I’m using songs to title my posts. They may or may not bear relevance to the subject matter therein. It amuses me; for how long, I don’t know.
It took only two pandemic-delayed months, and now the Confidentials finally have their bicycles back from the shop.
My battle-hardened Trek model dates to 1999, and Diana’s to 2005. Neither of us has been in the saddle for a long while, and our two-wheeled conveyances frankly have been shamelessly neglected, left to molder in back of the garage since Obama’s first term along with a pile of dry-rotted, heat-warped and mostly useless accessories.
But functionality has returned, and with it quite a few of my ghosts have come back to call. I’ll have more to say about them in a moment.
It has been eight years since I put appreciable mileage on the bicycle, with the final peak in odometer terms coming in 2010, my 50th birthday year, when I recorded approximately 3,650 miles without ever exceeding 30 in a single day.
Not at all coincidentally, 2010 was the year when Bank Street Brewhouse (founded in 2009) devolved into a perpetual stalemate of small business trench warfare. In retrospect, pinned in place of my own lamentable accord at BSB, and realizing that European travel was out of the question, I devoted a portion of most days to riding my bike to forget, in search of stress relief before returning to the intensive care unit called “work.”
I was still riding in late November, 2010, trying to reach 6,000 kilometers. One morning late in the month while walking I slipped on some black ice in the parking lot opposite BSB and suffered a big quadriceps tear in my left leg, which was purple for months afterward. 5,875 km would have to do. It took until June of 2011 before I even considered riding again.
By then the biking spark had been greatly extinguished, most likely from sheer burnout after almost 15 years of riding so much, along with the lingering leg injury and never-ending frustrations at BSB. There was a short-lived comeback attempt in 2012, and then I became a walker instead – and this phase lasted eight years.
What’s more, the period of 2010-2012 was when Kevin Richards and I weren’t seeing very much of each other. Kevin, who sadly died of a brain tumor in 2016, was my original bicycling muse. He had personal and professional issues of his own at the time, and I was preoccupied with the tumultuous business expansion — and my responsibility for it.
For whatever reason, our paths diverged.
Unfortunately I didn’t ever think to consider the impact of Kevin’s temporary absence until later, when it became permanent. In 2011 and 2012, Kevin wasn’t riding his bicycle much, either, but if we had been in closer proximity, we’d have shamed each other into getting out there.
We didn’t go for a ride together for the last six years of his life, closer to seven. I have few regrets, but this is one of them. A very, very big one.
It’s a story I’ve told before, but humor me.
I helped get Kevin into better beer. He was instrumental in getting me into the seat of a two-wheeler.
In 1996 it had been twenty years since high school, when my teenage bicycling career came to a close once I had a dependable car to drive. Horrible, exceedingly American, and true.
But in 1996 I bought a cheap bike with big knobby tires and started tooling around New Albany. Gradually a collection of pub-going cyclists found each other, and I upgraded to the current Trek, swapping the mountain bike tires for hybrids because Kevin properly commanded it.
One late summer’s day in 1999, Kevin and I rode to the top of the Knobs via Corydon Pike’s switchbacks. We stopped for a sag at Polly’s Freeze, the venerable ice cream haven. Light bulbs belatedly became illuminated and an earnest discussion began. Might we dare biking in Europe, where it was standard operating procedure — and heaven forbid – maybe quaff a few fine ales in the process?
So the planning began. We booked hotels at three beer-oriented urban venues in Belgium, along with rental bikes for day trips radiating from each stop. Faxes (!) and e-mails were sent, and the itinerary came into shape. As the calendar turned to June, 2000, there were five of us ready to make the journey, and it proved to be a classic.
A beercycling group was born, and as many as 15 of us in all took part in a total of seven European trips in nine years, with the last occurring in 2008. Kevin was along for four of the seven, and without his tutoring, I’d have lacked the confidence to “lead” the other ones, although in fact all of these trips were genuine group efforts.
Kevin and I conceived, orchestrated and performed those beercycling trips together, and while the cast revolved, each time out we functioned as a band of brothers (and on a couple of occasions, sisters). I’m not exaggerating when I say that Kevin’s bicycling advocacy changed my life. My European travel instincts were joyfully reborn in 2000.
During previous journeys to the continent, I’d dodged bicyclists while walking between train stations, never stopping to consider how much fun it might be to ride myself — actually, never stopping to consider that I could do it. Kevin patiently taught me about the art of the possible on two wheels, with or without panniers. It wouldn’t have been possible without him.
By 2003, I was able to take my bike apart, pack it in a hard shell case, reassemble it, ride it all the way from Frankfurt to Vienna (meeting friends along the way), and get bike and me home without incident after almost a month on the road. As a humanities major with almost no technical aptitude, I’ve never been more proud of myself, and eternally grateful to Kevin for showing me how.
Our partnership was mutually reinforcing. We’d pause by a river, and I’d prattle on about a doomed revolutionary revolt in a neighboring town. Then Kevin would explain the hydraulics of the locks and dam we were observing. I’d score a brewery visit, and he’d calmly repair a spoke. Kevin had his life, and I had mine. Not all our interests intersected. When they did, life was great fun.
About those ghosts.
We brought our refurbished bicycles home yesterday, and as I rooted through the dusty gear untouched since before Kevin’s death, it quickly became an emotional ordeal just filling the garbage can. His fingerprints are everywhere, stepping out of every shadow.
I’d only recently remarked to a friend that returning to the Public House can sometimes be challenging for me because of the ghosts; she asked if the ghosts haunt me, and I said no, not that. They accompany me. At times their presence is heavy enough to give me pause. It’s not so much individuals as the accumulated weight of the past. Most of the time my ghosts keep a socially respectful distance.
Then there’s yesterday.
Back in late 2015, maybe early 2016, during the period of my business divorce, I’d still be at the pub here and there and see Kevin, always in the usual “gee” spot, and eventually we started chatting about riding again. He’d been doing it. I needed to restart. We’d get the band back together, maybe even do Europe again.
It wasn’t to be, and there’ll come a time when I accept it.
At some point after America’s COVID-19 pariah status finally dissipates, we’ll be in Europe somewhere (hopefully Belgium), rent bikes and say goodbye to Kevin again, preferably with a toast of Rochefort 10 Belgian Trappist ale, but I’ll be damned if I try to drink two of them and keep riding, as Kevin would have.
He was just showing off, and I loved him for it.
It isn’t the 60th birthday I’d have chosen, but it’s the one I’ll get on Monday, and that’s all right with me.
2020 has been the stuff of proliferating nightmares, and it’s easy to sense the pain, stupidity and avarice of the dipshits multiplying all around us.
D.I. Fred Thursday of British television’s Endeavor has advice, as he explained to D.C. Endeavor Morse early in the show’s run.
Morse: How do you do it? Leave it at the front door?
Thursday: ‘Cause I have to. Case like this will tear a heart right out of a man. Find something worth defending.
Morse: I thought I had! Found something.
Thursday: Music? I suppose music is as good as anything. Go home. Put your best record on. Loud as it’ll play.
And with every note, you remember: That’s something the darkness couldn’t take from you.