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I give my wife a kiss goodbye, and make plans to meet up again in about two hours. The weather is beautiful, the roads are dry, and it’s early enough in the day that there shouldn’t be much traffic on the roads at all. The bike is freshly dialed-in, humming like the well-oiled machine it is. It’s a great day to go for a ride.
As a cyclist who spends a lot of time on the road, I knowingly and willingly accept the risks that go along with sharing space with giant hulks of fast-moving steel. I know people who have been hit and injured (even killed). And like many of you, I certainly have tales to tell of close-calls and near-misses. But as I suspect is the case for most of us, I also convince myself that those risks are somehow a little abstract and vague. It’d be too easy to paralyze myself with worry, so I instead justify continuing to do this thing we all love and need to do so much.
After all, the statistics tell me that I’ll probably be fine. Sure, there’s a chance I’ll get hit the next time out, but the chances are far greater that I won’t. If I’m being honest, I’ll even convince myself that my decades of experience and hyper-awareness of the dangers provide a little extra protection, as if all of that somehow affects the behavior of someone behind the wheel of a nearby automobile.
Holy shit, that car just came WAY too close. Ok, settle back down. Everything is still ok, and nothing really happened. All good. But goddammit, get off of your fucking phone!!! Quick check to make sure the rear blinky is on…
I often leave my wife behind at home when I roll down the driveway, heading off to parts unknown. She knows what cycling means to me, the way it changes my mood and outlook on life, the way it keeps me healthy.
But she reads the same news articles that I do, and hears the same stories. It’s all too easy for me to justify the risks I assume for those very real and very substantial benefits, but do the ones we leave at home feel the same way? Do they share the same concerns that we do, or are they somehow different?
I wonder how many of us have looked at what we do from their perspective.
Where is she? She’s an hour late. I’m sure she’s fine.
Actually, I don’t have to wonder at all. You see, I consider myself one of the lucky cyclists in the sense that my wife loves riding bikes just as much as I do. I never have to explain why I get so grumpy when I haven’t gotten out in the last few days, we’ve spent countless weekends and holidays exploring various roads and trails, and figuring out gifts when birthdays and other holidays roll around is oftentimes just a little bit less challenging.
One of my first presents to her was a new Cannondale road bike to replace her ancient LeMond, and we spent our honeymoon on the trails of Finale Ligure, Italy, emptying our tanks on the incredible trails there overlooking the Ligurian Sea by day, and then refilling our tanks on homemade pasta and gelato by night.
Things seemed so carefree then.
We now spend a lot less time riding together since starting a family. Weekend his-and-hers rides have now transitioned into his-then-hers rides, but it’s still not unusual for family vacations to center around spots where our other friends with kids can gather in unison. There, we can all harken back to those “it takes a village” days, sharing guardian duties so that the adults can finally get some much needed playtime — together. Few things cycling-related need to be explained between us.
But nevertheless, it’s hard for me not to see things a little differently these days. I suppose growing up will do that to you. Adulting is hard, as they say.
I hear the garage door open and voices outside. She’s back. I breathe a small sigh of relief. “Sorry, honey,” she says, “one of the roads was closed for construction and I had to take a big detour.” Perfectly logical. But I still wish she’d remember to bring her phone with her on rides.
I never used to give much thought to how my friends and family felt about what I did. But now that my wife and I aren’t out there together, and with a little one at home, it’s all I think about every time she heads out the door for a road ride (it’s perhaps worth noting that I almost never worry about her when she goes mountain biking).
I know that my wife, in all likelihood, will be just fine. But almost without fail, a tiny part of me starts that disquieting ‘what if’ mental exercise as she rolls out of sight.
What if she really did get hit by a car and was really hurt? What if someone clipped her with a rearview mirror, drove off, and there was no one around to help?
It’s better not to think about those things, I tell myself, but then I look at our daughter and I can’t keep the wheels from spinning. How would I tell her that her mama isn’t coming home? How would I manage as a single parent? Would I be able to keep the house? Could I still do this job? Would I have to move closer to family?
The thoughts are like a fog slowly rolling in from the coast. I know it’s coming; I can see it approaching from a distance, and feel it as the air gets damp and cold.
In my head, I know the sun will come out later and burn the fog away as it almost always does, but when it’s obscured behind that thick layer of mist, a part of me still wonders if today is the day I don’t see the sky. Eventually, that lovely shade of blue reveals itself just as I knew it would, and all is bright and clear again. At least for today.
But when I’m in that fog, I have no choice but rely on faith that that low-hanging cloud will just keep moving past as it always does. The weather report says there’s a 100% chance things will clear up, but I still have to believe it’s correct.
Boulder is renowned for its good weather (yes, even in the winter). Three-hundred days a year of sunshine, or so the saying goes. Odds are good that, on any given day, those warm rays breathe new life into the earth and lift everyone’s mood. But those grey and gloomy days do pay a visit now and then, and I’d be foolish to believe that tomorrow will be bright and clear just because today and yesterday were, too.
I recently turned 44, and in all likelihood, cycling is what will keep me alive and healthy well into old age. But there’s also a decent chance that it’s what will kill me. Ultimately, I guess I just have to be ok with it. As do you.
The question, however, is whether the people close to us are ok with it, too.