent. And the lard thing was pretty funny. Just do better tomorrow.

Here’s the lard thing. I have no idea how to count calories when buying Chinese food cooked by the owner of the grocery store:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 6.30.26 PM

simple_machine

THIS MORNING I weighed in at less than 220 for the first time since November.

I was also a little sorrowful for no very clear reason, and a little sick, still. But the depression wasn’t so bad. And because I didn’t want to break the new streak, I rode to work again.

Bicycling gives you the same ideas you get when you’re falling asleep, only you can write them down when you get there. When I got to the Hackerspace, I wrote down what the climax and ending of this novel are.

(Because bicycling also replays painful old gaffes on a loop, I imagined how people I’ve been weird to—because at specific times of my life, my personality wasn’t back together yet—would react to the book. Eh, Snyder. Yeah, don’t like him. YOU can, I’m not saying otherwise. We all have our tastes, and none are wrong. Just…you know…*raised eyebrows and shrug*.)

(Because bicycling also pumps good mood through your entire being, I remembered I don’t actually care all that much that I sometimes fumble the social thing.)

Because I know the climax now, I’m taking a break from plotting and narrative and working on blurbable reviews. Publishers Weekly will call it one of the first masterworks of the early twenty-first century. The New York Times will marvel that a genre writer could have produced such a layered work of subtle complexity. These are advance blurbs, and subject to change.

I will be accused, by my friends, of snobbishly distancing myself from genre, and will patiently explain what I really meant in the interview. My explanation will be grudgingly accepted, but only four of my friends will still talk to me a month later. That’s a net gain of two, so this works out great.

Metal tubes, cables, rubber, leather. Gears and levers. Miracles.

Bruno the Big-Boned

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Breezy!

“DON’T WORRY about it. I can be the controle goy.”

Hopefully I didn’t sound flippant. It actually tickled me to do. Because it wasn’t kosher, he couldn’t buy anything to get the receipt.

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“IT’S NICE TO see you finish with some comfortable time.”

I finished in 10:39. This is only three minutes longer than the fastest 200K I’ve ever done, which was in Malibu and didn’t have headwinds, but did have a folding bike with concrete commuting tires and a wacky rear hub.

“What do you think made the difference?”

I said, “I’ve been doing a lot of commuting,” but on reflection, I think it’s more that this year, I know I can probably afford to take another shot if I DNF, so I can push harder and risk wearing myself out early.

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“YOU DID THIS one your first year.”

That was the most shocking thing all day: Someone knew that? And:

“I saw a rider going past _______ Road and I thought, that looks like Keith.”

It was! But I realized it half a block later and turned around. I think I went off-course three or four times, but my total bonus miles were less than one.

People pay attention when you don’t know they’re doing it. Weird. I always think I’m fated to fly solo.

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“NICHOLAS AND ZACHARY SAY MOOOOOOOO!”

The cows do not respond.
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Ziploc bag duct-taped to handlebars

High-tech map case

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A 30° TEMPERATURE range: 49° in the morning, 79° in the afternoon. I own two pairs of bike shoes: Clipless winter boots and clipless sandals. No normal ones, just those.

I dithered for a week. Then I brought sandals and Sealskinz socks. They were perfect. And I remembered to spray my feet with sunblock in the parking lot where the Sealskinz finally got peeled off. They were the last winterizing layer to go. Jacket, skullcap, glove liners, neck gaiter—a spring brevet is a six-hour striptease and then sunburn.

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I WASN’T lanterne rouge.

I wasn’t lanterne rouge.

Don’t get cocky, kid. Princeton’s coming up. You DNF’d at Schooley Mountain last time. It’s 300K of hills.

Humility: Reinstalled.

(Wasn’t lanterne rouge.)

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I LIKE MY tires. Schwalbe Durano Plus don’t have quite the buttery road feel of Schwalbe’s pure racing tires, but they’re more puncture-resistant, and, say…85% butterfat.

I learned in 2012, on this very brevet, that when the voice asks politely if you think you ought to change your tires yet, “Nah, still some life in them” is the wrong answer. The voice is itself the answer. If it’s saying anything at all, they’re already time bombs.

