Thursday, August 16, 2012


Because I've ridden my bicycle on some longish trips over the years, I get asked sometimes about endurance. I think the most useful words I wrote on the subject are buried at the end of a ride report from a decade ago. I'm reprinting them here:


And the blessings were like poets that we never find time to know, 
But when time stopped I found the place where the poets go.
And they said, "Here have some coffee, it's straight, black and very old," 
And they gave me sticks and rocks and stars and all that I could hold..."

Dar Williams, "The Blessings"


In the days that followed I got to catch up on old times and talk with a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while. I ride into Duluth and see my old friend Denis Sauve at Twin Ports Cyclery. In college I'd raced on the Velo Duluth team and among other things, Denis was the first guy I ever saw who rode a fixed gear bike on the road. I'd checked the phone book and Twin Ports Cyclery was back where I'd remembered it being and when I roll Eddy in the door, Denis looks up from behind the counter and says simply "Haven't seen you in a while. Where have you been?" And I could say it was like I'd never left but that's not quite true. Since I've been gone Denis has gotten grayer and so have I. He had moved the shop to the busier downtown area for a few years but he moved it back to it's west Duluth roots when he'd realized that the increased downtown business wasn't really clearing much over the increased expenses. Denis always had that kind of good sense.

Twenty years ago I'd gotten a set of Blackburn adapters so I could fit a rack onto my racing bike for my trip out west. Before my trip east I'd had to create my own version of these adapters because I couldn't find any of my local bike shops. On a whim, I check the back wall of Denis's shop. Twenty years ago I'd bought the adapters and there were two other sets on the pegboard. Now I look and there are still two sets of adapters on the board. I buy the second set. In twenty years I may have to go back and buy that last set. I also buy some tubes. As Denis tallies up my total, he naturally gives me the club discount. I haven't been here for 20 years but he'd never think of not giving me the discount. I'm one of his riders after all.

My father retired from teaching a few years ago and his friend Bob is also retired. My dad is seventy-seven years old and Bob is sixty-seven. When Bob retired from teaching he bought a small sawmill and almost every day he and my dad go out to the mill and work the logs into lumber. It's hard work. My uncle Clarence and my boys and I went out to see the mill and it's amazing to watch Bob and my dad jockey the big logs into position and run the machinery through it's paces. But you can see it's work they love.

My mom and dad have been married for fifty years. When my mom was born, she had a defect in her heart, a hole between two of the chambers. The doctors told her parents she wouldn't live past the age of fifteen. Her parents didn't tell her this until she was twenty-five and by that time she figured she might as well keep going. She's outlived her doctors by quite a bit.

I think about all of these things when people say to me that my ride was something amazing, that it was some kind of feat of endurance. No, it was just a ride. It's what I do. Now keeping a business going for decades, or staying married for half a century or working a sawmill when you should be retired, that's a feat of endurance. Riding a fixed gear bicycle across half the country in eleven and a half days, that's just a bike ride. Don't ask me about endurance, I don't know that much about it. But I do know some people who do. I'm proud to call them my family and friends.

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