I’m a statistic.
I’m male. I’m white. I’m left handed. I’m a cyclist. I’m a writer. I could go on. I’m a former musician who for reasons clear to no one, not even me, chose to leave music and pursue the life of a writer focused on writing about bicycles. I deliberately chose to pigeon-hole myself by writing about a single subject.
As a male, I’m part of slightly less than 50 percent of the world’s population. As a white person, I’m part of roughly 30 percent of the world’s population. As a left-hander, I’m part of roughly 10 percent of the population. But as a former musician who earned an MFA in English and chose to spend his life writing about bikes? Hon, that’s not even 1 percent. That’s unique. I’m the only one, and when I’m gone, the world won’t bat an eye. I’m not something the world actually lacked before I arrived. So my absence won’t create a vacuum to anyone save those who want me around.
So why think about this now? I got some news. News I didn’t expect.
For roughly 10 years, maybe a bit more, I’ve had what I suspect to be an arrhythmia of my heart. Some years ago my doctor taped a bunch of leads to me that fed into an eighth-inch jack that plugged into a cassette recorder, which I wore for a day. Effectively, I walked around with a shoe box under my arm. I didn’t sleep much that night, what with a box in my arm pit. It failed to find anything, though its low-tech approach wasn’t really the problem. Back then, my heart didn’t act up much, maybe once every couple of months. Fast forward 10 years and now it acts up once every week or two. A couple of weeks ago it did it twice in a week and I decided that it was time to have another go, to have a doctor check it out.
I went into the cardiac unit and was given an EKG for a whole minute. Sixty full seconds. The procedure seemed a joke, like walking through an empty 7-Eleven at 2:00 am hoping to catch a shoplifter. They weren’t going to find anything with such a tiny window of observation.
Except for the fact that they did.
Floored. Dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. Shocked. None of those words get at the nature of my reaction, the totality of my surprise.
When I met with my new doctor—before she or I knew this—I tried to describe to her just what I was experiencing. I wasn’t short of breath, but I honestly am not sure what that means. I’ve had no chest pain. I have events where it feels like there’s a butterfly in my chest—a flutter that isn’t normal. The rhythm is off and the pace picks up a bit, but then the pace and rhythm return to normal. It lasts mere seconds. During that time it can feel like my lungs are full of carbon dioxide and I need to exhale, even if I just exhaled. Making matters more inscrutable is the fact that my resting pulse is usually in the 40s, sometimes even lower. My blood pressure can run 90 over 60. I get what I call brownouts. Standing up is an occupational hazard. The particulars of my cardiovascular system make me a 1 percenter of a different sort.
An endurance athlete with a heart issue. Like I said, I’m a statistic.
Odds are I have some sort of arrhythmia. And there’s a fair chance that my doctors will want to correct this with wire, electricity and a fancy metronome. The drummer in me chuckles. No one else is laughing.
A couple of years ago I crashed, a crash that was bad enough the first responders, my ER doc and my plastic surgeon all proclaimed my survival to be a miracle. The thing is, I didn’t feel my mortality. It was, as some financial instruments, back-loaded. When you learn how close you came after the fact, you squirm a bit and then move on. But when you stare a risk to your continued good health in the face, the discomfort can be like stuffing your pants with razor blades and then dancing the tango.
I’ve got two young kids. I’ve got a wife. I’m on a big planet of which I’ve yet to seen enough. I’ve got goals as a writer that are as unfulfilled as a rocket that failed to reach orbit. No matter what news is around the corner, this is a jolt of adrenalin that has focused my attention. Yes, universe, I’m listening.
But I’ve got a message as well. This is bullshit. I’m not slowing down. I’m not surrendering. I’ll do what I need to take care of my time keeper, but I’m not leaving, not before my parents and not before my kids can do algebra, before they know what it means to pay rent.
RKP was borne of a recognition that to be a cyclist is to live a rich interior life, to draw on a substance that is fleeting and can only be found through an exertion that demands more than muscle. It’s a recognition that this sport has a spiritual side and takes us places, reveals deep truths and grants transcendence in circumstances that both surprise and confound. This sport has taught me more about life, about our shared responsibility to each other, the moral contract, and the richness that this life imparts than any school or religion ever did. My path was not absolute, but it’s the one that worked for me. And somehow, the singularity of that journey has resonated with others. While the lessons have been as varied as they are surprising, the one thing I know for sure is that they aren’t finished coming.
About that, I need to write.