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SELF-RESPECT TIPS its hat. Nod back but don’t stop pedaling. You’re not done. Eat on the bike, drink on the bike, bask on the bike.

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I SPENT CONSIDERABLE time on this brevet trying out different ways of saying, “Breezy!”

(There were 30mph headwinds all the way down the Jersey shore.)

The delivery that works best is the one that sounds like I’m very pleased. But nobody understood it. Doesn’t matter, that was the one.

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MILE 105 OF 126, I’m sitting on grass, waiting for a bonk and caffeine headache to stabilize. I have three hours in the bank and a spring-lever tea ball in three inches of water in a bidon. I don’t actually call them bidons. I call them water bottles. I make a point of enjoying the scenery. I respect the moment and pay attention. I really see. Now I don’t remember anything. I think there was a fence.

Three hours in the bank minus ten minutes sitting on grass equals this was not my best 200K finishing time ever, but was instead 3 minutes over.

I bought a bike food cookbook after I got back.

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“YOUR SHORTS ARE ripped all up the back,” said a guy in the paceline that came up behind me at a stop. His voice was raised. The headwinds were punching us all right in the kisser.

“They are? Here?”

“Yeah.”

“The funny thing is, I wore these because my other ones had a hole in them. THERE IS NO ESCAPING DESTINY!”

I got a laugh.

“Breezy!” didn’t play, though. Everyone is wrong about this. It is the proper delivery.

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Arrivée

Arrivée

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“THERE’S A 6:40 train.”

“You know how to get there?”

“I do.”

I put my helmet back on. “Let’s go.”

So we sprinted for the station. Well, I sprinted. From the outside, it probably looked like I was drafting.

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“HAVE YOU recovered?” (Two days later.)

“Besides the achy quads and intermittently firing brain cells? TOTALLY.”

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AND NUMB PINKY finger and toes, and bruised hands. I’m going to miss this bike for all the best reasons, but the new one’s going to fit.

 

wing_96W

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Filed under Bicycling, Bikes, Randonneuring, Senseless acts of beauty

RIDE REPORT: Seven Gates 50K Petite Brevet

A BREVET STARTS when you wake up. Ride preparation is backstory. It ended last night. This morning, in medias res, you do what randos have always done:

  • Eat
  • Dress
  • Stop singing and find your hoody
Controle 1: P.S. 314

Controle 1, P.S. 314, 08:00

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IT WAS EIGHT in the morning, but the gray chill wasn’t easing off. “You’ll warm up as we go,” I assured my companions, who were wearing their new real bike shorts, and we went R OUT OF CONTROLE ONTO BROADWAY.

n_broadway_pigeons

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THE SEVEN GATES 50K is a three-controle out-and-back. It starts and ends in Inwood, at the top of Manhattan, so the first thing we do is leave New York City.

Marble Hill used to be part of both Manhattan, the actual island, and Manhattan, the borough, which back then were the same thing. When the Harlem River was rerouted to truncate the tip of the island, Marble Hill got amputated. In all meaningful ways, it’s now fused to the Bronx; but civically, it’s still a ghost digit of Manhattan, the dotted outline of a toe up where no toe should be. It’s populated by the tormented spirits of doomed New Yorkers, stranded forever in a twilight existence where the subways vanish. But the Broadway Bridge goes there.

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whirring of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

STRAIGHT ON over Harlem River: The whir of drivetrains, the wailing of despondent souls

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ON THE OTHER SIDE, my companions offhandedly mentioned they might be feeling the slightest sensation of coolness, so I berated them. “Are you randonneurs or children?” I sneered. “Are you riding? Like hardmen? Or OHHH, should we stop for COCOA at some nice little WARM PLACE?”

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Cocoa at warm place

Cocoa at warm place

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MILE 1.3: ENTER VAN CORTLANDT PARK BIKE PATH. If you don’t have a cue sheet, but you know where to jink over to the left past the bones of the abandoned train platform, where it doesn’t necessarily look like you should, you’ll be on a dirt-road-looking thing that soon narrows. If you did it accidentally, the sensation of being in the wrong place may stop you. You didn’t see any NO BIKES signs, but you might decide not to go in.

