Life has its seasons.
I say that a lot; people who are close to me can attest to this. Usually it’s a reassurance, sometimes to myself, sometimes to someone else, like my wife—“hey, don’t worry, life has its seasons”; there will be more of/less of/enough of that, by and by. What can I say? My namesakes, Puritans and Calvinists all, true Americans, have invested me with an abiding belief in redemption. While I don’t commit (often) the sin of presumption, I do believe in grace, and I keep a weather eye out for it in life.
Yes, life has its seasons.
This is what some people think of as the “off” season, and cyclists with aspirations of racing well in the coming road season will think of it as the pre-season—big miles season. For me, this is the season of having a new young family, and a teenage daughter presently living far enough away that it hurts; it’s a season of discovering things, like how to preserve memories and milestones as screen captures on Skype, and the fact that riding with my son in the trailer behind me, apart from being a perfect metaphor for parenthood in so many ways, is actually a really good way to do a low-cadence, big gear power workout. Mind your knees, please.
During this season of life, an hour spent riding the trainer is an hour of peace, focus and meditation. This is my hour to sweat, to think, to avoid thinking; the only hour I might have (at least until everyone is asleep and the house is dark for the night) to watch something self-indulgent and/or inspirational on Netflix. I find a lot in these hours—in my heart, but in my legs, too. The notion of being motivated, as an athlete, looks different with one eye on the baby monitor, on 4 hours of sleep. Untouchables say things like, “every second counts”; the everyman knows that every pedal stroke counts, but it also hurts.
A buddy of mine who has won more races than I’ve entered (really) just got home from a short vacation with his family.
“Funny thing, the riding was exactly the same there as here”, he said.
“Oh yeah? Too much traffic and no shoulder on the road?” Says I.
“Nah,” he laughed.
“On the trainer. Just brought it with me.”
Made perfect sense.
In this season—the season of new fatherhood, boundless joy, a beautiful, walking baby boy, relentless fatigue, my wife’s tenure clock, and my daughter’s tenuous dance through adolescence—I need to remember where I put things. Keys, wallet, sunglasses. All that, yes. Anyone who has ever road-tripped with me, though, will attest to the fact that I am, when excited and about to race or train, notoriously scatterbrained. Gloves, shoe covers, helmet, bottles, spare tubes…self esteem, whatever. I might forget where I put any of these things and work myself into a bit of a state; so it’s good, these days, to develop a routine, an order of operations. That way I know where to look for stuff, and I’m rarely surprised: the keys will be on the desk in the hall; one bike pump lives in the garage and one lives in the trunk of my car; and my image of self as a competitive athlete? He lives on the trainer.
I like to write about spaces of possibility, and if you read my column regularly, this will be a familiar theme. Ballparks, concert halls, cyclocross courses—I absolutely love the potential energy pent up in these spaces. It’s life-giving.
I usually leave a bike set up on the trainer out in the garage, so ol’ Image-Of-Self-as-Athlete guy has somewhere to sit. Sometimes when I’m holding my son, rocking him to sleep, (which is often, by the way) I crack the garage door and peek out there. What I see, when I see the bike—headphones dangling from my all-the-way-slammed stem and the empty stool set up facing the handlebars, ready to serve as a table for a laptop, Gatorade bottle, and baby monitor—is one of those spaces of possibility. And damned if that spectral presence of an athlete dude doesn’t wink at me, 9 times out of 10.
It’s still winter, but it sure hasn’t felt that way. I saw some early buds on a tree in my front yard yesterday, and it occurred to me that I tend to appreciate seasons most when they’re nearly passed. November seems interminable, and Christmas is generally both harried and languorous; but come January 1st and there’s just enough sun back in the northern hemisphere to remind me to hurry up: spring is coming. Predictably, this is usually about the time I start feeling nostalgic for the holidays, ice skating, fireplaces; all things nearing their annual obsolescence by the time I notice them.
My son, at 13 months, suffers no such ennui.
Last week we went for a ride together on an improbably warm day, even for the southeast, him lounging happily in his chariot with a blanket and a stack of toys, and me riding in shorts, feeling like I’m getting away with murder. A workout in the middle of the day? In shorts? The baby’s happy? I won that day.
Anyway, somewhere along there I hit a long straightaway on the greenway, with no traffic to speak of, and I opened it up a little, picked up some speed. The reaction from behind me was immediate, and while I knew what it was, I had to turn around just to see it: hands clapping, dimples ready to pop off of his ecstatic rosy cheeks like tiddly-winks.
For my son, in that moment, there was no other season, no past, and no future; his whole world for just a minute was the sensation of speed, and wind in his little face, and this strange apparatus, and me.
This is the gift of cycling: not him, not me, not our moment together, but presence. Simple presence.