Saturday, December 15, 2007

Life - Passion for Cycling

A long time ago I sat on my bike next to a rectangular criterium course in Danbury, CT. The course had changed from the original unusual course with a backstretch chicane to a much more standard four corner one. The Juniors were racing, and like all Junior races, a couple talents were cranking the pain screws all the way down. Few could hang on and the rest of the field lay scattered around the course.

I watched as one kid time-trialed grimly, off the back, just like a lot of other guys in his race. Guys in front of him sat up and rolled off the course, but this kid, he kept going. I could relate to his effort - after all, as a Junior, I often found myself in the exact same position.

I cheered for him, clapped, and watched as he dug himself deeper into that "I've blown up" hole. I hoped he could at least finish the race, for his sake, but with the finish approaching, it seemed unlikely.

Finally, at some point, his race was over.

He pulled to the shoulder and off the course. Although he was obviously disappointed, it was equally apparent that this was not a deal breaker.

As an "experienced" rider in my mid-20s, I made an announcement to myself.

"This kid, he'll be racing in 10 years. He may not set the world on fire riding his bike but he'll be there. He has that passion for cycling, not like these other kids who are there simply to beat everyone else or whose parents want them to become the next Greg Lemond."

With that, life intruded.

At some point the kid grew up. I saw him every now and then. Each time, I recalled my private proclamation that one August afternoon. I'd grin to myself because he was still out there, plugging away, and I would keep warming up or racing or talking with bike friends or whatever.

Many years later, he moved into my area, eventually joining the same team. We'd go to races together, or we'd meet up and drive to Gimbles. After one such ride we wanted to go out to eat. Since I had taken a "rubbing alcohol wipe down", I felt presentable enough, at least as a grungy bike rider. Sean wanted to shower first so we went to his apartment to shower. While he got cleaned up I helped his (female) roommate work on a crossword puzzle. I forgot her name that day, but in the same way I figured I'd see that kid racing around for the next ten years, I also figured that this girl and I had some yet-to-be-determined interaction in the future.

He and I and another guy met up regularly to ride to Gimbles. We'd meet in Stamford, a 40 minute ride for me, then ride the hour or so to the Gimbles route. We'd go short on Gimbles (it's a little less than two hours), then, on the way back, cut out a bit early so we could start heading back. The two others stopped in Stamford and I would continue on back home. For me it made a six plus hour day and it made for a good weekend's work.

A year or so later a bunch of us starting meeting once a week for wings at a bar. The kid, now over 21, his female roommate, and I would meet friends in a bar. Cheap wings, a drink or two (or in my case, a soda), and we'd gab for a couple hours. At some point the female roommate and I started dating. One year, with the World Professional Road Race in nearby Canada, the three of us trekked up there to check it out.

Somewhere in there the female roommate moved out to her own place, and after a couple years, moved into a house - with me.

I normally refer to her as "the missus" since we got married in October.

Looking back at my future interaction hunch, I suppose it was pretty accurate. There isn't much more of a significant interaction then getting married. My gut instinct was definitely on target that particular day.

A week or two ago I was going through all the wheels in my place. I found a set of the Kid's wheels, Campy, FiR EA65s, 32 double butted spokes, alloy nipples. I'd built them in the mid to late 90s and the aluminum spoke nipples had started to fail a few years ago. He asked me to rebuild them, and though I accepted the wheels, I simply never got around to them. He had other wheels, bought even more, so rebuilding this beater set simply did not take priority.

When I ran across them I decided I better finish them up.

I called him up and told him I'd replace all the spoke nipples with more reliable brass ones - the wheels really did not need anything else. At the same time we ended up agreeing that he would buy my Eurus wheels from me. I'd deliver both sets of wheels on the upcoming weekend.

Well, with some unusual happenings in my life, I ended up with no time to build the wheels. Again. I sent him an email apologizing for not having the wheels ready - I'd bring them next week.

Saturday morning the missus and I were trying to sort out some stuff before we made the trip to the SW corner of Connecticut. We were sitting at the dining table and she asked about the wheels. I started explaining how I simply ran out of time, yada yada yada, and she told me that maybe I could do them "right now".

I thought about it and decided she was right. I cleared an area on the table, lay down a towel, plunked down the truing stand, and spend the next hour or so rebuilding the Kid's wheels. I also prepped the Eurus wheelset (removed the tires and cassette). Both sets done, we loaded up the car and set off on our way.

A couple hours later, we pulled up to the Kid's driveway. Obviously he's no longer a kid - he's married and they own their own place. Ironically their house is a couple miles away from that criterium course in Danbury. I even drove through their neighborhood to get to the race.

I walked up the driveway, turned the corner, and there he was, raking leaves. I held out my arms, a wheelset dangling from each hand.

"Hey, I have your wheels."

He broke out into a grin. He looked at the rake in his hand, wondering how he could get rid of it so he could take the wheels.

"Where do you want the wheels?", I asked.

He put the rake down.

"Let me take them", he told me, and I handed him the wheels.

A grin spread across his face as he looked from one wheelset to the other. The missus and I had matching grins. Joy is happily contagious.

After a bit he suddenly looked up, almost as if he'd forgotten we were there. "Come on in, say hi to the missus." He pointed the way with a hand holding a wheelset.

We spent a while talking, drinking coffee, and catching up. We both talked enthusiastically about our plans for the upcoming season. We both want to get back on form, and we're both joining new teams to help motivate ourselves.

At some point I had to pause and smile to myself. My hunch all those years ago had been right. The Kid still has the passion for cycling.

4 comments:

Jesse G said...

Aki Great Blog. Each story is better then the last. Please visit my Blog - TheBell-lap.blogspot.com. See you at Bethel!

Best regards,
Jesse

Sean said...

'the kid'?! dude, you are not THAT much older than me are you?! haha. I do love this sport, with all its highs and lows, the beauty, the freedom, the suffering...

I can't wait to ride those wheels- if I have the chance, I'll show them off with a few breaks at bethel, which starts in only 11 weeks or so?!! the countdown begins! yikes.

Sean said...

ps- thanks for that story Aki. I shared it with Meressa, who enjoyed it.

as for your thoughts( and my aspirations at the time) of being the next Lemond, I'm ok with my tenured cat 3 status and am happy just to get out there in the mix... I have my speedy moments but lack the talent (+dedication) to go pro. As I say to friends who ask me about 'biking' - "I'm like Lance Armstrong, but a lot slower!" As with many racers who have been around a few years, I'm happy with that~

see you out there-

Aki said...

heh I alluded to what I perceived to be a huge age difference when I first saw you race. I started writing this a long time ago but the ending never worked out until the wheels bit. Hope you like them and I'll see you out there.