Thursday, December 24, 2009

Reason for the Cycling Season

21 December 2009, Norfolk, VA, 0700 hours. Sun prepares to take on a chilly day, to carry out the task of feeding the cold shaded Santa Cruz steel and Salsa aluminum with covering of self. The Earth’s bereaved axis is celebrated at the dawn of Winter Solstice, an event important enough to have the manger moved from Harvest, perfecting the image of humanity’s cold reception of the Christ Child, at least to those in the Northern Hemisphere. Hanukkah Menorah candles are all lit, casting twilight as thick drapery on a clear Norfolk sky, the orange and aqua fabric of Kwanzaa waiting folded at the foot of the expectant Elizabeth River, ready to unravel to the cadence of longer days to come.

It’s exactly as he envisioned it, Wes Cheney told me. He would shoot footage for a cycling film at Plum Point Park, a riverside park appropriately accessible only by way of a bicycle path. The location has view of both Eastern and Western sky, situated to easily capture the sun’s shortest stay from sun up to sun down. One camera in a tree, another on the ground, one strapped to his head, one in Wes’s tight grip, all set to document the sun’s royal-late 7:14 am appearance and deadening 4:52 pm fall. The plan quite simply was to interview cyclists at the park all day, framing his subjects in the shadow box of background sun. Wes would look at all the footage and interviews later to see what themes emerged, how it all fit together. Because somehow it must all fit together, the shortest day of the year and the cycling experience. The interviews would pivot on the essential question, “Why do you ride?” a question I thought too simplistic when he first told me. Too simplistic of course until I tried to answer it.

Why do I ride? Because it satisfies the need for adventure. Because it keeps me in shape. Or better, because it beats my body into submission. Because it’s social. Keeps me sane at work. Because it makes me fight. Or does it actually keep me from fighting? Because I have to. Because it defines who I am. Or more simply, I ride therefore I am? To prepare to race. To get out of the house. Or do I ride to find a home? I knew I would not have an answer ready by December 21, because I decided my response is as fluid as the sun and pinpointing a reason was better suited to those who count cadence, monitor their heart rates and keep training calendars. I assume they say, “I ride because I’m an athlete and need an outlet,” but I can’t avoid the fact it begs the question “Why am I an athlete?”

I arrived shortly before Noon to find all cameras perched in position and Wes fumbling with fire on a small Coleman camp stove. “Want some hot cider?” he asked. I accepted awkwardly, thinking I should have brought him lunch since he was confined to the park all day. Before sipping, I handed him the batteries and headset he had ordered when I called to ask what he may need out there. I felt happy to contribute and happier even that the cider was spiked. We laughed at the prospect of Norfolk police showing up to order the fire snuffed and the alcohol disposed since only bicycle cops can access the park. “It would be the perfect opportunity to interview bike cops,” Wes joked.

In the Noon exposure to cloudless big bright sky, “Why do I ride” felt trite, meaningless, something that people would look upon with that “would you grow up” mentality. God, family, work in that order, cycling being an idol and distraction if elevated to the philosophical status implied in the question and filming. I remember a few years ago as I interviewed people about cycling for a feature story, I spoke with Wil Harville for over an hour on the phone about different aspects of cycling on Virginia Beach roads. I thought we had exhausted the topic, but he called me back the next day with a statement that summarized, or should I say superseded all that we had discussed. He said that to many cyclists he knows, the sport is so very important that it’s equal to religious experience. Was that most honest answer of all? I ride because. . . it’s my religion. I wondered how that would sound on film. I think about how NFL football is religious experience to so many, often shrouded in the God-family-work paradigm. Reverence to sport is a long established substitute for “religion” casting questions on what the word religion even means. Could cycling be yet another major world religion that orbits Winter Solstice?

So the sun in its glory represents a new beginning, long nights holding hope hostage. The lengthening days bring renewed progress, life and longer cycling days to come. I decided that my answer to “Why do you ride” changes every day, so it may be fun just to lie. I said to the camera that I ride for a different reason every day, and on that very Solstice, I was riding to get out of cell phone range. Wes asked what my favorite ride is, and I answered Ironcross, the longest Cx race in USA. He asked where I am going to ride in 2010, and I said I wanted to return to Colorado because “It’s gotta be done” as Ali Ingram would say.

Images above: 1--Wes interviews Sally 2--Wes interviews "Kick Stand" 3--Sunset over Elizabeth River 4--handcrafted sundial shows Noon shadow.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I ride because it's perfect, because it's there for me, and it always accepts me for who I am.


Liz Schleeper said...

That's a great answer!

Anonymous said...

you bring a smile tomy face, Liz. -Wes.