But if you know…

z_on_dirt_standing

 
The bottom mile and a half of what used to be the Old Putnam Railroad is now rideable hardpack, sometimes with a little mud—or more than a little—and always with stray roots and rocks and half-buried railroad ties. Then so sharp you can feel the surveyor’s line, the paving starts, and soon after this passage into Yonkers comes a passage both more profound and more nasal: Dad has promised to reveal to you the secret of the snot rocket.

 

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

Photoshopped for reduced disgustingness

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Boys!
Stay right!

THE PHRASES “NOT as steep as Henshaw, but longer” and “just downshift and you’ll be fine” trickled away almost as soon as Dad said them, weeks ago. “Two-mile climb” has remained solid in memory, and you have the nebulous sense it’s coming up. Is this it? No, this is flat. Is this it? No, this isn’t it. Is this it? Are we climbing? No. Then this isn’t it.

But now the surface has been tilted slightly up for a ways, and it’s tilting up slightly more. “Is this it?”

“This is the beginning of it…”

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“STOP!” BELLOWS THE voice falling further behind. “STOP! WAIT UP! STOP! HEY! YOU GUYS! HEY! HEY!

Like much of this route, the leg we’re on wavers more-or-less straight, with no intersecting trails or cross streets. There’s nowhere to go but forward or backwards. Instructions have been given a thrice of thrices: If we’re separated, we’ll meet up at the top of the climb, which is Gate 1.

But this rider, who on the flats enjoys passing his clubmates and wiggling his hiney at them, can be lazy on hills, a laziness that turns to indifference when he’s passed and fury when he’s dropped. His countertactic is to allow the escape group to build their lead until the gap seems too wide to bridge, and then, many heartbeats after seasoned observers will have written off his chances, to brake, plant his feet, stand in the middle of the lane, and holler.

There’s mild discussion at the front of the group, but these domestiques have been riding with him a long time. They continue to gain elevation. The occasional two-story roof shows through breaks in the treeline; the toys in those houses’ front yards look like toys. The echoing sounds of outrage become more distant.

Then an increase in volume and a decrease in echo, the words now intelligible: FINE! I’M SO MAD, I’M GONNA PASS YOU! repeated several times, and soon a red-hoodied blaze churns past on the left, past his companions, one of whom latches on and sprints. The other companion smiles silently and watches them race around the final bend—to Gate 1.

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YOU DID THE two-mile climb. What do you get on the way back?

A two-mile descent!

Stay right!

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EVERY PETITE BREVET—yearly, except I couldn’t get it together last year—I add another element. Last time it was more distance. This time it was more distance and a cue sheet.

Seven times between Manhattan and Elmsford Falls, the rail trail crosses a street or entry road. Cars could turn onto the trail if there was nothing to stop them, so there are not just bollards, but gates.

It may be conceivable that this only happens six times, and that the route designer, who’d already ordered medals with SEVEN GATES 50K engraved on the backs, had to go looking for a seventh gatelike thing on the final pre-ride, but this could not be confirmed by press time. Regardless: This cue sheet has a column called GATE, in which appear the numbers 1 through 7, for riders to whom monitoring TOTAL and LEG seems like less fun than you should have on a Saturday.

A seventh gatelike thing

A seventh gatelike thing

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Stay right!
Bike up, hold your line!

“IT FEELS A lot stronger after lunch, doesn’t it?”

“My legs feel brand new!”

Mile 15.8 is the turnaround, Elmsford Deli.

Around mile 18, a boy paying too much attention to giving his brother a very sweet pep talk and not enough to—something, we’ll never know what—went down. I heard the tone of sincere encouragement passing between them ahead, and then there was a low tangle of bike, boy, and lost shoe, and that sound of short metal tubing and forty pounds of flesh hitting pavement and sliding.

I have failed him at this moment before. When he got creamed on the flat between the two Little Red Lighthouse descents, and I carried a 16″ bike and a screaming six-year-old down to the bottom, I was angry. It was with myself, but that distinction clarifies too late to make a difference to a hurt child. And when he ate it on the playground and the first-aid pack with FAMILY BIKE on it in green marker wasn’t in my pannier, I had to borrow whatever little Band-Aid was offered from the bottom of a purse.

So first I did not run him over, and then as he shrieked so hard, still sprawled and tangled, that his voice distorted like a guitar, I leaned my head tube against a bench back and unbuckled the pannier and dug out the first-aid pack.

