Actually, yes it is about the bike

I ride a Schwinn Paramount Ti. I bought it in 1999. At the time we had never owned a new car and the Schwinn cost more than both the cars we then owned combined. In the 16 years I have owned the bike I have never thought of buying another one. I might have occassionally looked at other bikes, but only in passing and only to admire the workmanship and geometry. Never with the thought of actually riding it. OK, well once last winter up in Minneapolis I rode a fat tire bike. But only because it was snowing. That was the only time. I swear. Please don’t judge me.

I put between 5 and 8,000 miles a year on my Schwinn. At this point it has upward of 100,000 miles on it. I need it to carry me 3,000 more. My mechanic Drew has it set up so I can run the front and rear shifting off one side. Additionally, he now has both the front and rear brakes running off the right lever. We have a prosthetic maker and a group of engineering students from the University of Illinois trying to figure out how to keep my left hand from popping off the handlebars every time I hit a bump in the road while at the same time allowing me to move freely from aerobars to handlebars. They are also working on a device to hold my head up because my neck muscles are weakening. My head weighs 8 lb give or take, depending on what’s on my mind. No big deal while you are upright. But hunkered down in the aerobars for 7-8 hours it can become dead weight.

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Have I mentioned that people are asking a lot of questions? Here’s one I don’t have an easy answer for: “So why are you doing this?”

“April 3rd, 1989 England’s Lake District. By the time I had reached the road leading up to the Hard Knot pass, I was already soaked through. As the road (if you could call it that) got increasingly steeper I began zig-zagging from side to side in order to keep moving. I felt that as long as I kept moving I would be okay. In the distance I could see the point where the rain turned to snow; the grassy slopes and jagged granite peeks seemed to turn white along an even line. The further I went, the stronger the wind became. Up ahead I saw someone walking hurriedly in my direction. He was attired from top to bottom in yellow rainproof gear and in every crease and fold of his clothing, not to mention his mustache, there was ice. He looked like an Arctic explorer. He said that he had been hiking the hills when the weather turned nasty and that the winds above the shelter of the valley were at gale force. He advised me to turn back then continued on his way down. I stomped my cold, wet feet to keep the circulation going, shook the rain off my poncho, looked up towards the snow and contemplated the effort it had taken to bike this far. I knew that I wasn’t going to turn back. The decision wasn’t mine to make. Something over which I had no control was already turning the pedals again. I passed a herd of sheep nonchalantly chewing grass, apparently oblivious to the howling winds. Maybe it was my imagination but even they seemed to be shaking their heads as I rode past.”

london

This was my first long distance bike ride. Common sense would seem to dictate that I would never want to do anything like it again. But for reasons I can’t pretend to understand this was just the beginning. I was 4 days into a bike ride up to Scotland. And not for the last time I was woefully unprepared for the conditions I had ridden into.  The ride was a hastily conceived endeavor for me to see something of England before we returned to the States. Rae and I had been traveling for three years and would soon be returning to Urbana with our three month old daughter Lisa. I was unsure if we would return to England for any length of time and I didn’t want to be one of those London-centric people who grew up in England and had never been North of the Watford Gap (England’s equivalent of the Mason-Dixon Line). I was riding an ill-fitting, second or third hand, 10 speed Raleigh with shifters on the downtube that I had bought for commuting to work. For rides of 10 miles or so on city streets it was fine. For what I was doing now, though, not so much.

“Finally, the gradient began to even out and my goal was in sight. At the top of the pass was a stone marker indicating the boarder between Cumbria and Lancashire. Once at my destination, however, I was faced with the question that we all must face at one time or another after achieving a hard earned goal: “well shit, what now?” I couldn’t exactly enjoy the view because I could hardly see anything. Just off to the side of the road I saw a sheltered area behind a grassy bank that seemed relatively dry. I cleared away the sheep droppings for a place to sit and got out a bag of dried fruit and nuts from the pannier bags on my bike. While eating, I took my shoes off and wrung out my socks. I tried to remember how long it had been since I had felt my toes and wondered whether I should be concerned. I looked up at the jagged grey stone peaks on either side of me. I got my camera out to take some pictures; not because the scenery was particularly spectacular, but because I couldn’t actually believe I was there. This morning I had been in an old farmhouse, down by a serene lake, enjoying tea and toast in front of a warm log fire. Now I was up in the hills, in a virtual blizzard, surrounded by nothing but snow, rocks and sheep. But perhaps strangest of all, I didn’t want to leave. However, as I watched the snow blow horizontally past my cozy nook, I knew that I couldn’t stay here much longer. While I had been moving, I had kept warm but now the cold was starting to make itself felt. It was time to move on.”

lake district

 Rae loves to cook. She is taking her duties of keeping my weight up very seriously. She’ll need to replace 5-6000 calories per day once we’re on the ride. And that’s just me. I have on occasion felt her poking my hips at night when she thinks I’m asleep. Only to hear her roll over and sigh disapprovingly. She has looked up making power bars, protein shakes, mountains-of-carb meals. Although frankly I think if she could just skip the whole process and mainline me clotted cream she would. I’m not a big eater which makes things even harder. One day she was listing off potential foods and asking what I might like. I responded that it didn’t matter what she made. The fact that it was made by her for me was all that was important. The fact that it was made by her would sustain me. She hesitated momentarily not wanting to be side tracked “Yes, but . . . ” she responded.
 .
Over the years I have made quite a few modifications and additions to my Schwinn. Some I keep, others I change back. Up till this year the bike was exactly how I wanted it. Essentially an extension of me. Today I rode my second century with the new upgrades. It was a hilly ride and I used every modification repeatedly.  But as I was shifting and braking one handed it was the work that had gone into the bike that struck me.  I know it meant something to those who worked on it and donated parts. And that kindness, like Rae’s cooking, will get me through. At this point my bike isn’t just an extension of me, it is me.
 .
“Reluctantly, I picked up my bike and walked back to the road. I stood for a moment, bracing my back against the wind and watching the snow as it swirled around me on down into the valley on the other side of the pass. To descend would be a return to reality. However, up there on the pass, wet and shivering from cold, was freedom.”
 .
The significance of the moment was lost on me at the time. But the bike had me long before I had it.
 .
Peace, love and midwives
 .
Ray

5 thoughts on “Actually, yes it is about the bike

  1. I have many thoughts while reading your posts but few words can describe the reactions to your life experiences except that You Simply Amaze Me. Not only by what you have accomplished and given back but the Love and Respect you have for your Wife and Family. It is a true Blessing to be allowed into your thoughts. Bless you and your Family.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ray, you delivered my first grandson in 1999! Your voice whispered his name over and over again as he took his good time appearing in this world. Mystikal, come on Mystikal, Mystikal! If you recall, he would peek out and go back in. Eventually he graced us with his presence! I have admired you from the first day I met you. You have given me 4 beautiful grandson’s, the last you assisted Dr. Shepherd with on a Christmas Day! I remember you actually provided me with their birth numbers. I cannot recall them at this moment, but I have them. Mystikal is a handsome 16 year old, Maurion is 11, Walter(our Myion) is 9 and Jaden will be 7 this year! I will always remember our days at Planned Parenthood! My birthday is approaching and it brings to memory the time I told you I wanted to go out to dinner for my birthday, you brought your toaster oven to work and prepared an awesome meal that you served to me! You are the absolute best! My prayers and love are with you through this endeavor!! #feelingsomeraytoday! #Loveyoutoorae!

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