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Cycling is a lot of different things. It’s a way to get and stay fit, a way to make and maintain social connections, a mode of transport, and an outlet for one’s competitive urges. It can also be an escape, a way to find the headspace necessary to process painful emotions.
In “Ride: A Memoir to My Father”, Craig Fry shares the story of how cycling helped him come to terms with the death of his father Lindsay. As Fry writes:
“It was more than just riding. The initial physicality of that two-wheeled exertion, heartbeats, breathing, and sweat gave way to something deeper. Those basic bodily movements became a meditative aid to my thinking about Dad. The bike became a tool that helped me to explore what I was facing rather than ignore it.”
Between October 2015 and March 2016 Fry embarked on many cycling journeys that, in his own words, allowed him to “wrap” himself in his father’s memory. He rode to places where he and his father had camped together, places they’d gone fishing, places they’d gone hunting. He rode the roads they’d driven together, including the Hume Hwy from Melbourne to his father’s home in Wodonga — a 14-hour, 335km ride completed with a close mate.
While Fry’s story is one of cycling’s role in helping deal with his father’s death, Lindsay Fry himself didn’t cycle. This despite marrying into a cycling family (18 members of Craig Fry’s extended family have raced the iconic Melbourne to Warrnambool). And while Lindsay wasn’t a cyclist, he and his son still enjoyed a bond through cycling and more specifically, through Craig’s cycling.
The book’s opens with Fry’s recollection of the 2014 Audax Alpine Classic, a tough recreational event in Victoria’s high country. Craig was riding in the event while Lindsay was there in support.
“Dad was there parked in the shade, waiting as planned. He used to relish coming out to watch me ride and help where he could, and he would take dozens of photos and plenty of video footage to record those rides. I’m no cycling star, but that didn’t ever matter to him. It was just a good way for us to spend some quality time.”
Fry is honest about the relationship he and his father shared. While mostly positive, “it wasn’t always easy with him”. They didn’t see each other as often as either would have liked, particularly in the later years, and Fry admits he didn’t know his father as well as he should have.
“Those are the barest facets of my father’s life. The full story is much richer than that, but I cannot tell Lindsay Fry’s whole story here. Sadly, I don’t know it all because I rarely took the time out to ask him much about his life.”
It is in these moments that the book is perhaps at its strongest. Fry’s honest reflections, in the wake of significant personal loss, have the effect of turning the lens towards the reader’s own relationships with family and friends. It’s not difficult to put yourself in Fry’s position and come to a conclusion similar to his:
“Reflecting on my father’s life, my own hope is that I can be more present and engage as a father and a husband, and not miss out on time with the people I love …”
At times while reading “Ride” I was reminded of “And You May Find Yourself”, the excellent and affecting memoir by Scottish-born Melbournian Paul Dalgarno. In it, as in Fry’s “Ride”, Dalgarno uses cycling to negotiate a raft of challenging emotions: anger, guilt and the anguish of loss. But Fry and Dalgarno both seem to speak to something larger too – the importance of dealing with such emotional challenges in the first place.
As Craig Fry writes:
“Many of us, men and women alike (but men especially it seems), are not very good at discussing death and dying, or grief and loss. For a life event that is so common and inevitable, death still seems to be a topic most of us either don’t know how to talk about, or perhaps don’t want to.”
If there’s one criticism to be made of “Ride” it’s that, at times, it feels as much an exercise in catharsis for the author (which Fry readily admits) as it is a story designed to be read by others. It took me much of the book’s first half to feel invested in Lindsay Fry’s story and in him as an individual before I was fully able to identify with the grief his son was expressing. And again, it was when “Ride” turned my focus inwards that I found it to be most powerful.
The prose in “Ride” is conversational and raw; arguably too raw on occasion. A stronger edit would have removed some of the repetition and made for a tighter, more polished read.
At just 62 pages long this ebook is easily digestible in a single sitting. And once through the opening sections, Ride is a compelling and affecting read that has a lot to teach us all about the power of the bicycle, our relationships with our parents (and other loved ones), and the ways in which we deal with life’s toughest moments.
Craig Fry is an occasional CyclingTips contributor and can be found on Twitter at @pushbikewriter. He also has a column at The Conversation.