A confluence of events has brought me a step closer to the last ride I’ll ever do today. Of course, this could be said for us all after every ride. It was a difficult week with the weather forcing most of us indoors. I had a work commitment that didn’t allow for any quality time on the bike recently. So I approached today’s ride with some disdain, albeit philosophical.
Prior to leaving my warm home, I decided to take an Allen key to some areas I had been hearing some creaks and rattles from on prior rides; stem, water bottle cages, brake pads. I had meticulously cleaned my bike after my last outing, inspecting the tires for slices and holes, lubricated the cables, etc. My handlebars had been creaking despite tightening the headset and stem (and the front wheel). When I tried to adjust the fixing bolts on the stock FSA stem today however, the 4 bolts just ‘released’ and the bars immediately drooped. It was 11:15 so I didn’t have much time to get to the start. I looked over to my ‘winter’ bike, a 1980s aluminum Cannondale sitting in the corner of the basement. Serviceable, but not ready for the rigors of a Flashers ride. I tightened up the bolts, nearly bottoming them out to the stem, and generally satisfied with the results, I left the neighborhood. I live on the top of Hillview in Marlin Hills out near Audubon Road, so I had to immediately descend the steep pitch to get to Old 37 and Cascades. I descended without putting all of my weight on the bars and made it down safely. Once on Cascades, I gently tugged and pulled on the bars. I was confident, but not really sure of their strength but decided to gingerly carry on.
I arrived at the downtown Bakehouse at 11:40. The wind was out of the northwest and the sun was out, but it was still just 35 degrees. I parked the bike, checked the stem/bar assembly on final time, and headed in for a warm cup of coffee. I saw an acquaintance at the counter and we chatted briefly. It was near noon before the riders starting showing; Chris Kroll (Upland), Fred Rose, Liz Cobb, Kevin Hays (Scholars Inn Bakehouse), Ryan Knapp (Panther/Bakehouse), Jake Miller (Black Key Bulls), Stephen (Phi Delta Theta). I expected a smaller than usual turnout with many competing at DePauw this weekend.
We would meet Adam Rodkey (Speedway Wheelmen) and Jeff Buchsbaum (Bakehouse) on the way out. Liz joined a women’s ride that was leaving about the same time. The nine men rolled south. Jeff, having been out to the causeway earlier today turned there and headed for home. This stellar field, while driving a smart tempo laid off the gas up the causeway just enough to allow the author to manage the pace over the top. We rode two abreast all the way to the second flashers at the end of 446. We were chatting most of the way, talking of spring break plans, motorpacing, the Nashville 90, riders not seen for a while, hoping that all was well with them. Despite our incredible competitiveness, to a man, we want only success on the bike for our colleagues. I remembered the John Donne quote from the introduction to For Whom the Bell Tolls, “No man is an island…any man’s [loss] diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…therefore never send for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Dark, I know. But apt. The sport of cycling has an uncanny way of sometimes filleting a soul for all to see. Some days you are vulnerable to its beautiful insidiousness other days it just taps you on the shoulder to let you know it’s still in control. We try to keep these feelings in check, our vulnerabilities at bay, internal. Only allowed to whisper. Today I was at the end of that barbed hook.
The ride home was into a light but meaningful headwind and the small group experimented with a few surges and a moment or two of a single file pace line, but the order of the day was just under the boiling point. Despite this I had trouble on the cols heading to the causeway and relinquished my position in the group to the seven stronger men as I faded into the shelter at the lee of the field for most of the return trip.
We rolled back into town, a few turning off at the usual points of departure. Ryan, Fred and I headed back to the Bakehouse to bookend the ride. Liz was there, just returning from her ride. I got another hot cup of coffee, the others ate as we sat around a small table talking about the ride. The conversation took a slight detour, at my prodding toward a brief but dismissive notion of mortality stuck in my head and the possibility that one day, one ride will indeed be our last. The three were polite but the depth of the question was somehow out of place, just this side of uncomfortable. We said our ‘goodbyes’ and I escorted Ryan out towards the Forest for the final third of his training today. We climbed Hillview on the way out to the Forest and just as we were climbing, three of his Little 5 women’s team were coming down the hill, laughing and enjoying their day in the sun.
When I arrived home. I took a moment to put the bike in the stand, washed it and then took a closer look at the headset. I had heard a couple of loud ‘clunks’ when I hit a few ridges on the ride so I was concerned about the integrity of the bars. Upon closer inspection, the clamp that holds the handlebars to the stem had broken in two! I was lucky to have made it back without disaster striking, living to ride another day! Our reckoning will come for sure. But until then I am committed to ride as though the next ride will be the last!