After the first, second and third innings, as my son’s team finished batting and took the field, I had to remind him to go back from his position to get his glove off the bench. So eager was he to get out there and play, that the glove escaped his attention. The parents sitting near me all laughed. It was a knowing and empathetic laugh. There is a reason 7-year-olds don’t run the world. After the bottom of the fourth, he remembered finally.
When I was his age, I was the same, all want and no focus, turning cart wheels at second base, diving for balls not-yet-hit, writing my own legend in the soft gray matter of my frontal lobe, while all around me the real world blundered on mundanely.
At seven and eight and then nine-years-old, I rode a red BMX, heavy as New Hampshire granite, blue pads on top tube, stem and handlebar. I jumped it off stout pieces of ply-wood braced against piles of brick or cinder block, a long driveway/runway and the sharpest take off I could muster. Evel Knievel with skinned knees and no helmet, tearing through the woods and launching off every bump in the dirt or curb cut I could find. It was a different time.
Adolescence put paid to those notions. BMX stopped being cool. I began to worry about my shoes. I put time into sports more respected by the fairer lot, and as the girls paid me more attention, I clamored for more and more of that attention. The old BMX grew cobwebs in the shed, and then found a new boy to carry through the woods and off ill-conceived ramps.
That’s when my brother’s Panasonic Villager, long-abandoned and far too large, came out of retirement. My teen ardor gave that bike a purpose, a means to visit young ladies even further afield than my suburban youth had dared contemplate. And ungainly as it was, I rediscovered riding on that bike. For a spell, in afternoons after school, I would ride it slowly, in figure eights, around the driveway. I could spend hours that way, spinning ever more slowly, fumbling at the beginnings of a track stand when I had no idea that was even a thing. This was meditative time, just me, quiet on the bike, feeling its shifting gravity under me and dancing the awkward dance at the end of youth.
What ended my youth, ultimately, was drugs and alcohol. They dragged me forcibly out of childhood with its warm, dry shelter of oblivious dependence into a crueler place, where I began to have to solve serious problems for myself. Just functioning on a (somewhat) socially acceptable level, was hard work. It didn’t leave much time for aimless figure eights.
Eventually though, the bike came back, first as transportation, then as transformation. The thing is, I can’t be on a bike very long before it draws me back into all the things that are good about being free and on the move and under your own steam. The bike didn’t get me clean and sober. That would be too cute. But when I did finally get myself over the hump into sobriety, the bike was there to reshape my lifestyle and give me back some measure of health.
Suddenly, I was a cyclist. I rode to and from work. I bought a proper road bike and then a mountain bike. I bought shoes and pedals and kit. I woke up at the crack to hit the trails before work. I did long road rides with friends on weekends. People taught me how to ride in a group, how to climb more efficiently, how to sprint for town lines.
And then somehow work overtook it all. I had a sort of aimless career, by which I mean I didn’t care what I did that much. I chased money and promotions for no reason I could name. I’m not even sure I knew I was doing it, just swept up in the flow of moving on and getting more and doing more and having more, until the bikes started to go dusty again. By then, most of my riding buddies had moved away. The whole thing lost its inertia, became inert.
I have never considered myself a suit-guy, but there I was, in a suit. You can sit in a lot of meetings in a lot of starchy dress shirts, wondering to yourself how you got there. I did. Hell, I even ran a lot of those meetings. Before I decided it was time to run FROM those meetings.
I don’t know why I drift away from cycling periodically. I love riding, and I love the bike as a tool and as an object. I love what it does for me, and I believe in it as a lifestyle. I’m just easily distracted.
Parenthood finally put me back on the bike, again. This wasn’t the prosaic ride of father and son through neighborhood streets. That happened, but more importantly I understood that time for fitness was no longer available. If I continued to drive or take the train to work, I would forgo the one good opportunity (two actually) I had to exercise each day, the commute.
I love commuting by bike, the rhythm of it, in and out, back and forth, each trip pumping out the endorphins you need to deal with being at work, or returning home to wailing children. And then, of course, as I said, I can’t be on a bike very long before it draws me back in.
This cycling world is full of people who will tell you that they were born to ride, that it’s the most important thing in their life, and that it defines them as a person. I don’t know about all that. My experience has been uneven and non-linear, and I have learned better than to try to tell you much about my future.
I can say that the bike has always been there for me. Every time I wander off, I come back, and it’s there, and all the revelations that come along with riding come to me, and I dive back in, headfirst. And then I’m riding with friends and on my own, during the week and on weekends. Asphalt and gravel and dirt. In the rain and the cold. Sometimes, because I am who I am, even I forget my gloves.
Follow me on Twitter @thebicyclerobot.