- By Michael F. Kelly
With the cycling season coming to an end, I’ve started to think about time passed and time remaining: of endings and beginnings. Last night my cycling friend Brian told me he was changing jobs. He’s going up to Evanston to work. This means we won’t be seeing as much of each other. We won’t share rides together, won’t have long conversations anymore, won’t pull each other through the wind anymore. Of the many things cycling has given to me, friendship is often overlooked.
Like most men my age (at 44 I figure I’m in or near middle age) we don’t have many friendships with other men that share our interests. After work, I spend my free time with my wife and family, leaving time for little else. I love the guys I work with, but if I see them socially we usually end up talking about work.
Seeing people socially generally means drinking, and while I still drink , my days making an impression in a bar stool are long gone – and I don’t care. Life is too short to waste a day with a hangover, fitness too perishable to bruise. I’m not a kid anymore. Cycling has brought a freshness to my life, a chance to meet men with a shared interest outside of work and family and saloons.
At the weekly races many of the same faces show up. When I first started racing I got dropped repeatedly. I’d arrive in silence, get dropped, and leave in silence. It was lonely. Feeling like a high school geek, I thought I was being avoided. I wasn’t. I was suffering in silence while the others, all with more experience, were suffering more publicly. I wasn’t yet in their orbit. Two things happened: I didn’t quit and I got better.
As I started challenging for higher positions I got noticed more, hellos and goodbyes started. After winning a couple times my world started opening up and friendships started developing. Men meeting to compete don’t emote too much, our defenses don’t come down too quickly. There’s the friendly, “hey, how are you doing”, or “you like your Ksyriums?,” but often there are uncomfortable silences.
I want to say something, I want to reach out, tell a joke, bond, but I can’t find the language. Don’t know what to do. I know the others are feeling what I’m feeling. We rely on clichйs because we don’t know what else to say. It took some work but a closeness developed. The guys that keep coming back share the same passion and they suffer equally. Small inroads are made, we talk about our bikes. I use first names right away. I’ll compliment Bill on his strength today. I’ll thank Brian for pulling week in and week out. Ask Christian how his wife is doing.
We’re men, we act funny together (at least that’s what my wife says), but once the race is over, once we know and feel safe with each other, we have a chance of being friends.
Last night as the race was ending the setting sun cast an unusual red light. It had the feel of autumn. Another year was ending and I assuredly wasn’t getting younger (where will I find my legs next Spring?). With my tank on ‘E’, I was feeling vulnerable and felt a sadness that the season was ending, and we wouldn’t see each other for many months. We were all going back to our jobs, our wives and our honey-dos. I’m gonna really miss these guys.
Michael F. Kelly lives on the far South Side of Chicago in an Irish neighborhood called Beverly. “Contrary to what everyone around here thinks, I was born and raised in Denver and came to Chicago after college (I blame you O’Hollearn). I commute into the city on my fixed gear Masi, and race my Merckx.”
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