Friday, July 31, 2009

ISO Superheroes

I got a text from Wes: "No go, sorry." I instantly got the feeling of not wanting to go to the party because I may not know anyone there. Which everyone knows is precisely why you should go.

The truth is that I would know people at the “Tour de Pants,” an urban unsanctioned race through Norfolk and Portsmouth. These races are attended by mostly fixed gear and single speeders that have grown in numbers here in Norfolk over the past few years. I would know Jay and
Kurtz, and everyone has been friendly at past races. Spandex is out of the question with this crowd, so I knew to dress to the occasion, though I always wear a helmet unlike many of them. Since I ride a fixie, my acceptance into the group would be immediate. I would lean on my bike, like a date at a party.

So what was my hang up? Age I decided. At 43, I figured (correctly) that I would be the oldest one there. Chris Dinsmore is exactly my age and attends these races (and always wins when he comes) but he was out of town. Inspired by his past performances, I sent a text back to Wes ("Darn") and packed up to go. On the 4-mile ride to the meeting point at Blair Middle School, I tried to get to the heart of why the age thing bothered me.

Mile one—what intimidated me was not my age, but the confidence they have in what they are doing at their age. When I was in my early 20’s as many fixies are, I could find few people to ride with. I loved my bike, others tolerated cars. I’ll never forget someone I much respected saying to me, adults need cars, and I had no Cars are Coffins mantra as a comeback. I conformed when I got a $100 deal on a ’75 Valiant, but savored the days of a more pure self reliance that many, I think, confuse with arrested development.

Mile two—the 92 degree humid heat started melting my helmet to head. I thought of Dave. I don’t know what would have become of me had I not met Dave Waters around 1991. He was not your typical one genre bike dude. He had road bikes, time trial bikes, mountain bikes and fixed gear bikes. Dave lived with about 20 bikes in quite the man cave. He was a walking breathing survey course in crit racing, time trialing, track racing, mountain biking, fixed gear commuting.

Mile three—I thought of Dave’s video collection of past Tours de France, Paris Roubaix’s, Women’s Challenge stage race across Idaho. He fed me books, gave riding instructions in didactic tones as if he were merely reminding me rather than telling me something for the first time: You know that pushing that big gear is inefficient or That makes no sense you know or What exactly did you accomplish by doing that? I rarely had answers to his lectures, just took notes. I took note that he had a car—a van in fact—but that his primary transportation was a fixed gear bike. He was not a romantic interest, and he had a few other followers so it’s not as if I had him to myself.

Mile 4—When I was a child I spoke like a child, I reasoned like a child. . . but when I became an adult I put away childish things. Hmm, does that mean we just put away the action figure or do we strive to become one? Wouldn’t you know it—one of Dave’s fixed gears had “Sprocket Man” neatly decaled onto the frame. Another fixie was painted Captain America red-white-blue, and he had a Capt America red-white-blue skinsuit to match it. We all joked him of course—Are you Sprocket Man today or Capt America? We laughed as adults who knew the only way a superhero could ever be real is if we became one ourselves. An uncomfortable, self indicting laughter. I could see even then that my mentor had no mentors, that he had the most important element of any superhero, the ability to stand alone.

I arrived at “Tour de Pants,” a race designed to debunk the Tour de France. It begins with a “manifest” or directions of what to do, where and how. Spoke cards are usually handed out, and organizer Kurtz never fails at being thoughtful in his themes. For this race, we were instructed to bring 7 changes of pants, shorts or skirts. The manifest showed the seven places where racing partners would need to photograph each other changing into a new set of pants. Certain things needed to be in the background of each photograph. Don’t change in front of children Kurtz said three times. BC Wilson and I teamed up against 5 other teams and we developed a quick plan. Set, go!

As we whizzed around town, finding our spots, changing shorts quickly for each photograph, I thought about Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider Man, all those who alter their identities for the purpose of serving others. I decided that it wouldn’t be so bad if children saw us changing clothes, because they’d also see us having fun on bikes. Maybe someone years from now will say to them, adults need cars and they will say, adults for sure need pants but cars are optional.

Photos: All pants; John at Blair; Liz changing at Monticello bus station; BC changing at Plum Point.


art said...

Very nice, Liz. Like the connection. It all makes sense now!

--Cap'n F'Artman

kurtz said...

thanks so much for coming out! and i try to encourage All disciplines of bikers to roll. sooner or later they will. hopefully.

kelley said...

"adults sure need pants"...


love this post. I I.D. with the age issue for sure. I was going to go to tour de pants this year, but I had to work all weekend, and it was in the 100s.