It’s funny how you get to know someone. The world is so different now from when I was a young cyclist. We hear sound bites and read Tweets, we connect on rides. We know lots about what people do now, but we are still distanced from who they are. Two by Two we ‘converse’ on our rides. “How’s your knee?” Or, “What races have you got your sights on,” “What wheels are you racing on.” It’s difficult to really understand the depth that many of us carry with us in the peloton. Each of us has a story, an important one that adds color and flavor to this beautiful sport that has selected us. Storytelling may be a lost art, or maybe cyclists just don’t have the time or energy for it. But it’s a vital commodity as it’s the stories that bridge the gaps between what has happened and why it’s important, how the pieces fit together, even if the importance is not fully understood at the time. Cyclists like to talk a lot about statistics and heart rate and watts, but capturing the essence of a sport in a few words requires emotion. A picture may tell a thousand words but it’s the story that tells us who we are.
We’re losing our storyteller next week. For years now, Geraint Parry has been the keeper of vast stores of information about the cycling community. It’s inadequate to say that he’s just the voice of Bloomington cycling, although that’s certainly true. He’s been the focal point, the calibrator and filter of information-a sage and elder of our tribe. He’s taken what he’s seen and heard and woven it neatly into the fabric of who we are. Culturally, Geraint has helped to brand Bloomington as a cycling wellspring. His departure leaves a gaping hole in our collective cycling consciousness that will be difficult to fill.
Today, we met at the Bakehouse and then at the Sample Gates to ride with Geraint for his final formal long ride here in Bloomington-the Devil’s Backbone-which is a local favorite. Over 50 riders showed up on this bright, sunny morning; friends from years of sitting in with him-Little 500 riders, men and women, to local professional cyclists were there to ride the challenging 80 mile course with temperatures in the high 30s. He attempted to say a few words to the group, something about how it may be best if we split into 2 or 3 groups, but the assembly would have none of that. Everyone was eager to ride alongside him, talk to him and connect personally, maybe share an old story, or anecdote or memory. We rolled out of the start area and I was lucky enough to sit at the front with him, leading the blocks-long line of cyclists out of town. Looking back, physically and metaphorically now, it was really a spectacle and one fitting for a farewell ride for someone who has carried the community’s cycling culture on his shoulders for a long time.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to sit on his wheel.