In many ways, this past Tuesday was mostly a typical flight night at a local tap house, Growler Haus. We gathered and took over the room to the right, what we have come to call “The Office.”
But this Tuesday we were 15 gathered to say goodbye to a friend moving, as we say around here, “up North,” or in his case, back up North.
The “we” in this case is the Spartanburg, SC, cycling community—or at least a part of it. Cycling is vibrant—although the people change and the intensity shifts over the years—in the Upstate of SC from Spartanburg to Greenville especially.
Chris, pictured above holding a mock-up of a plaque in his honor, is moving away, and we spent a couple hours over pints, flights, and food smiling and laughing about his moving to Spartanburg years ago and finding his way into our not-so-warm-and-fuzzy cycling clique; in many ways we are worse than high school, we road and MTB cyclists who have also branched out to gravel riding (anything to justify even slightly the code of bicycle ownership—Rule #12: The correct number of bikes to own is n+1).
If you zoom in, you see the plaque mock-up includes below his name Rule #5—one of the dilemmas faced by those organizing the gesture of farewell.
You see Rule #5, among The Rules at Velominati, is mostly NSFW—Harden the fuck up, or as we say in most public settings, HTFU.
The 15 in attendance and pictured above range in ages from their 20s into their 60s, much like our cycling community, and we all at one point or another have found ourselves stressed to our limits, probably questioning why we were voluntarily participating in a hobby, for fun, something that left us near the brink of death—or simply wishing death would offer a bit of relief.
Recreational cycling is often competitive, both spontaneously on any bicycle ride including more than one rider and during organized events (even the ones that explicitly announce “this is not a race”).
When we are the ones dishing out the pace and pain (a few above are always in that group), we smile and quip: “You know what to do when you are getting dropped? Speed up.”
It is that sort of nonsense that has bonded this group, nonsense that is about the same percentage sincerity as nonsense.
I have been cycling “seriously,” as we say, for well over thirty years. Those early years, I was mere fodder, a peon, but several of the elite locals gave me the treatment that we honor to this day, a sort of loving hazing, a relentless demand that “do better, damnit” is about the same as saying “love you.”
One of my friendly torturers was Fred; I still see him from time to time at mountain biking trails. He has shifted to solitary riding, and I have throttled back significantly my mileage and intensity. But I feel something unnameable every time I see Fred (Rule #3: Guide the uninitiated).
Fred was ruthless and his ability on a bicycle left me in awe. I never came close to Fred in ability, but I creeped toward his tenacity—and I certainly for a few year was a much better cyclist.
And I still know a hell of a lot about bicycling.
Several people in the photograph were shepherded into the flock as I was many moons ago. Now the grasshoppers have become masters; we guard our own Rules vigilantly even as we quote The Rules with a bit of a smile.
I hear our 20 and 30 somethings sigh and lament things aren’t like they used to be, shaking their heads at new riders. And I understand.
We are varied people. Bicycles and most of all riding bicycles join us, even when we don’t think alike, even when we can barely raise our heads or turn the crank in exhaustion.
Maybe especially when things are the toughest.
Only a few years ago four of us above were struck by a motorist (with six others), and a few of us were injured, some badly, one permanently.
And very recently, we were all visiting Chris in the hospital after a freak cycling crash that sent him to the hospital with a broken collarbone that put his cycling on pause for many weeks.
You see, it is just riding a bicycle, something children do, and it is far more than just riding a bicycle.
Cycling is not our entire lives—we have family, careers, and beer—but most of us cannot imagine our lives without cycling.
We will miss Chris, and I am sure, Chris will miss us, and this community.
In any moment of sadness, tugs of weakness, however, we have something to guide us through—HTFU.
Rule #1: Obey the rules.