Right now I really should be working on writing copy and laying out pictures for team recruiting fliers. Instead I’m procrastinating by writing this blog entry. Sorry, this gets a bit long. With the Midnight Marathon ride (video) continuing thanks to diligent grassroots efforts, the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-a-thon coming up (shameless plug to ask you wonderful people to sponsor me) and the weather finally getting nice enough to ride without layering up awkwardly, I’ve had bikes on the brain. “But Valerie,” you might say. “Don’t you always have bikes on the brain?” Yes and no. Here is a chart of my brain processes:
As you can see, if it’s not bikes, it’s probably burritos. If it’s not burritos, it’s being the best damn reference librarian a median salary can buy (there’s a B in there at least). I kind of want a burrito now…
[entry completed after burrito acquisition]
Anyway. My first criterium race completed, I got to thinking about how far I’ve come. I went into a bit of detail in that linked blog post, but I’m going to further hash it out here. Where do I begin telling the world about the greatest love (or at least one of them anyway) of my life?
It was around the early 1990s. It may have been my sixth or seventh birthday. I had this clunky pink monstrosity handed down from one of my cousins, whose sister had probably handed it down to her. It had training wheels on it that my father was rather adamant about never removing. I recall him even putting a pink helmet and pink elbow/knee pads on me. He was also entirely against me playing street hockey or racing my bike against the neighbor boys. My mother had bought me a frilly pink taffeta dress. Being the stubborn tomboy that I was, I decided to show her exactly what I thought of that by riding my bike when I was trying it on. The sash got caught in the drivetrain, ripped off the dress and the skirt got a good deal of road dirt and bike grease on it when I fell. In hindsight, I feel rather bad since it was likely my mom spent a good amount of money on that dress. Also, my opinion on dresses seems to have evolved over the years. My ability to get road dirt and bike grease on them seems to not have changed. That was my first solid memory of being on a bike.
There were many other times since then, but that particularly stuck in my mind. Growing up in the States, all thoughts of bikes seemed to dissipate once I became a teenager and eventually got my license. I was never a particularly athletic kid, preferring to sneak cigarettes under the bleachers during gym class, spending before school in band practice and after school at scholastic bowl practices, and generally being annoyed at the guy from the varsity basketball team who proudly bragged about copying off my answers in English tests.
In college, I got a Bianchi (in celeste, naturally) road bike from a bike shop back in Springfield. I probably should have asked them to size it since I had a tendency to rack myself in the junk on the top tube every time I dismounted. Nonetheless, I loved that bike and eventually developed an almost balletic dismount to avoid hurting myself. At one point, a pedal randomly fell off of the crank arm and not knowing anything about bikes, sold it instead of getting the crank arm/pedal replaced. My parents got me a box store bike the next year, which pretty much had mechanical problems from the get go and died well within its first year of use. One ride I remember was when Kristina Wong was in residence and we just went around wishing everyone a happy Bike-tember. It was kind of scary when some drunk person on Vomit Row tried to chase us until I realized that a) we were much faster than him and b) he was so drunk he was probably going to fall on his face anyway. After that was another box store bike that ended up locked up to a friend’s porch and buried in snow. I’m not sure, but its rusted corpse may very well still be somewhere in Urbana, Illinois. Yes, I am very ashamed of myself for allowing that to happen.
The Portland, Oregon years expanded the universe for me, not just geographically or intellectually, but also bike-wise. Before I had only ever stuck around the mile or two around my house or campus. On the frankenbike (a TARDIS-blue five-speed mixte that my tech support/bike-inclined friends informed me had a cassette so antiquated that it was probably ill advised to go into the lower gears because of the wide gaps between the teeth on those cogs, so it was more like a three-speed), I explored the grid going out to house parties in the NE and SE, going to Taco Tuesdays, costumed bar crawls, and finding cafes in which I had not yet sat with a notebook pretending that writer’s block meant nothing. After I destroyed that much-loved mixte in an accident (which I will admit was entirely my own fault), I got my celery-green Jamis coda commuter… It says something about me that the longest relationship I’ve ever had has been with that bike: five years, one rear wheel replacement, tire replacement and more flat changes and brake pad changes than I can even remember and going strong.
When I moved to Boston for grad school, to say that I experienced culture shock is an understatement. I had become accustomed to the almost-inconveniently courteous drivers in Portland. Here, I was convinced that cars were actively trying to end me and that pedestrians took crosswalks and walk signals as mere suggestions. After awhile, I got used to the adventurous commute. Eventually I fell in with a lovely group of recreational social riders of the non-spandex variety. Though I did impulsively buy a “proper” but intro-level road bike and my obnoxiously green tooling-about-town fixie. Then I found myself in the Best Bike Shop (Hub Bicycle) on a #cannolifriday, where Tim asked me to join the cyclocross team. I had no idea what any of what he said meant. I also was a few beers into the evening, so of course I said yes and I regret absolutely nothing (except maybe for not taking more beer handups during races when offered). Sure, I got heckled for my heavy green commuter bike with the knobbies thrown on. Still, that was the best way I could have spent chilly autumn weekends.
Now that my road bike got a makeover, I’m ready for more group rides and races this spring. In five years, I went from wheezing up and over Hawthorne Bridge on what was barely a two mile commute to regularly doing 40 mile rides. Most of that change occurred just within this year. I can’t help but wonder how much further I could go. There’s so much I’ve learned, including one of my favorite things that Kristin (our Team Farmer) has told me in the context of cyclocross. However, I’ve been finding that it applies to so much of my life, whether it’s applying for that job I don’t think I’m qualified for or asking out that guy who I think is out of my league.
Don’t look at where you think you’ll fall. Look at where you want to go.
I could easily get discouraged and want to give up, worrying that I’m not getting faster, but that’s not the point. Bike riding is fun, whether you’re on a Sunday cruise on the esplanade or even if your legs are on fire as you’re slowly egg-beatering or potato-mashing your way up a hill. After getting pitched over my handlebars at my first race at Night Weasels, I could have easily said “No, this is far too dangerous.” When I got invited to a midnight ride out to Castle Island with the Boston Fixed social group, I could have easily thought “No, I’m not meeting a bunch of strangers in the middle of the night to ride bikes to somewhere I’m not familiar with.” That’s the thing though, fear is easy, possibly the worst type of inertia that causes us to miss out on what could be some of the best experiences. I’m not saying I’m particularly brave or even less scared than I was. I’m just saying that I’m not letting that fear stop me from trying.
To close (yes, I know this was a bit unnecessarily long), I have met some of the best people and seen levels of kindness and generosity that I would have never expected. My team is like the family I always dreamed of having, sort of a collection of unrelated people with strong bonds who are there to help each other improve but also share much laughter. Bicycles made it happen. Riding taught me to be less afraid and to do more with the time I have. I look forward to getting many more dresses dirty, buying more preposterous cycling kits and obnoxiously-green bicycles, and most importantly: riding bikes with friends, whether they are friends I already know or friends I have not yet made on the road.
See you out there, my road brothers and sisters. As always, ride your bike!