Friday, January 13, 2012

Bikes Bring People Together

Since I bought my first "adult" bike in 2005, an aluminum Cervelo P2SL, I've never ceased being amazed at how many people that decision has enabled me to meet.

Just another day in the saddle.
To take but one obvious example, through the years I've met literally hundreds of athletes through Team Z, but it hardly stops there.  Some of my closest friend are similarly masochistic folks with whom I've bonded for 10+ hours at a time while grinding up punishing climbs at Mountains of Misery and the Diabolical Double.

In my experience, you can never tell who might be spinning the cranks just next to you.  During my first crack at Mountains of Misery, in 2007, I found myself in a paceline with a guy festooned with blazingly bright maple leaves on every item of his clothing -- including his socks.  We introduced ourselves, and it turned out to be Leslie Reissner, a Canadian diplomat who worked at the embassy in downtown D.C.  We got to know each other pretty well during the day, and met up for another challenge century, the Mountain Mama, later that summer.  Unfortunately, I only met him twice -- he was soon sent back to Canada, and then to Germany -- but we still keep in touch on Facebook, and he's extended several invitations to come and ride around Europe with him.  In the meantime, it turns out that he's a fascinating guy, with interests ranging from architecture to history, flying, cooking, bicycle touring, to opera and wildlife conservation.  He's also a gifted and prolific writer, not only of an entertaining blog, but also of many insightful book reviews on Pez Cycling and other sites.   All it took was a couple of long jaunts down the road together.

Hiking up Skyline Drive last autumn.  I'm in the grey kit on the right.  I rode behind Andy, the guy in yellow, because I found his expression entirely unnerving.  Also, it seems I can't ride in front of him.  Photo credit to Jenny Gephart, who took this riding uphill, looking backward, and threatened to sue me unless I said so.  One also meets pretty persuasive people while cycling.
A little bit closer to home, I've noticed that, among the lawyerly set in D.C. at least, cycling is the new golf.  (Thank goodness.)  In my years with a private law firm and the Department of Justice, I've yet to meet any avid golfers, but cyclists are everywhere, and crop up in the least expected places, always for the better.  A couple of years back, I interviewed for an in-house counsel position with a large telecommunications company.  After spending a few hours meeting groups of attorneys, I met with a vice president of the legal department -- a very senior guy, and one whom everyone described as intense and intimidating.  He's the guy you have to impress, they said.  Well, I sat down expecting the worst, and the first thing he said was, "so you're a cyclist?"  I'd listed it as an interest on my resume, and it turns out that he was equally avid about it.  We'd both ridden Mountains of Misery and similar rides, and the overlap went further still.  It turns out that, that morning, we'd both been at swim practice at the same pool.  In fact, we were on the same triathlon team.  Later that year, I was cheering on athletes at Ironman Florida, and on the run course, I found myself giving a motivational talk to, and frantically shuttling chicken soup to, this allegedly intimidating corporate VP, who was cramping up severely.  We're all equals out there.

Some, however, are more equal than others, a fact of which I was reminded yesterday on my flight home from California.  I noted a guy across the aisle, and a couple of rows up, leafing enthusiastically through a cycling magazine like a kid on Christmas, and I felt an immediate kinship -- someone who shares the obsession!  He looked the part: 50's, closely cropped hair, very trim, and no-nonsense.  Moments before, I'd finished reading Hell on Two Wheels, an excellent account of the 2009 Race Across America.  For those who don't know, that race covers about 3,000 miles, from San Diego to Annapolis, MD, every summer.  Only 10-15 people usually complete it successfully, and those often ride for 22+ hours a day for 10-12 days straight in order to do it.  It's billed as the most extreme endurance event on earth, and was the subject of the award-winning documentary "Bicycle Dreams."  (It's outstanding, incidentally.)

I figured that, if the guy reading the bike magazine was as enthusiastic about the sport as he appeared, he'd probably love Hell on Two Wheels, so when we got off the plane and were waiting for the train in Dallas, I said hello, mentioned that I saw him reading the magazine, and handed him the book, suggesting that he might want to pick up a copy.  He took it, looked it over for about ten seconds, and said, "Well, what do you know," and handed it back.  He then remarked, "I actually finished that race in 1995," and extended his right hand and pointed to his ring, on which was emblazoned "RAAM 1995."  It turns out that, that year, he was one of only 10 finishers.  Our connection was immediate, and we chatted enthusiastically until he had to get off the train.  He gave me his name, and I looked him up as soon as I got home. Very impressive, Ricky Wray Wilson, very impressive.

It just goes to show that, when it comes to cycling, you can never tell whom you're going to meet.  It brings us together, and thank goodness -- the world needs more things like it.