Contributed by Author & Terry Ambassador, Haven Lindsey.
If you are familiar with The Velveteen Rabbit, the book written more than 100 years ago by Margery Williams Bianco, you may relate to the notion of when inanimate objects become Real. In the story the Skin Horse explains to the Velveteen Rabbit what it’s like to become Real…
My bike is Real. I just learned that recently when I took it into my local bike shop for a much-needed tuneup. Having lived and ridden at or near sea level for all of my life, that is no longer the case. I now live in the high desert climate of northern New Mexico which means it is dry and arid. At 8,000 feet, the air is thin, which makes it harder to breathe. We receive more sun-filled days than Florida and being that much closer to the sun means it can feel hot as blazes in the summer. All of those factors combine to make cycling challenging. Tired of struggling on climbs on my well-worn and much-loved bike, I took it into the shop thinking I needed a new chain. “Surely, that will help,” I thought. I was partially right.
I had called the shop in advance to make sure they could take it right away—otherwise, I would continue to clunk along on it until they could turn it around quickly. I had planned to drop it off prior to going on a two-day trip and figured I could pick it up on my way back home. The shop owners thought the same thing. I confidently rolled the bike in and walked up to the counter where the owners and employees were helping customers and servicing bikes. Initially, we talked about the tune-up and the fact that I wanted new grip tape for the summer riding season. They asked all the right questions. I responded with all the right answers. I also described my struggle getting over the “hills” as they are called here, or as the rest of the world calls them, mountains.
The owner put my bike on the rack to inspect the chain and as he studied it, he looked up at me with a slight, almost sly grin on his face, “This bike has been through a lot.” I smiled and replied, “And I’ve been right there with it.”
Within minutes, all three employees were standing around my bike with what I think, was a new-found respect. And then that’s when it happened. As they turned the wheels and tested the gears of the bike that had been ridden, worn, and loved, I realized that somewhere along the way, my bike had become Real. My best friend. My most trusted companion.
As I watched the gurus talk, I became aware of what I was experiencing about my bike. I felt a sense of pride for the thousands of miles we had ridden in Maine, Vermont, North Carolina, and Texas. I remembered the unfortunate crashes. One in particular when I had gone head over heels over a guard rail and the first thing I asked when I sat up covered in dust and weeds with a bloody knee, was “Is my bike okay?”. I thought about the group rides I had participated in—the times I had been dropped by the peloton and the times I was the one who broke away. I thought of the hours spent with it on the trainer, listening to loud music on some rides and pedaling in silence on others.
It was then that the bike shop owner, almost like a surgeon who had consulted with his medical team, walked over and said, “I think we can help you.” By the time I walked out, I had agreed to the bike version of open-heart surgery.
My assertion about the chain had been correct—I needed a new one. But both the bike and I needed more than that to successfully tackle the “hills.” A complete overhaul was agreed upon, including a new cassette with one additional gear—a lower one that I could use for uphill riding.
The bike version of open-heart surgery can take some time. New parts had to be ordered and during the extended time my bike was in the shop, the owners checked in with me to assure me the parts were being shipped and they would call me the moment it was ready. Each time they called I had a feeling that they somehow recognized that this bike, my bike, was Real.
The thing about being Real is, as the stuffed animals in the children’s story discovered, it cannot be manufactured. Real is real. Real is authentic. And cycling is no different. If you’ve ridden your bike on those days when the Chamber of Commerce would never consider photographing because the weather is so snotty, or on those days when it feels like there is a headwind in every direction, or on those days when you don’t feel like riding but you don’t feel like not riding, you understand how a bike can become Real.
I’ve ridden in beautiful weather when the bright, white clouds seem to be playing music above my head. On days like that, it feels like my bike and I are dancing—we’re playing and doing what we were meant to do. Those vacation-like rides are every bit as authentic as the rides where we suffer. I once rode my bike on what appeared to be brand new pavement, its shiny, smooth surface beckoning me to accelerate—until I realized that the asphalt, under the hot North Carolina sun, had not yet solidified. It was gooey and gummy. My bike and I may as well have been insects stuck to sticky tape. I also once bonked so bad riding in Texas that my hamstrings cramped and I had to be driven home—hiding my bike in the shrubs until I could go back and pick it up. I’ve ridden with a broken foot and a broken heart—both healed with time and miles (the heart took longer to heal).
All of these experiences resulted in my bike becoming Real. But the bike wasn’t the only thing that transitioned. I became Real too. The highs and the lows on a bike, just like the highs and lows in life, are the experiences that are there to teach us if we are willing to listen. Being Real stays with you. If you’re Real on your bike, you’re Real everywhere else. When you’re Real you attract Real. Relationships with spouses, partners, friends, colleagues, and even strangers, exist on a deeper level. Real isn’t on the surface, it’s a few layers down.
My bike survived its open-heart surgery and together, we are once again tearing up the roads of northern New Mexico, the new cassette and lower gear are being put to good use. My bike doesn’t have a lot of miles left on it and is destined to someday become my ‘trainer-only’ ride, bike retirement, I suppose. In time there will be another bike that will likely become Real too. After all, when you are Real the things around tend to do the same.
To read more of Haven Lindsey’s work, please visit her website: 4havensake.com