If this story had a different ending, my first words being Pick it up would now be slotted in behind the other things I regret in painful detail years later. But gently and firmly, opening the pack: Pick it up, you can get up, and he did. I helped him out of his frame. His brother retrieved the shoe.

The wailing had stopped. I noticed the suddenness.

His hands were okay—half-gloves—but there was road rash. Dirt was ground into abrasions up his leg and there was a good half-inch rip filled with blood, and a couple of smaller versions of it.

“It just stings,” he said. His voice was shaky. I felt my surprise change my face. “It’s fine,” he said again, still uncertain. “It just stings.”

I gave him a wipe and had him gently cleanse the wound while I got the big Band-Aid ready. How the heck had he done that? He didn’t know.

“I think you were doing a good job of encouraging your brother, and talking to him a lot, so you weren’t paying attention to the road.”

He said, “The thing about helping people is you don’t help yourself.”

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“I’M VERY IMPRESSED with you right now,” I said as I bunched up the first-aid wrappers to shove into an outer pannier pocket.

“I’m acting like Johnny Hoogerland right now,” he said.

As we rode out, he murmured, “I didn’t know I was like that.” He said it again, maybe twice more, only partly to me.

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MILE 20.1: X SAWMILL PKWY, R INTO CONTROLE. Controle is unstaffed, so timestamped receipts take the place of a signature.

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

Starbucks Cake Pops: Not as good as expected

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RANDONNEURING, LIKE MOST things, is mostly about the basics.

  • Eat again.
  • While you are doing your shoulder check, do not run off the road.
  • If your penis hurts, put Lantiseptic on it.
  • The Lantiseptic will warm up.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

No.

Is this the two-mile descent?

Are we descending?

No.

Then this isn’t it.

Heads up!
Stay right!

z_n_downhill_zoom
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“THEY SMELL THE BARN,” says Laurent, the man I followed around for my first year randonneuring, to explain why bicycles speed up at the end of a brevet.

n_elevated_train

MILE 29.6: SOUTHBOUND BROADWAY SIDEWALK. CAUTION: PEDESTRIANS, DRIVEWAYS.

We’re moving in 2014, and not sure where yet, so the randonneuring element I’ll add a year from now may reveal itself when we get there. If not, time limits to the controles are the obvious addition. For what is a brevet without a faint, constant trickle of fear?

But months before the Who Knows Where We’ll Land 75K, there will be the 40-mile (64-kilometer) Five-Boro Bike Tour, a fitting goodbye lap of the city where you were born, and with it maybe a little more understanding that even compared to grownups, a little dude like you can sling some respectable skills.

Or it may just be a bunch of whining—you never know what’s coming, this far out.

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n_medal_results

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Johnny Hoogerland was hit by a car and thrown through the air into a barbed-wire fence within minutes of our sitting down to watch our first Tour de France together. Parts of him were torn to ribbons. He finished the stage.

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Every rider has a rider he dreams about.
I dreamed of one day being as good as Barthélemy.

 
—The Rider
Tim Krabbé

 

seven-gates

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Why

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.”

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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.

It’s mine.

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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.

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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.

 

 

wing_96W

 

 

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A Saturday bike video

My Father’s Day present was a gift certificate from Tread. I got a GoPro camera.

We tried it out this weekend.

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Unexpectedly is the only way it ever happens

Today, even though I really couldn’t, I said yes when asked if I could spare an hour for the boys, and when they called me out to the dining room, their bikes were ready, they had their helmets on, my bike was by the door with sandwiches in the pannier, and the hour was to be spent riding down to the Little Red Lighthouse, throwing pebbles in the Hudson River, eating our sandwiches, and riding home.

It was their idea, I was told.

The descent from next to the Henry Hudson Parkway down to the Little Red Lighthouse—same descent, if you read it, that I used in my story in RIDE—is really two descents. This is more obvious if you’re climbing them, but it’s a steep little switchback, and then a straight downhill, and then it flattens and there’s a sharp curve through a short tunnel, over a short planked bridge, and down again, which shoots you straight past the tennis courts.

