Two Wheeled Musings

Words by Paul De Valera

My bicycle is my best friend, my only true ally in this world. My bicycle will never betray me. Though it may break and throw me off into a bush or get a flat and make me push it now and again, it won’t ever work toward my undoing — not intentionally, that is.

My bicycle is always there when I need it, and as long as I take care of it, the bike will take care of me. By using my bicycle, I get to go places, see things and travel under my own power. Powering myself makes me empowered. My mind becomes sharper and my body stronger. By using a bicycle I become a better person, a stronger person. The bicycle is a stalwart companion when all of my human interactions have failed me again for the umpteenth time; when tears race down my face as I pedal to the top of a mountain, each pedal stroke has a leveling effect, bringing me back to balance. All the sense of loss, hurt and anger created in this world are pedaled out. My bike is propping me up when, if left alone to my own strength, I would be in a fetal position.

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When I’m troubled, the bicycle unravels mental and emotional knots, helps to solve problems and keep me even-keeled. There could be times when you can’t articulate what is wrong, but your bicycle won’t care; it will just be a good friend to you and take you on your way for as long as you need. It has eternal patience. When my father died and I was sobbing out of my head with grief, I shunned the comfort of my family and got on my bike. I rode and rode and even pushed up a few peaks. As I kept pedaling, I processed my whole life experience, and before I knew it, I felt better because I had my best friend ever to lean on: my bicycle.

Every other morning, I try to get up and to the top of the mountain as the light of day is just glancing over the horizon. There is nothing like getting to the summit of a lonely peak and being greeted by a sunrise; it never fails to put a smile upon my face. While you can try to sum up life in trite little pithy sayings that can be slapped on a bumper sticker, these little things here on my bike are really what, to me, build up a good life worth living. And while I can’t remember every sunrise, I can remember the place it takes me, and that is what always brings me back.

There is a tree that I like to ride to; it’s a lonely tree on a fire road that has become my quiet place. When I get there I just take a moment to soak in the quiet. I don’t need to stay long — just a taste is all. The sounds of traffic, phones, endless talking and noise to no end will always be, but for now, right now, it’s just me, my bicycle and my quiet place.

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One day it will be gone. Even though I’m strong now, one day I won’t be. I burn, yet one day I will be burnt. I intend to ride long hours into my long years, but I will not be blowing past carbon fiber wonder bikes uphill on a 44-pound cruiser forever. The day will come when I can’t ride like I used to, and the day will come when the trail is just a memory and no longer a daily plan. So I ride.

Ultimately, it comes down to love. Riding a bike, for me, is love, and I can never love enough. One day I will be old and wrinkled; I will have lots of white hair and many, many well-used, well-loved bicycles with scratches, rust and bald tires. But I will know that I did what I did out of love. I will look back at all of those rides without regret. So never make an excuse to not ride; make an excuse to go. You’ll never regret the choice.

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Essay: Finding home by bicycle

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I realize it seems odd to live near some of the country’s greatest mountains—mountains that enticed me to move here to begin with—and to spend my summer weekends running away from their cool-air majesty. In the sweltering heat of the lower, rolling corners of Colorado that don’t appear on tourist websites or Strava segments, I am finding a little taste of Texas.

I am not interested in moving back to the Lone Star State, but lately I find myself searching for small tastes of the place I still reflexively call “home.” Things like good Mexican food from colorful hole-in-the-wall restaurants that don’t have English translations on the menu but do have tributes to the late singer Selena on the wall. Things like endless rolling hills crossed by low-trafficked roads that wind up, over and around farm and ranch country, all drenched in a hazy blue sky that affords sunburns, 50-mile views and plenty of space to think big and feel small.

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The former is somewhat hard to find, so I learned to make my own homemade flour tortillas and annually import special meat seasonings (via my mom when she comes to visit). The latter is what I have lately been after on my bike, which means eschewing Colorado’s famed mountain routes and driving sometimes two hours in search of the unloved barrenness of plains and plateaus. And I’ve been wondering why I’m doing it.

Those tastes are not inconsequential and, though I did not really intend to seek such experiences, the search seems well underway. The Hill Country north of San Antonio is where I cut my teeth as a bicycle lover. I jumped straight from learning to ride late in life (age 10) to placing third in the elementary school bike rodeo to 30-, 40-, 50-mile road rides far from home as a teenaged cyclist. For some reason, I have missed those long, rambling, head-clearing days on the bike.

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Last weekend, I found one of those rides an hour from home: 50 miles of dirt roads that drift straight and narrow through the low hills southeast of Denver. Gradual climbs and descents punctuated by occasional short steeps are well familiar, as are the strong smells of cow manure, the summer sounds of frogs and crunching gravel, the need to hold your breath as a truck pulling a horse trailer barrels by (don’t want to breathe in too much dust) and the sanity-questioning intensity of riding through the middle of the day sans shade. The only things unfamiliar were the clusters of pine trees and, on the return trip, the stunning view of Pike’s Peak shrouded in thunderstorms.

On roads straight and brown and sweet-smelling as a raw two-by-four, you can do quite a lot of thinking. Or not. I believe that’s the point. The time in my life when I was disappearing on long road rides in central Texas coincided with upheaval, growth, questioning (my teenaged years, remember). At 30, I don’t share the same life angst felt by my high school self, but I am again at a point in life requiring persistent deep thought.

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I am certain that is what has triggered the intense desire for these types of bike rides. Physically, I have no need to go home. Mentally, I have every need to go home to the types of places where I remember doing my best thinking, and that means riding through my memories on roads like the ones I explored in my youth. No other activity grants me such access to both the past, present and future all at once, while giving me time to think about it all in cadence with my physical self. Pedal strokes align with breaths align with miles align with thoughts.

It’s a big part of why I love to ride.

 

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