“Oh, so you like danger.”
Dating in the Internet age means that first dates are often a gauntlet of likes, dislikes, values and weaknesses. It’s the romantic equivalent to kicking the tires on a car. I knew that if I was serious about a relationship that might result in marriage and a family I was going to need to be straight with any potential partner that A) I was a cyclist and B) that wouldn’t be changing. I knew that they deserved to know that cycling was more than a hobby; it was a drive, as imperative as sleep or sex.
I’m not opposed to a lazy Sunday morning that evolves into Belgian waffles, maple syrup, a second cup of chai and the radio tuned to “Weekend Edition.” That’s a good time, full stop. It is not, however, the way I wish to spend most Sunday mornings. And to back up, I had to make clear that my Saturday mornings weren’t spent trying to wash away (by whatever means was at hand) Friday night’s dubiously earned hangover.
Here, I can do better than that for perspective. Prior to the evening in which my date volleyed the danger statement my way, there was a training ride one Sunday morning in which our group had been whittled down to fewer than a dozen—small enough to sustain real conversation for the first time in an hour or two. We were on a frontage road that overlooked the ocean off the coast of Los Angeles. Whatever anyone may think of cycling, riding a bike at the edge of the ocean on a weekend morning is tough to beat.
A buddy turned to me and after noting that I was seemingly intelligent, educated, gainfully employed and had reasonable social skills, asked me, “Why are you single?”
Without the faintest trace of humor, I looked back at him and said, “Because my social life is over by 9:00 am.”
Which is why Internet dating.
For non-cyclists, the possibility that they might die in a car crash is one of those odds that, like winning the lottery, seems so unlikely as to be unworthy of worry. However, tell someone you like to plummet down canyon roads that would send a car through a guardrail, and they will conclude that you don’t court danger, you order it from Amazon.
No one needs to be a current member of the dating pool to comprehend that having a potential romantic partner conclude that you were either inadvertently or accidentally suicidal was antithetical to future dates. At least not with women who wanted that whole marriage/family package.
And that was my problem, I wanted future dates.
It’s this disconnect—how people see what we do as dangerous—that find to be one of the primary misconceptions about what cycling is. And that misunderstanding is, I believe, a fair piece of the lack of respect that cycling is afforded. For so many non-cyclists, riding a bike is seen as frivolity, something you should only do either for transportation or if every item on your t0-do is buttoned up. What they miss is that so many of us need cycling the way we all need time off from work.
Here I reach back to another time, another discipline. It was the era of the first Bush and I was sitting in a workshop with Pulitzer prize winner Donald Justice, one of the great teachers of poets. Someone asked, “How do you know if you are a writer?” He looked up, and with the patience of a father telling his children why the sky is blue, “You’re a writer if it’s what you need to do.”
We are cyclists because we need to ride. The risk, the danger, all those be damned. More and more research is showing that people involved in both endurance and extreme sports share something in common: a brain low on dopamine. Riding in a pack, filtering through holes, taking a hard pull at the front, drifting back and looking for shelter, or plunging down a descent so difficult you can’t look more than a bike length ahead, it gives us something imperative to our well-being.
And yes, from where everyone else sits, that seems ironic—courting danger to brighten your head. It sounds crazy, and most of us walk away from anything wildly irrational. So it’s easy to dismiss those who dismiss us. If someone can’t understand us, our drives, then they miss the value in our lives, and when someone doesn’t value you, there’s little else to do than sign off.
The saddest dimension of this is how those who don’t ride can’t appreciate the skills a rider has developed, how it sharpens reaction time, focuses attention and fine-tunes eye-hand coordination. What looks like certain death to them is easier to navigate than social media.
In cycling, I’ve found something that has helped me order my world, connect with people, discover my own values, discover my value. The danger would have been to play it safe.
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