Last year my smaller boy wiped out on the flat, and boy, did he wipe out. I carried him and his bike down to the bottom, with blood running down his fingers and me doing a barely acceptable job of controlling my anger while he shrieked Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god! This is bad! This is bad! I’d contributed to his injury by trying to micro-manage his bike handling, so the anger was really shame.

But now it was 70° and maybe a little muggy, but also green and gray and pretty. There weren’t that many other bikes, and he was chattering away as we rolled up the shallow half-mile before the bollard that marks where the switchback drops. We were discussing the complexions of the two descents. He asked if I remembered when he wiped out. I put some energy into not sounding like I was wincing and said it wasn’t the hill that made him wipe out, it was that he was going too fast and not paying attention, and then he got scared and froze up and shimmied the bike, and that’s what put it down. But don’t forget, I said. This year, you have hand brakes. So you can feather your speed, trim your speed, if it’s too fast, you can slow it down. You could do the whole hill like— (I held my hand at an angle and made it descend like a funicular for snails.)

His brother, as usual, was fifty feet ahead. Even with seven-year-olds, I’m having conversations at the back of the pack.

DON’T PASS THE BOLLARD! I yelled.

He stopped immediately and looked back at us. So often, lately, when I’m trying to give him freedom, he thinks I’m reining him in.

***

Every time we get to the switchback, I make them dismount and put their bikes off the path and walk twenty feet down with me, where I point at various things about the personality of the first descent. See this part I’m standing on, right here? This spot is the steepest part. Now look, it hooks right here, but then all the way down to there? That’s straight. See how it’s straight? You can go fast down it, but don’t still be going fast when you get to the bottom, because see it turns there? So if you’re still going fast there, you’ll wipe out on the dirt.

They both chose to walk the first 40′ or so. They remounted while there was still a good kid-strength downhill grade and picked up speed through the short tunnel and over the wooden bridge. The chatterer coasted right past his wipeout spot. I saw the top of his brother’s red helmet disappear down the second descent as we were still traversing the flat.

***

And so the shameful wipeout was erased.

***

We threw pebbles in the river for a while. There’s no sand there, just big slabs of rock that you can walk on.

***

While we were eating sandwiches another hundred yards down the greenway, where we ended up after the bathroom, I said tell you what. The day you climb the first part? From where the lighthouse is, up to the wooden bridge? (And here there was another three minutes of getting their attention and repeating myself, which I’ll spare you.) The day you climb all the way to the wooden bridge, I’ll buy you whatever ice cream you want. If you climb it, you can choose the ice cream. If you do it, you can choose the ice cream. If two boys do it? Two kinds of ice cream.

If we can’t do it, do we still get the ice cream?

Nope.

We ate our sandwiches. They explained their secret trick, their plan for climbing the hill, which was to go really fast and then they’d just be up it. I explained how that wouldn’t work on this hill. It’s too long, too steep, and I really don’t even know if you guys can do it. (And there was another fifteen minutes of dickering over what needed to be eaten, why it was impossible to eat that, and the exact terms of the trade agreement governing the distribution of GoGurt, which I’ll spare you.) Then the wrappers and napkins got packed back in my pannier, and back-of-pack boy got on his bike and pedaled for the lighthouse, and his brother marched up to me, flexed like Hulk Hogan, and shouted MUST—CLIMB—HILL! and grabbed his bike.

***

When, in the course of your parenting adventure, you arrive at a juncture that requires you to either yell your guts out, cheerleading for your kid who’s climbing a hill that grownups—fit ones—consider That point where I turn around and go back downtown, or get your phone out and take pictures? Just remember I said this and you’ll be fine: To hell with the phone. It’s not an option. Cheer for that little human like it’s the first time in his entire life he’ll have achieved anything this big.

Because for two little humans, it was.

***

“DADDY! WHY DIDN’T WE GET ICE CREAM!”

We’d just dismounted after coasting down that half-mile. There were still concrete steps and a block of sidewalk to go.

“Did you see any ice cream stores on our way down the greenway?”

***

“Can I have some more ice cream, please?”

“No, you can’t have…yeah, all right. You earned it.”

***

Tonight was shampoo night during bathtime, one of my favorite things.

I’m very tired. I just wanted to get this all down, before things that matter less pressed in more, and I didn’t.

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