The Church Basement, the Veterans Hall


Just once recently I reached out and touched the third rail of cycling discourse with a post about a rider whose name I shall not mention here. The results ought to have been predictable enough, a chain of comments, some supportive, many critical, some baldly dismissive, that let me know that I had missed my mark. I have tried over the last year to leave certain topics for smarter, better-informed, less sensitive souls, but sometimes I become too enamored with my own ideas and keyboard blast something out into the universe better left rattling around the echo-y outer ramparts of my brain.

The great benefit of making mistakes, of course, is in the lessons imparted. Pain motivates change, as my old counselor often told me. And so the past weeks have been good as I have refocused on the good things in my cycling life, minding my own business, turning over the pedals, tuning up the machine, planning the next project, riding thoughtfully and using the sport to connect with the like-minded.

RKP is an important part of that equation. Here I try to write about my personal experiences in a way that readers can identify with, to share something even if we’ve not met, not ridden together. To me, RKP is another saddle to sit in, a coffee shop, church basement or veterans hall, a humble place to gather with those trying to live the same, better life. I come here for connection not conflict.

Is there a point to conflict? I ask that sincerely, not sarcastically. Does conflict enrich our lives? Is there some process whereby it draws us together, a joining by fire, or is that only true if we take the time to resolve our conflicts in some meaningful way?

I have very (self)consciously here mentioned church basements and veteran’s halls. Though I count myself an atheist, I retain a belief that the quality of my life is directly proportional to the strength of my spiritual connection to the world around me. In this context, spiritual just means unseen, the bonds between friends, the connection we feel to our physical and natural surroundings. Where I forge those connections can vary, but their strength and quality is usually the arbiter of my happiness.

I try to avoid conflict without being a doormat, to accept the things I can not change, as the saying goes, and to forgive as readily as I can, not because this behavior comes easily, but because it seems to produce the best results. Rather than argue, rather than swear and threaten and complicate, it is usually better just to ride away, to choose a different route next time.

For some, these might be trying times in the cycling world, far away events stirring emotions, emotions coming out every which way. It is always tempting to express my opinion, to make a particularly pointy point, but invariably I only exacerbate a conflict that isn’t mine to begin with. I don’t have to do that. I can change.

It is useful to remind myself that, both through riding my bike and writing about it, I am trying to connect with my world. Neither activity, much as I love it, has any real resonance without that connection. When I court conflict on the bike or at the keyboard, I am failing in my basic mission. I am missing the point.

I am not a religious person, but I retain a faith that, by doing these simple things, I can move forward, pedal over pedal, inch-by-inch into each day, in the saddle, at the coffee shop, in a church basement or in a veteran’s hall. And that is what I mean to do.

Image: Matt O’Keefe

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  1. High Plains Drifter

    // I am not a religious person, but I retain a faith that, by doing these simple things, I can move forward, pedal over pedal, inch-by-inch into each day, in the saddle, at the coffee shop, in a church basement or in a veteran’s hall. And that is what I mean to do. //

    Oh, you’re religious alright. Maybe not a contributor to one of the incorporated organizations recognized by the IRS. But I remaining clinging to the idea that they are not the final authority on such matters.

    One definition is scrupulously and conscientiously faithful. Doesn’t specify to what.


  2. Michael Levine

    Thanks for a great piece. For me… Before the coffee shop, before the basement and the Vets Hall, there was always the bike. The “one pedal stroke at a time” concept has always served well, and now has the “spiritual” component of trusting..and not courting conflict…with anything. I even have to wear the devotion to the bike loosely.

  3. Running Cyclist

    Conflicting perspectives provoke thought and usually give us greater depth in our view of the world. That said, I’m with you on much of cycling’s issues. It’s not really my fight and I already have enough things in my life which require me to jump into the fray. With cycling, I stay focused on the positive and on what I love, which is still most aspects of the sport. Thanks for a great post Robot!

  4. Rod

    Hey Robot, keep on going – how are we to know our boundaries of our capabilities if we don’t stray over the line every once in a while?

    My best friends are those that I can argue with – not for gratuitous discussion, but to confront ideas and beliefs. What is to be gained when no one ever puts a challenge?

    1. Author

      @Rod – I don’t doubt you’re right. The trick, I think, is in knowing when the conflict can be productive vs. destructive. We might all do well to be wiser about this distinction. I know I would. Thanks.

  5. Shawn

    I suggest that agreement needn’t enrich our lives or actually join us together either, if we are just avoiding confronting our actual differences of perspective and basic intuitions. Productive conflict and productive agreement needn’t even seek unity but a better understanding of oneself and others. If we fail to confront conflicting outlooks, we lack a way assess our own assumptions or of understanding those whom we are in disagreement with. Being conflict adverse (as many of my students are) is an equal problem in our society as engaging in mere bombastic rhetoric.

  6. Anthony F

    Civilized conflict, respectful dissent. Those are good things. Keeps you balanced.

    There aren’t many things worse than the growing conviction that you’re always right. The unchecked ego is very ugly indeed. It often results from a lack of exposure to alternate perspectives. From avoiding conflicting views.

    You write good stuff.

  7. Patrick O'Brien

    Robot, good day. Problems , disagreements, and unresolved conflict do not get better with age. So, you are clearing the air. Good for you.

    “The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas.”

    Stephen Mitchell, Tao te Ching.

  8. SusanJane

    Religion does not have a monopoly on belief. Believe in what is right and best. Talking about it and even arguing about it is a good thing in the correct place and at the correct time. We don’t need a councilor to tell us that talking about what is important is good for us all. As always, thanks for your insights.

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