Hurling my car down interstate 70, precisely pinning the needle of the speedometer just under the 80mph mark, hoping that theory of 10 miles an hour over the limit is actually the limit. Five pm, then six, the Breezewood interchange onto the Pennsylvania turnpike, back to pinning the speedometer at it’s needed location. With my stomach empty in synchronization with the cars gas tank, the need to stop was pressing, but there was no time to waste. In a mere two hours Dinosaur Jr, would be taking the stage at Mr. Smalls Theater in Pittsburgh and I was still an hour and forty minutes away.
When you are alone in a car for hours on end it gives you a lot of time to think, maybe too much time. As I pushed the barriers of accepted speed on the turnpike I started to think about how many times I have raced around Druid Hill Park and since 2008 I don’t think I’ve missed a single year of Charm City Cyclocross. Then I started to think of all the things I’ve seen there, all the people I have met there and all the friendships that grew during those weekends.
As you race bikes with people week after week simple recognition turns to hellos and then transitions to post-race beverages and the next thing you know it’s six years later and you are sharing a house in Western Massachusetts together for a weekend of bike riding. Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C., Boston, couches, spare rooms, air mattresses, and more importantly friends.
A few years back we took a couple of out-of-town cyclists on a nice long ride into Western Pennsylvania farm country and on down to West Virginia and back. It was a proper tour of empty roads and a small taste of Appalachia living. Conversation turned to the subject of racing and one of the gentlemen on the ride simply said “I gave up on racing bikes when it started getting in the way of riding them” That has always stuck with me, I have been guilty of letting just that thing happen. On beautiful days begging for all day adventures I would do a quick hour through the park because there was a race the next day.
Often over the last year or so I have contemplated giving up racing all together and just enjoying the ride, my interest in the local summer training series has dwindled and the desire to sacrifice what it takes to compete at a high level is burning as much as a wet match stick. I could just walk out the door, pedal for hours, come home and nap on the couch, hang out with the kids and life would be gravy. The issue is that I would not just be quitting racing but ending friendships. Sure we could stay in touch on social media, email, or whatever the hot new app is but real friendships are forged and maintained in real time, over beer, over pizza, hell, even over scorpion bowls (a tasty but extremely boozy cocktail from a Chinese restaurant).
The people you meet through life are what make your life what it is, it’s not the long hours at work, the new car, or whatever we all think it is that will complete the puzzle. To walk away from bike racing would mean walking away from a whole lot of people I enjoy spending time around. And besides, bike racing keeps me honest, keeps me out of the cookie jar or the beer fridge, it makes me want to be a little bit better version of what I am.
I managed to get all of bags in one trip from the car to the house flung them onto the dining room table, while I said hello and goodbye to my family. Grabbed a few slices of cold pizza and hurtled back out the door, 8:53pm. Jogging while trying to inhale the last few bites of chewy pizza crust I entered the church converted to a concert venue as the woman who took my ticket said “You just made it.”
“I just got done driving from Baltimore” I exclaimed.
“Baltimore” she wondered.
“Yes, I was at a bike race all weekend”
“Did you win?”
I chuckled “No”
“Well did you have fun at least” she asked, Just as the opening riffs of “Thumb” boomed through the venue.
“I did” as I smiled and walked into the packed room.