Relationships can be tricky. Ups and downs through the years, mostly ups. Sometimes little nagging aspects can be a royal pain and turn someone off. Sometimes it gets demanding, or downright abusive. I mean, can you love cycling yet hate bike racing? Can you love racing but hate the production, ordeal, and relentless single-minded conversation? Can you love the sport and at the same time get sick of it? Worse yet, do you still find ways to, to some extent, get right back into it? The push-pull nature of this relationship swings between absolute bliss and straight nastiness.
Allow me to backtrack a bit first. This past weekend I put on my dad hat and went to a kids’ thing in my neighborhood. Basically it consisted of a large area with sheep-shearing, animal herding, hay rides, and the obligatory corndog stands; sausage-and-onions subs and further, quasi-carnie related goodies. So far so good right? Well, yes, until I headed down, opposite to the parking lot, where the arts and crafts area was located. The event hosted several booths propped by myriad businesses, local merchants, artists and other folks, many of which fell into the weirdo-obscure-crunchy-New Englander category. You may be asking yourself where I am going with this – hold on as it gets better: fellows in civil-war era garb, from head to toe, including musket and hipster-adopted intricate facial hair patterns (true). Then we had the local folksy group, or actually several of them. And those were the most perplexing to me. It’s not every day that you see an ensemble of adults donning similar outfits consisting of fluffy shirts and white pants, with green bands wrapped around the waist, bells attached to their legs, wearing funny hats and brandishing sticks while doing a jester-like medieval choreography, striking said sticks during precise, carefully-coordinated dance moves.
Allow me to disabuse myself of any preconceptions or prejudices regarding local practices and cultures. It’s widely known that where I come from we have enough oddities to make mardi-gras look like having a tea with your daughter and her teddy bear friends. No joke. Still, the groups were doing something to my head: It was a Technicolor mix up that looked like the result of a bad trip consisting of Fellini’s Satyricon, a Brazilian carnival, and a tea party convention, minus the nude ladies (boo) and the seniors with poor dental work carrying typo-heavy, anti-whatever signs. It irritated me. I didn’t want to be there and the food was beginning to make me ill, a clear sign that I was having a very rare moment of family event-related bum trip while sober.
Then it hit me.
Where else would you find an area hosting large events where grown mammals are hairless? Or hang out in herds? Where else would you see weirdos dressed in god-knows-what-it-means get ups, momentarily wrapping themselves in suspicious kilts or super dirty towels? Where else do you see exquisite facial hair patterns, obnoxiously colored shoes, adults of all (well most) sizes doing carefully coordinated moves that at first sight make absolute no sense at all? Not to mention funny hats, stinky oils, “I’ll one-up you” braggadocio, and foods served in space packages. Well, my readers, my bad trip wasn’t necessarily due to the garishness of New England’s folksy finest. It was, indeed, a quirky flashback induced by years of cycling-infused practices. It reminded me that while I still squeeze in time to ride, deal with the devil so I can (rarely) race, make spotty promises in exchange of sprints by the river and genuinely love the sport, there are some parts of it I can’t stomach anymore – literally.
I suppose what lacks in me is tolerance for the rituals that are innate to the competitive side of our sport. Sure, I love the suffering, the speed, the townline sprints, and thick-paced rides that are rife with attacks and the ensuing counter attacks. On the other hand, the inane banter, the incessant bragging, what’s in watts-numbers, the desperate attempts to be socially relevant by rampant name dropping, those are gone; gone a long time ago. One of the few perks of starting the sport at an early age is that most of what folks in their 20s and 30s live on has already been seen multiple times. Hanging out with pros, check. Collecting sweet shwag, check. Being involved in (semi) super hero breakaways, check. Watching a big BIG race in person, check. Meeting de Vlaeminck, being dissed by Merckx and dropping names? Check, check and check.
So as I put on my neon shoe covers, lather myself in orange-ish leg ointments and parade outside in baby blue, I scoff at the dorks, look down on punks, and get on with my kms. Time is of the essence and I essentially ran out of gumption for racing-related excessive consumption.
But you’ll still occasionally see me at the start line, among other weirdos.