Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Werewolf Principle

I just finished reading Clifford Simak's small science fiction novel The Werewolf Principle and even though it has nothing to do with bicycling, I have one of those minds that relates everything to bicycling. I think this particular trait of mine baffles some people. I know it baffles my mother, who said to me once, "you can write so well, why do you always write about bicycles?" I found myself giving the same response Stephen King did when he was asked why he writes horror, "what makes you think I have a choice?"

In Simak's novel humans can travel to the stars and the big questions of the day involve interactions with aliens and alien landscapes. Do we as humans change the worlds we encounter to better suit ourselves, or do we change ourselves to live in alien worlds? And if we change, are we still human?

Simak is an optimist, arguing ultimately that the essence of humanity is that we do both, we shape our encounters and we are shaped by them. We are never perfectly content to stay what we are or where we are. We change our worlds and we change ourselves.

Which brings me back to bicycling, and back to my friends. And back to the werewolf principle. The werewolf principle states that we can, and often are, changed by our encounters. Even if those encounters are initially brief and sometimes frightening.

As a child I saw other kids riding bikes and I knew that somehow they could balance and roll and if they could learn then I could learn. And I did.

Later I learned that some people rode farther, even a hundred miles in a day, on rides they called "centuries." And I learned about bikes called ten-speeds and I learned about shifters. And I met people who knew about things like lactic acid and interval training and sprints and sport nutrition and all kinds of other stuff.

I learned that I could change myself and that yes there were limits, but they were not what I'd thought they were. I met people who rode centuries and I became a person who rode centuries. I met bike racers and I became a bike racer. And I also found the limits to the werewolf principle when I met Greg Lemond.

I did not become Greg Lemond.

I also did not become a marathon runner when I shared an apartment in my college years with a marathon runner named Ed. Ed taught me that marathons are easy. Well easy for Ed. Ed had a passion for running, but somehow I lacked that. But that was OK. "Why do you run marathons, Ed?" "What makes you think I have a choice?"

Somehow we are given certain abilities and susceptibilities. I was mostly immune to Greg Lemond, I knew I could train forever and not be him. And I knew it was OK not to be him. And I didn't catch the running bug from Ed, but I learned a lot about what I wanted to do and how to manage to do it.

We tend to call people freaks when they are farther out than we are. Outside Magazine profiled John Stamstad in a piece called, That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger, and I'm sure many folks read that and thought "what a monster!" and "I could never do that!" I read that article and thought, "I should learn some of what he knows." A few years later I heard John speak at REI and I got to talk with him a bit. We talked about food.

I have friends who are out running or riding right now, while I'm sitting here typing. My friend Tammy has morphed from a couch potato to a triathlete and coach. My pal Scott is half the man he used to be. And I know dozens, hell make that hundreds, of other werewolves who have undergone similar transformations. And those folks are not just transforming themselves, they are inspiring (maybe infecting?) others.

We may not be able to choose our passions but if we are lucky we cross paths with those whose passions we share. And we don't see them as monsters but as inspirations of something that we can become.

As David West noted, the movies have it all backwards.

The Unhappy Association of Werewolves
Makes a Statement to the Terror Industry

At night, we do our hunting.
Home is everywhere we've pissed.
Our name is fang, and who we love
is not your business. Then we sleep.

We dream we're in an office -- it's man eat
dog out there. Our hides are worth money
and traps are cheap. We are required
to be undyingly civil on the phone.

We dream our fangs are not there when
we need them. You can tell we're losing
when we start to look bored, when anger
learns patience, and we wake up.

We face the mirror and see horror
as familiar as a razor. We're losing fur
our fangs retract -- then we're naked
at the mercy of rush hour. We're not

good humans turned into wolves by a curse;
the movies have it all backward. At night
you call it howling but we sing because
we're free. By day we get paid to be dogs.

Note the above poem is copyright (c) 1989 by David Westerhold, All Rights Reserved and comes from the collection EVIL SPIRITS AND THEIR SECRETARIES by David West. You can order it for $5.95 (quite the bargain!) here:
And no, I don't get any kickback from David or Zeitgeist, I'd just love to see David make a bit of money from his work and maybe crank out another book or two. And if you do want to give me a kickback, follow a link from my site to and buy anything they have for sale. It doesn't cost you anything extra but it tosses a few percent of your purchase amount my way. I, of course, squander the money on bike stuff.

Enough typing now, I have to head out for the woods. I hear something howling out there and somehow I have to follow it. What makes you think I have a choice?


Robert H said...

So when is the great American bicycle novel coming out of that head of yours?


Kent Peterson said...


You mean the book with the bike messenger protagonist who gets caught between the FBI, a Seattle biotech company, a massive stock fraud and an international smuggling operation?

I haven't given it much thought...

Anonymous said...

Wow, this post is a case in point: putting one's passion into practice can lead to monstrously good results. Your writing just gets better and better. Scary.