Back when I was a kid, riding a bike was a rite of passage. Something that you started to do when you were between 6 and 8 in order to get to the neighbor's house faster, or to go all the way down the block without having to bug Mom or Dad to drive you the .01 mile it would take. For some of us, when we got a little older, it became a way to go to and from school, without having to sit on the bus with all the younger kids or the bullies, and we got to wave coolly, passing the bus, knowing we were free from any establishment-imposed schedule.
Of course, for most of us in the Fairfield County area, by the time we were 16, our eyes were set on getting our driver's license and being able to shuttle around our friends, laughing at the poor Freshman and Sophomores that had to bike to and from places, while we jetted about in four-walled contraptions that made sad excuses for cars.
Once college came around, we were back to bi-pedaling, as cars didn't cut it on the cobbled pave-ways that wove in between dorms and department buildings. Or, worse yet, were banned for those of us until we were seniors. But it was the cool thing to do, especially if you had the oldest bike, that you could spray paint and decorate with as many indie band and club opening stickers as humanly possible. And, for those of us who went to Oberlin College, knowing that it would likely be sacrificed to the bicycle gods in a ball of fire otherwise known as the Bike Derby. (Those were the days... )
Perhaps it was at this point in some of our lives when we made the subconscious shift from riding a bike to becoming a "cyclist". There's nothing wrong with riding a bike. I do it every day when I commute to work. It's a utility. A mode of transportation.
I think, some of us may be genetically predisposed to being a "cyclist," or, more accurately, a "Cycling Nut". Like a shark who can chill out at the bottom of the ocean until that one whiff of a blood droplet, pupils dilate, adrenaline rushes, and all of a sudden, we are transformed. Those who ride a bike cruise around, having a blast. But those who cross over into the Cycling Nut category salivate. Of course, it's also the stuff that makes our mothers' worst nightmares come true. Everything she warned us about - from the dangers of running with scissors, to not swimming right after eating, to looking both ways before you do anything and slow and steady will win the race - goes out the window once the Cycling Nut inside emerges. And she's left at home praying the Cycling Nut comes to their senses.
Whereas most normal people would see a crash, searing skin into pavement as a bad thing, as a painful thing, the road Cycling Nut secretly looks forward to the opportunity to become one with the street, shredding their chamois, seeping blood, and getting back on the bike to prove to the other Cycling Nuts that it was "merely a flesh wound." The Cycling Nut rides despite bad weather - a thunderstorm? Spontaneous lighting and a killer soundtrack. Snow? One less reason to have to chill the water in the bladder pack. Heat wave? And excuse to ride around with the jersey unzipped, as though mounting Ventoux after hammering for 100 miles at a Lance-like cadence.
For the mountain Cycling Nut, of course, the badges of honor just get grittier. Crashing sternum to handlebar on the verge of toppling down a ravine? Affirmation of life. Looking at a drop that a normal person would have the sudden urge to build a barrier to prevent innocents from falling to their doom? Killer descent, without even DREAMING of using brakes - front or back.
In fact, the mountain Cycling Nut reminds me of a song we used to sing at camp, "Going on a Lion Hunt." There's a point in the song where certain things get in the way... "Uh oh! There's mud ahead! Can't go over it! Can't go under it! Can't go around it! We'd better go through it!" And so it goes with a lake, a gate, tall grass, a mountain, a cave, etc. Clearly, the difference between the lion hunter and the mountain Cycling Nut is that the lion hunter uses reason. It won't try and go over or through the closed gate. It will go around the lake, and not through it. The mountain Cycling Nut? Watch them bunny hop onto the wall next to the gate, bouncing over the top, and shooting down the other side.
The good news, however, about cycling, is that we don't have to choose whether or not we fit into the bike rider, cyclist, or Cycling Nut category. It naturally self-sorts. Or, what's even more fun, is when we notice we evolve from one and to the other. Take it from me...
My name is Rica Mendes. I am a cycle-holic. I'm a former bike rider turned cyclist turned Cycling Nut... can't wait for the sprained back to heal enough so I can get back to training for my mountain bike races and my century rides... oh, and riding my bike to and from work, too... don't worry, Mom, I've got my life insurance up-to-date!
Little plug: If you liked reading this blog and want to keep me riding this year, or sponsor a race I'm doing this year, please consider making a donation to my LIVESTRONG Challenge Account. Yes, that's for real - I'm trying to raise $25,000 by September 30. Every bit counts - any donation - large or small - is appreciated.