In the last 7 months I’ve had so few chances to get out on a ride, it’s hard to call myself a biker. I never thought I was that married to the machine, and to the self-imposed role of cyclist first and foremost.
The result is, that when I’m motoring about (and I do this ten times more than ever before) I see the riders out on their bikes and feel a distinct squirm of the gut.
Evidence of some big cosmic gear shifting?
Our dear friend and caregiver David D. reminds me that the ‘self’ is an imaginary construct, and that truly we are all part of a cosmic One.
I’m very late to the sagging table of spiritual bounty, having been force-fed Catholicism at a tender age.
But these days, I’m subscribing to a notion of Togetherness (with occasional additional subscriptions to a God) simply because the idea of sharing the burden is so appealing. I pray that I’ll not be ding’d for Failure to Subscribe the first 60 years.
Anything at all to relax my racing mind.
These days, I ride Tuesday mornings, 7 a.m. pretty regularly–before Charlie wakes up–with an early bird gang of fellows who’ve ridden for at least 35 years without fail, week after week after week. They vacation together. Many kayak together…and for the past few years, but mostly the past 7 months, they’ve embraced me as part of the Over The Hill Gang. They were ‘over’ when they were young men, artists, professionals, & bon vivants. And now they’re really over the hill, modeling muddern maturity to anyone that cares to see a weathered face, rippling calf muscles and exuberant energy.
Sign me up….
Last Saturday, a few of us convened to say goodbye to a friend and mentor who had died the previous month.
Owen Mulholland (I’m leaning on him, and he’s with his twin, John Mulholland) was one of the first diehard bikies I met in Marin County.
Within a year of meeting, both of our lives veered in new directions. I quit trying to pass physics classes in order to apply to medical school, and started envisioning myself as a bike racer, and he fathered a son.
Emile grew into a superb human being and I managed to acquit myself in the racing.
I shared one little thing with Emile: the sting of Owen’s tongue.
When dancing on the podium with Liz Newberry who’d just won the national cyclocross championship (a new thing for women), Owen chastised me for unseemly behavior.
But he also backed me when I needed a letter for a small grant from the Women’s Sports Foundation. And rode with me, and listened as I wept about being yet again shunned by the men’s morning ride.
He was a writer, historian, father and above all a cyclist to the core. He truly lived to ride, and Emile saw to it that his close friends would be able to experience a meandery loop through Point Reyes, taking in a couple of side-trails and then climbing up the long long wooded spine of Mount Vision. I went with the dirt riders on my Croclo-Zeiss (Cunningham cross bike). There were kids in front of me and old men behind. In the middle feels comfortable now. The ride was just hard enough for me to feel worked, under the forest canopy which the Japanese know is so healthful.
Road riders convened with the dirt riders and we shared stories. Franklin Blackford (the fourth person in the above picture) spoke of how he was embraced by Owen and his men’s Wednesday riding group within months of moving here. Believe me, it’s rare. Our county doesn’t have a warm fuzzy exterior, but there are people within that reach out and grab you.
After the ride, John Mulholland approached me with a smile and announced I was wearing his Pedal y Fibra jersey from 1963, when he raced in Mexico. I was flattered, and wondered how it ended up with Charlie Kelly. It was C.K. who gave it to me (well, he was throwing it away, actually, and I caught it mid-throw), and who swore it was from someone in the Grateful Dead crew.
A very patched up 5 pocket work of sartorial art, I am keeping and wearing this thing til it’s in shreds. It’s only fitting.
Ah…well, this is the day-in-the-life. Tomorrow Robbins Peek the PBP veteran tandemist will take Charlie round the county a little bit…and get him a schosh stronger.
*Irish term for “bundle of joy”
It’s been a wild year, with the notion that I’d pick up a new language and impress the folks at Single Speed Worlds in Hakuba Japan.
But on August 3rd, while still cramming at Middlebury Language School, I got a call that Charlie’d had a crash, and had broken 7 or 8 bones. Nothing was made of his head injury, so when I came home, I was a bit in the dark about the subdural hematoma lurking upstairs in his fine mind.
He went from crutch to handmade cane to easy walking, and I was lulled into thinking I could carry out my plan of going to Japan.
Fortunately I brought my computer, and checked me email. I didn’t have a cell phone, but perspicacious Wombats Carolyn V. found a way to reach me and summon me home through this blog.
I found Charlie on life support, but he was able to squeeze my hand (showing he was not a ….er….vegetable is the uncool word, but that was what I was worried about).
Now it’s three months since that awful September 20th, and so much has transpired…much of the news was transmitted thanks to Caroline James of BigMango, who created a funding site for Charlie. The success has been awe-inspiring. Caroline’s partner Dave Garoutte has been Charlie’s welding wing-man, CNC wizard (back when there were hundreds of orders for this or that invention) and general wise guy whose practical, no-nonsense perspective helps me keep on track.
