Thursday, May 5, 2011

my story of falling in love

Okay, I've had parts of this post written for about 9 months.  Figured it was time to get it up or throw it out. So if it's too sentimental in a week where I already posted a long race report from a longer emotionally satisfying race, then just don't read it.

I am not a natural cyclist. I lived on a farm as a kid - we didn't just ride our bikes to the neighbors or go the BMX parks.  We rode horses and threw haybales.

I hated cycling the first time around.  I actually sold my first mountain bike not long after I bought it as an (expensive) high school graduation gift.  Some guys had taken me well over my head (yellow trail at Gambrill for those who know it, among others), and, suffice it to say, it hadn't been fun.  I pretty much swore I'd never ride again and became a rock climber instead.  I loved that for a while, got all the gear, learned a ton and pushed myself, but it didn't stick.

And then I met Shea.  Shea was also a climber.  But he had only a harness and shoes.  And two bikes.  And a motorcycle.  And some useful furniture.  We moved from Colorado to Utah.  What he didn't have yet was a job.  But he's a pretty resourceful guy... he used his spare time to trade website work for a brand new bike for me. Turns out he had bike shop connections from his time as a teenager.  We picked out a Cannondale that could be upgraded to disc brakes and had a flower on the saddle (yes, seriously). 

I didn't really want a bike, but everyone in Utah rides and hey, this guy I really liked was giving it to me as a gift.  It might be the first gift he gave me.  And it's a pretty color.  I was excited one day early in grad school to get home to a new bike - he had it built up by the time I got home.  Even though I didn't like to ride.

I was skeptical.  A pretty color will not make me love it.  I bought a matching jersey (both color and flower pattern).* We went to the hill near our apartment.  It's probably a 4% grade on a quiet city street in Salt Lake.  I was terrified to ride down it.  Shea was patient.  I still didn't love it. 

*Aside: this foreshadowed what would turn out to be a lot of matching in my cycling life.  Just look at the bottle cages on my mountain bike or anything on my cross race bike.

The first time on a trail, I picked an easy one, according to the guidebook.  Wide doubletrack at the top of a canyon.  But, like many trails in Utah, it goes up.  Then you turn around and ride down.  Our first few trips to Dog Lake only went about a mile up the trail.  A month or so later, I made it the 4 or so miles up to Dog Lake.  It's not a pretty lake.

Still, I'd be hard pressed to say I loved cycling.  I was giving it a go, that's for sure, and easy trails were helping.  But it was really hard.  Like there's not enough air, i can't breathe, how much longer do we need to go up this hill hard.  I was starting to like the downhill part.

I'm not sure when I truly fell in love with cycling.  It could have been about a year later when I thought it was a good idea to go ride some lift-serviced downhill at Deer Valley.  On my hard-tail with a head shock.  Without a pump.  We flatted 3 times and got scolded by the locals.  I ditched the bike on the outside of every switchback on the black diamond trail.  I got my first nasty sunburn line from bike shorts.

It could have been two years or so after I got that bike, when a colleague of mine in graduate school was killed in a car-hits-cyclist accident.  The memorial ride for Josie was my first group ride.  I did it on the same hard-tail.  The power and love of people on bikes was pretty inspiring.

But really, I think I can distill it to one moment in the fall, probably of 2004, but I'm not sure.  One of my first dozen or so rides with clipless pedals.  American Fork Canyon.  The dry, mountain singletrack is stunning.  Views with just-starting-to-change-color aspen were worth every climb.  A snake squiggled across the trail.  We got a bit lost.  But what I really remember - trying to stop at a trail intersection where Shea was waiting.  A couple other guys we didn't know were watching.  I came up to the group, having just ridden a loose rocky downhill and was feeling proud.  I pulled up to the trail junction sign.  I fell over.  Yup, I forgot to unclip.  Felt like I'd finally joined the club.

It would be quite a while before I assimilated into the collection of those who ride their bikes with numbers on them, trying to go faster.  I love racing, too, but that's another story.

That Cannondale holds a special place in my heart (and our basement).  Eventually we converted it to disc brakes, and I raced on it for a while.  It now boasts only a single gear and has the unfortunate problem of "loaning" its parts when race bikes go askew.  People who've borrowed it know about the flaws of a very shiny carbon seatpost.

The matching jersey I gave away long ago to someone else who I hope finds the passion that makes them want to rearrange their days, nights, weekends, diet and basement.

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