The Orbit

The Orbit

I am a person of multiple worlds. I hail from the South, a land as distinct as a foreign country. I chased adulthood in academia, but found it turning pedals. I discovered a home in New England, embraced a career in California. Added together like the sales for the first hour of a coffee shop’s morning, they both tell you who I am, and veil my identity.

If I tell you I’ve been married twice, soon to be divorced as many times, it tells you nothing of my faults, what makes me intolerable, and encourages the story to glide past my few charms and look to blame. When I wake in the morning, I think less of what my sons’ needs are and whatever weight is resting on my chest, which is only occasionally a cat. The world is a series of bell curves, every population defined by them and I joke that my entire life is defined by the shallow ends of the many bell curves in which I make my home.

In academia, I was the oddball who didn’t drink bourbon and smoke Marlboros. Unlike my bike industry colleagues, I’m trained as a poet, not a journalist, literally the only writer working in cycling with an MFA.

When I pin on a number, I never do so with the intent, or even hope, of a win. I get that many people go into races with the surety that they won’t win, but I draw an additional distinction. I really wouldn’t want to win most of the races I enter. Winning a Grasshopper? I’m afraid that my priorities would skew away from my center, that people would see me in a different light. I want to be known as the guy not resigned to 11th place, but content with it.

Of my many associations, the one of which I’m proudest is my membership in a club that numbers just 250. The club exists to ride a single parcel of land into which over 30-plus years they have carved a network of mountain bike trails. Without that parcel of land, the club would probably exist, but in a less formal manner. We’re united as dues-paying, trail-day-working members by a single hunk of land. It says something about the pleasures of zooming through Redwood forest, and hides how some of us search for that community in which the social contract remains inviolate.

On the surface, I’m one of them—a guy willing to do his part in exchange for the easily revokable privilege of riding those trails. And yet, I’m an outlier even here. I don’t live in the area of Sonoma County to the west of Highway 101, known as West County. Not only that, I’m not a California native, and have spent more of my cycling life on road bikes than mountain bikes.

And yet, compared to when I see friends back home, attend a school function for my sons, or any time I’m in the company of other writers, these are my peeps. The strangeness of the rest of my life fades into the background, neutralized by the great equals sign of the bike. That is why I trust the bike and the bike community. The power of the bike is that commonality of effort, the appreciation for the zoom. What is shared can’t be defined—or defiled—by birth, rank, education or sports team affiliation. It gets at something more elemental, core to our being in a way DNA can’t capture.

Here is what I know: It is only with other cyclists that I cease to be self-conscious of my oddity, that I find people with whom I feel a kinship. This is my tribe, but I feel no need to keep anyone else out. It’s a big tent, and anyone willing to do the work of being a cyclist, something so small as to seem a commodity of activity—that person? The person who left home for hours and went everywhere and nowhere only to return home? The person I don’t have to ask, “Why did you do that?”

I may not understand any other detail about them, nor they of me, but I get them; they’re the people I want in my orbit.

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  1. Mike

    Sometime last year, I was riding from work to my kid’s school to watch my oldest in a volleyball game. I don’t recall much of the ride there because it was pretty standard issue stuff. Once I got off of the bike and walked into the gymnasium, I felt immediately awkward and a little out of place. I’m standing there in my cycling cap and MTB shoes, taking my gloves off and I realize that I am the only one doing this. There are no other bikes parked outside. Just mine. This gym is full of people with whom I share common values, a common background, a mutual history.

    But none of them bike.

    Today, I saw a guy in the opposite bike lane, who I have never seen before, and I immediately knew he was riding a fixie, just like me. We looked at each other and smiled and I immediately knew he could be my friend. We get each other.

  2. Dave

    “It is only with other cyclists that I cease to be self-conscious of my oddity, that I find people with whom I feel a kinship.”

    Same with me for my whole life. I love my cycling clan and they make me momentarily stop being critical of myself for all my various oddities.

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