We ‘re settling into a new normal, and an unnervingly unbusy Charlie. When I’m typing here, he sits quietly on the couch. He never makes a demand (when he does, I’ll be very happy), for that implies executive function, which is glaringly absent.
I’m trying my hand at list-making (his strong suit, along with Fixing Everything Jacquie Breaks) and…day-planning. Very strange.
I’ve always been the Keeper of the feminine traditions–cooking, sewing, and hamhanding delicate stuff so Charlie can analyse how Mere Mortals can mangle a bicycle component, invention, or whatever. I get to “ruination” quicker than anyone.
These days, we BOTH knock things over, and have relied on a tight network of his old buddies to fix things…
I’m hanging the old stockings I made for us a few years ago–note the little hammer and golden wrench on Charlie’s stocking.
Mine features childhood friend Katrina Alef’s lavish embroidery. I have asked Santa Claus to bring back Charlie’s sense of direction/orientation–one of the two things that haven’t bounced back–the other being the ability to recognize letters and printed material. Oh, yes, and vision, balance…er…there are a few stocking stuffers I’ll be awaiting.
Doctors don’t seem to make prognoses about Traumatic Brain Injury. Instead they intone: “the brain has an amazing ability to adapt and reconfigure….but it will take years.” Now that’s something I will need to have put in my stocking.
In January I discovered that a Japanese biker friend –Koh Kitazawa– won the ‘bid’ for this year’s singlespeed world championships , to be held in Hakuba at the Iwatake Snow Field on Oct 10-11. Having missed the SSWC 2012 ,2013, 2014 (South Africa, Italy and Alaska) I just couldn’t let another year slide past.
I might get out of shape.
Anyone can race singlespeed at the “world level”: for the moment at least, you simply send in your fee and get to work on your elaborate costume. Sometimes there’s a lottery, but not this year. Perhaps the snow field can hold 2000 bodies…..This location is where the first mountain bike events took place in Japan thirty years ago…and alas I was not part of that trip (Charlie Kelly, Denise Caramagno, and Tom R were invited, wined and dined). I imagine it’s possible the corporate ruination process could hijack this frolicsome 15 year tradition to serve its own purpose ( associating companies like Chevron, BP, Dupont, and various automobile or drug companies with our healthy, peaceful pastime).
As the self-inaugurated global ambassadress for women, I figured speaking reasonably intelligible Japanese might help me diffuse the Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea velosofy.
Which is: An hour on a bike is an hour in perfect balance.
January 20, one day into Spring Session at COM, I decided to take a class. College of Marin is nothing if not accomodating. Why Japanese? Because it’s reputed to be a difficult language to learn, and I figured wrestling with it would do what bike schooling does for my students: returns them to youthful innocence.
Thankfully nobody laughs at a sixty year old student; they mostly scratch their head and shrug, then revert to texting when teacher isn’t commanding their attention.
I pedal right into the classroom, past the teacher’s desk (“Konnichiwa!” and a subtle nod) and hop off, lean the bike on the far wall, unclick helmet and drag the messynger bag with its 10 lbs of textbooks, notebook and three sharp pencils to my desk. I’m wayyyyy up front (even though there are only about 8 students, they huddle behind me). I got this issue with hearing ‘s’ and all unvoiced consonants.
The kids range from 15 years old (middle school) to 21.
Even though “furui” is the wrong word for a human, I AM a “furui kaban” (old bag).
The senseis are phenomenal. I have two because, with my crappy hearing, i need a second helping of every lesson for vocabulary retention & grammar seepage. It’s been a very intense 3 months. My brain hurts, and I even lost weight. Back and forth to COM 4 days a week. Worth it ! I can read a soy sauce label now.
For my final speech (a three-minute digest of who I am, my age, major, what I like & hate, etc) do it up. I pulled a ratty silk kimono from the clothing compost heap, wrapped a Therma-rest sleeping pad round me for a pretty reasonable ‘obi’ cinched with tres chic white nylon climbing rope. Costume designer Pat Leo lent me water-based white makeup. My route to school has lots and lots of flowers on fences. Charlie mollified a chain for a bit of jewelry. Genuine passion flowers, genuine jasmine. Couldn’t find tabi (toe-socks) or 3 inch tall wooden clogs, but the bike shoes are equally impractical to walk in. Watch this space to see if I can get into a summer program, and if they let you attend classes in costume.
Pictures by Joy Sassoon, Gary Leo and Fredde Foster, who I THINK will be competing at SSWC with the rest of the wild costumed folk….