I have gambled with things that were not wholly my own to lose. Certainly when I was younger and invincible I would fly into city intersections with little concern for the color of the lights guarding them. I would improvise, mainly without incident, but sometimes with great honking of horns and brandishing of fingers and the pure, dumb luck of the young. I could have died any time the way I was behaving, and I was unconcerned. No. Worse. I was defiant. Proud.
I was the very worst sort of cyclist. I cringe to think back.
Wouter Weylandt died today on Stage 3 of the Giro d’Italia. He crashed hard on a Category 3 descent, and never got up. I didn’t know him, was only vaguely aware of who he was and what he’d done in our sport. I learned of his death on the Cyclingnews live feed of the race and confirmed it on Twitter. Tragedy is the easy but obvious word to describe Weylandt’s death.
How we connect to them says a lot about our human condition. I didn’t know Wouter Weylandt but he’s a cyclist like I am a cyclist. He was an expectant father, as I have been. Our human nature seeks these similarities, makes the connections in some sort of empathetic short hand, looks to divine the meaning and the signs, so that what happens to others does or doesn’t happen to us. Empathy comes with implications for us and the way we go on.
When I was younger I didn’t understand the ways people connect to one another. I was always contemptuous of spirituality and other nebulous propositions about things unseen. But, fortunately I matured. We do, in fact, connect to the people around us, sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes in ways more obscure. Those connections, intangible as they seem, clearly exist. They are spiritual. That is what spirituality is, in my mind.
I’m afraid to ride home now.
My riding is an order of magnitude more conservative than it was twenty years ago. I don’t take nearly as many risks, but I still take them. Coming across town in the morning, I have jumped in front of buses and sprinted for the lane. I have run lights that were beyond yellow. I have put myself between a truck and a hard place. Why?
Professional cyclists don’t die on the road with nearly the frequency of race car drivers or top-level rock climbers. It’s a dangerous job, but racers don’t expect to die. Commuters don’t either.
On a day like today I recognize the gamble that crossing a busy city on a bicycle represents, and further, I recognize that what I am gambling with isn’t solely mine to bet. It belongs to my wife and my kids and my parents and my friends too. I am connected.
I wonder if Wouter Weylandt knew how connected he was. I hope so. I will ride home better tonight for his passing. It’s all the tribute I can make.