A Note from Fatty: This is going to be an intense week, work-wise. Luckily, several readers have stepped up and sent in some fantastic stories for me to publish. As a result, I think you’ll find that this week is going to be awesome, content-wise.
About the Author of Today’s Post: Moishe Lettvin writes code, rides his bicycle, runs and can’t wait to take his daughter adventuring on two wheels. He’s on the web at http://profiles.google.com/moishel.
When I was a kid I was, to put it mildly, not very athletic. Whenever I played a sport involving a ball, the ball would hit me in the face; whenever I played a sport involving speed, I was slow. This bothered me but only in a vague way; I was more interested in other things, primarily computers. I felt like I was pretty good at that and if I couldn’t run a mile and a half during gym class, oh well.
Junior year of high school, my friend Mark and I were sitting in the cafeteria during study hall, likely struggling with our French homework. Mark looked up and said something off-the-cuff and probably not very serious.
He said, “Hey Mo, after we graduate, let’s ride our bikes to California.” As I remember it this suggestion was completely unexpected; it’s not like we spent lots of time riding our bikes around or talking about the sunny climes of California. Maybe it arose from the general wanderlust of teenage boys or a sense of confinement in our small suburban town, or… well, who knows. It changed my life.
I became obsessed. I started riding my bike, a heavy Schwinn Continental, all around the back roads of eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. That summer, the summer between my junior and senior year, I rode to the beach in Gloucester; I rode along the Merrimac River; I sought out the steepest hills I could find so I could bomb down them.
I saved up the money from my job — at a local software company, natch — and towards the end of summer bought myself a bright red Cannondale, equipped with racks and low gears, perfect for long-distance touring.
I went back to high school that fall 40 pounds lighter and almost unrecognizable from the pasty nerd of the year before. I was more distracted than ever from my classes; I spent my time daydreaming about being on the road and the feeling of setting out for an adventure to the other coast. I spent every calculus class doing math, yes, but not calculus.
“How many miles a day will I have to ride to get to California in 3 months? How much water will I need to carry? I wonder how many flat tires I’ll get?” I got rollers later that fall so I could keep riding when the snow fell, and I rode through the winter mostly in my bedroom. Occasionally I’d venture onto the messy roads, ending those rides by chipping frozen slush off my down tube in my parents’ garage.
Spring came and the snow melted and I easily fell back into the rhythm of watching the sun rise on my weekday rides and seemingly endless rides on the weekends. I graduated high school – barely – in May and spent the summer writing software and riding my bike to the exclusion of pretty much everything else.
What about riding to California? Isn’t summer the time to do it?
Well, yeah… but Mark couldn’t go. So I fell back to the BikeCentennial classifieds to find some riding companions, and found three people who wanted to leave from New England around Labor Day. We exchanged mail (actual physical letters — this was a long time ago) and phone calls and planned to meet at my parents’ house the day before Labor Day, figure out last minute logistics, and set out the next day.
So plans were made. I was riding to California! All I had to do until September was ride, and ride, and save some money. I did that.
Around the middle of August, I set out kinda late in the day for a long ride. I’ll bet — though my memories are hazy now — I rode out to the coast in Manchester, past the tourists buying antiques in Essex, through the rolling farmland in Ipswich and Rowley. I probably got a snack in Newburyport. I may have continued north into New Hampshire, or looped over towards Haverhill, but I know that by the time I got back onto the long, empty stretch of route 1A heading back from Crane’s Beach in Ipswich towards my parents’ house, it was dark.
It was dark, and I might’ve been worried by that, but it was one of those summer nights that people write songs about. If you’re from the northeast, you might know what I mean: the warm air, crickets, stars and moon hazy with humidity. There was no traffic. I’d ridden close to 100 miles and nothing hurt; indeed I felt as good as I ever had in my life.
I took my hands off the bars, sat up and let the warm air wash over me. I thought of adventures to come. I thanked whoever came up with the idea of balancing on two wheels. I thanked Mark for the crazy idea to get on a bicycle and start riding, ostensibly to California, but really just to ride. I thanked my parents for being so willing to let their kid take off on some crazy adventure. I thanked my muscles and bones and tendons for adapting themselves so ably to what I asked of them. I thanked myself for not letting the images I and and others had of me – fat, not athletic, a computer nerd – get in the way of something magical.
I might have teared up with gratitude and happiness and a touch of pride, but it was probably the wind.