The sun is warm enough that I can feel it through the wool base layer that covers my arms. Single track lies before me and I crush down on the pedals to propel the single-cogged rear wheel uphill. The trail is loose enough that I have to think about the balance of weight and power to keep my rear wheel from losing traction. Yet not so loose that my mind doesn’t wander.
Years ago I realized that my mind is at its best when I am in motion. Whether that is walking or pedaling, my brain starts to wander when the monotony of my forward motion sets in and my body begins to act upon instinct and muscle memory allowing my synapses to focus on more obscure ideas. Ideas like why do the poor of the world not rise up in anger? Or Who decided that we should read from left to right? Important things, deep things.
Most of these ideas flicker in my head and then vanish as soon as the logical side of my brain takes over. If they survive the logical side’s attack, they often keep bouncing around in that small cavity for the rest of my ride or walk or whatever it is that I was doing.
My first thought was, “Wow! This trail is in awesome shape. I cannot imagine anything else I would rather be doing.”
Then the logical side of my brain came over and said, “What the hell are you doing that is so amazing? You are slowly going up a hill on a bicycle. Big fucking deal!” and then, “You are middle-aged man that has devoted his life to working in a bike shop, because at some point you decided that they could and should save the world. Get over it!”
This really is the way my brain works.
And then I remembered that I wasn’t riding alone. I gave a quick look over my shoulder to see if everyone was ok. At which point, I realized I wasn’t the only one who had devoted their life to this “toy.” I was in the company of two other grown men who for whatever reason had toiled in bike shops for longer than most. Two grown men, who if you were to look at what they do based on time spent, have dedicated their lives to the bicycle.
My brain said, “How noble is that? Finding your passion and dedicating your life to it.”
All three of us continued to pedal up the hill. There was no conversation as we were spaced far enough apart that we could hear each other’s wheels and caught glimpses of each other on the switch backs, but were not able to chat. I can’t speak for the others, but I dare say that we were all enjoying ourselves in much the same way. There is always agony in riding, the implicit pain required, but you could feel the joy when we regrouped. There’s no whining, just joking and conversation about what and where we were going to ride.
But is it enough? Is this perfect moment, on this beautiful day enough to dedicate one’s life to? And did we in fact dedicate our lives to the bicycle or did the bicycle choose us? Did we just never stop working in bike shops? Or did we choose to continue to work on bikes? Is it passion or desperation that keeps us wrenching, keeps us selling, keeps us riding?
The question, “Is it noble or sad?” Keeps bouncing around in my brain at the same pace and rhythm of my rigid fork bouncing over the rocks in the trail. The angel and the devil on my shoulder take the debate in both directions and to their logical conclusions.
Noble – admirable in dignity of conception
If in fact we had chosen this profession, that there was a moment in time where we decided that, yes, this is what I want to do because I believe in the bicycle and its ability to change the world, then this is one of the noblest professions. That is not to say that one may have looked elsewhere and seen the greener grass, but upon inspection or trial found that the grass wasn’t near as green as possible.
To dedicate your life to any cause, is, in my book, the greatest thing you can do. Be passionate and do what you want to do. You only live once, what’s the point of spending it doing that which does not bring you joy.
Of course, it’s easy for those on the outside to feel pity for us. We have a garage full of bikes and an unkempt yard. We use bikes as transportation which is one step under riding the bus. We essentially choose to be poor to have the opportunity to pedal our bikes up a dirt hill in the sun on a Monday morning. And that’s it. That’s what we get. This is it.
We continued to pedal. The ride was amazing; the views, the camaraderie, the bicycles. After climbing up and down the mesa, we haul ass back to the trail head. All three of us have brought beer for everyone. The bottles are opened and we stand around a dirt parking lot talking about the ride and the world and the universe and how we are all just hurtling along on a big ball through darkness desperately wishing someone would flip the switch and let us see where we are going.
And all I can think is, “It’s perfect.”
P. L. and R.