Finding Solace on the Road
We all remember our first bike ride. As a kid I’d rip around my neighborhood on my Mongoose BMX, and it was everything to me. It meant freedom; I could ride wherever I wanted to go. It meant friends houses, jumps off curbs, and fishing poles to the bay. As a kid, the possibilities seemed endless, but as we grew into adulthood, we gradually forgot to appreciate this unrestrained independence. In my teens, I skateboarded, surfed, played other sports in high school, but nothing quite captured that childlike sense of freedom. Maybe it was the aspect of seemingly unbounded exploration that was so alluring as a child. As children we were confined to wherever our feet could take us. (But my buddy John lives like a mile away! I ain’t trekking a mile to see him. He’s got a cool dart gun, but it’s not that cool.) However, with a bike...
At the beginning of college, my friend Alex (@SingletrackSampler) and I decided to take whatever bikes we had laying around and hit the local trails of Tampa. My rig was a Cannondale mountain bike from the 80s (the kind that still had those osymetric chainrings) and Alex had a piece of shit Kmart dud with the biggest plastic waffle on his cassette. We had no idea what we were getting into, but we drove to Alafia Mountain Bike Park just outside of Tampa and had ourselves a blast. We went in headfirst with no clue what double diamond meant, but dear god we knew after. Countless endos and shin scrapes later, we called it a day. We had a shit ton of fun, but mostly we found a passion for something that we hadn’t experienced before. The endos became less frequent and our shins began to look more presentable.
A year later, I transferred to Florida State University in Tallahassee to join the track team as a pole vaulter. Though I was there to jump, I used whatever savings I had on a Gary Fisher mountain bike. Tallahassee has some decent trails to rip around, and it was a great way to stay in shape during the downtime. Unfortunately my track goals got squandered by ulcerative colitis. It was tragic. You spend almost a decade working towards a goal, your whole identity is wrapped up in this persona, it was my passion, and it was stripped from me. For me, being an athlete isn’t all about the competition. It’s the controlled progress, the goal setting, it’s what we think about as we doze off to sleep. In a sense, it gives our lives a further purpose; it gives us aspirations that transcend adult responsibilities of putting food on the dinner table. As a student athlete, I felt empty. Performing well in my classes and finding a job upon graduation wasn’t enough to inspire me, I needed more.
Colitis is a bitch. It leaves you as a shell of your former self. At its worst you lose a cup of blood a day and it feels like everything you eat travels through your system like a pile of jagged glass. Thankfully we got into remission but I went from 150lbs to 125lbs. I remember my coach seeing me walking around campus, I waved to him and he didn't even recognize me. So I did what all cyclists do during hard times, I took my mountain bike out. This time was different though I never made it to the trails, this time I stuck with the road.
A bike ride - such a simple thing - can provide such clarity and perspective on life. This moment is where my life changed, and I think it's a pivotal moment for all cyclists. I found that freedom again. Sure, we’re all free to transport from place to place in any manner in which we chose, yet cycling fosters a forum for one to be fully immersed in the outdoors. I drank the the smells of the wind, ate the warmth of the sun, lived on the vibrations from the road. Freedom was palpable. Bike riding was therapy.
I began to go out on rides more regularly, blaring Animal Collective, Diplo, Album Leaf, and Mogwai for hours, just cruising the laurel oak canopied roads of Tallahassee on my mountain bike. I loved it. It felt like a new beginning for me, and I started to think maybe just maybe I could be an athlete again. In my new age of exploration, I found my renaissance. I began road racing, and I began to find fun again. Racing is thrilling and offers goals to strive for, but I find that the reason many of us suit up and hit the roads daily is that we are continuously searching for that same freedom we found in our youth.
A decade later, we are no longer boys, teens, college students, or novice resume writers. We’re bonafide adults with very real responsibilities. Hell, some of us are introducing little ones to the world and are now rethinking of all the reckless adventures we had as children. Whatever it is, we all have shit going on, and for better or worse, it pulls us away from that childlike excitement we once had. For me, my Crohn’s/colitis came back full force and it 100% sucks. I must give myself weekly injections of meds, I have to follow a crazy strict diet, and I strive so hard to be someone who accomplishes all of his goals - but my body sometimes just won’t let me be that person.
And that is okay.
My wife and I just had a kid this past December, and my medication for Crohn's/colitis was kind of doing its thing, so we decided to put a pause on our day-to-day lives, packed up the infant, and the dogs, and went down to Florida where I was born. I am so thankful for this time off from other responsibilities as it allowed me to revisit those roads that filled me with such joy and passion all those years ago. Those canopied roads of Tallahassee are still there, loops by the beach in St. Petersburg where you can hear the waves crashing on shore and the seagulls bellowing out from the sea still beat on. It is all there, and I also discovered that I am still here, and I am still myself. It may sound cliche, but living in New York City can wear you down; dings on a new car, packages stolen from the mailboxes, MTA woes. It all gets you. Slowly.
I write this because I think it is vital for all of us to revisit those roads that inspired us to ride in the first place. It is like pressing a reset button on your life, allowing for a unique opportunity to revisit past perspectives. It is like “Hello, Road. You're still here, and I'm here again, but look at all we’ve accomplished since I’ve been gone.” You realize those same sensations have been there all along, but they have just been muddied by the stresses of life. I'll always ride, but maybe I don't need those roads anymore, my trip back home made me realize that I can still find that excitement in riding and racing somewhere else. It is just different now because I have a job, a beautiful family, and a disease that sometimes knocks me back a few rungs. I am a father, a husband, a friend, a teacher (still have to actually put food on the dinner table), and a cyclist. I can trade seagulls for the occasional deer crossing or the sound of the seashore for the leaves fluttering in the wind. It is fresh and new, and who knows maybe a decade from now I'll be back in Florida, and I’ll make the trek back here to New York to find the passion that I have right now.