How I Got on the Bike

I took up cycling four or five years ago, after my scoped right knee didn’t behave the way the doctor said it would and I had to come to terms with the reality that I would never run again. I remember where I was when I saw the light: At Drew Howell’s (fortieth?) birthday party. Some guys were talking about biking and they said, “You should join us.” So Burke Hutcheson and John Simonds got me outfitted and I started trying to keep up with them all on Sunday afternoons and Saturday mornings. John McAdams was also a cycling evangelist in my life. He first put me into clip-in pedals and pulled me around Wrightsville Beach, and he took Bill Roper (another novice at the time) and me over to Carrboro to the Clean Machine to show us how much money we could spend on this new avocation.

I’ve gotten myself into an annual rhythm. As soon as school is out in late May I hit it hard, in the early mornings and on weekends, building up to a few races over the summer: Blood, Sweat, and Gears, a century around Blowing Rock in late June; the Hillsborough Bikefest century in early August (Burke Hutcheson and I have a story to tell about that one); and Bridge to Bridge, a century which starts in Lenoir and ends on Grandfather Mountain (which I’ve done only once, as that time is tough for me with the beginning of school). I do my best to keep peddling through the fall and the winter. Oddly, the winter has been a good time for me. Time, not weather, is my biggest challenge. So with Thanksgiving break, Christmas Break, a study leave I often take in the winter, I can put in some base miles. The toughest time of the year for me is the spring, when the press of the end of school and the demands for planning for the next year make it hard to get out, even with the splendid weather and the lengthening days. Makes training for RAAM especially challenging this time of year.

I’ve learned to love this sport. I wonder sometimes what it would have been like to have taken this up earlier in life. It’s a good sport for a big-butted, small-chested guy with a penchant for pain. I like the way it gets me outside, such a refreshing change from the machines in the fitness center. I like what it teaches me about the roads around here and the topography. (I can get you to Hillsborough twenty different ways, and I know how many hills there are between Highway 70 and St. Mary’s Road.) I like the way I feel tired and spent at the end of a good ride (the thing I missed most about running, when I was trying to make myself sweat in the fitness center). I like the community of riders and the shared stories we have. I like the way I can eat with impunity after I’ve biked for three hours (and burning about 2500 calories). And I like the way I can pray and think and clear my head for an hour or two after a stressful day or week. I have a habit of breaking out into a full-throated rendition of “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” at 18 mph, and usually there’s no one around to hear me, except God.

I don’t like showing up in spandex, especially when no other bikers are around (Country stores in Nash County, for instance—we don’t know how good we cyclists have it in Carrboro!). I don’t like the time it takes to get ready for a big race—if I’m going to spend three or four hours on a bike on Saturdays, I might as well take up golf! I don’t like the danger: A few summers ago, Phil Ficks, an acquaintance of several of my cycling friends, got hit by a truck and he’s still in a wheelchair. I don’t like the cost—my friend, Don Rose, tells the story of his wife handing him an annualized account of money they had spent on his cycling. And I don’t like the self-centered culture of many serious cycling groups—I’ve been on group rides where people yelled at me for not pulling correctly.

But there are days when the air is crisp and the sky is blue, when I don’t have to be anywhere else, when I sing the mighty power of God that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad and built the lofty skies.


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