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On Cycling, Fatherhood, and Wouter Weylandt

May 10, 2011

Today’s ride: 53km—Burlington and home via King Rd.

Weather: Sunny, warm.

A beautiful day for a ride, and I took a late morning and then a light spin out to Burlington and back. It was a great ride in really warm weather (no arm- or leg-warmers; not even a base layer). The whole day was tempered, though, by news—which broke as I reached my coffee shop for a post-ride espresso—that Wouter Weylandt was killed during today’s Giro stage. I won’t go into the particulars here, but there has been an emotional outpouring of sentiments on twitter and various other media sources. This, for example, from American sprinter Tyler Farrar, who lived in Ghent and was very close to Weylandt:

“Wouter was one of the kindest, funniest, and most admirable people I have ever had the opportunity to know and his death is a tragedy to his family, his friends, and to the sport as a whole.”

So, little point in wanting to describe today’s ride with its little adventures and the thought-dreams it provoked. One, though, stands out and is worth sharing. After last week’s flat, I found myself excessively tentative on descents today. The last thing you want is to discover that you do indeed have a puncture while take a turn at speed. There are few things quite like the adrenaline rush of the kind of speed you can build up on a long downhill, and few reminders of your mortality as you see a crack or pothole too late in front of you. Or misjudging your line on a sharper turn. Unaware of Weylandt’s tragedy, I feathered the brakes regularly, sitting up on a couple of descents.

In the final analysis, I suspect I’m not much of a risk-taker. “Sensibly cautious” sounds about right. And a big part of this is the deep sense of connection and identity I associate with being a father to my three children. My littlest (three in a couple of weeks) and I spend an inordinate amount of time together at our local Café Domestique. We started frequenting it shortly after it opened last year, but became regulars during last year’s Giro d’Italia. We would wander down for a coffee and play, timed to catch the end of the day’s stage. Amidst the excitement around the screen, my daughter would invariably throw her hands in the air and shout: “he winned!” While Weylandt’s crash wasn’t a focal point of the television coverage today, I was glad that I was happily oblivious to his fate while riding rather than sitting in the coffee shop with my daughter, me having knocked back my espresso, her nursing her steamed milk (in matching espresso cups). Today was a day of big losses.

According to a few reports I read, Weylandt’s girlfriend is expecting a baby in September. In all of this, this is what got me. While I often entertain vague fantasies of riding every day of the Giro or traveling to Europe and spending weeks climbing the iconic mountains of the Alps or Pyrenees or spinning around Tuscany, these notions are just that: fantasies. Because I am a father and husband first. That’s not a regret by any stretch of the imagination; it’s a statement of fact and source of great happiness to me. Today’s news is a poignant reminder of how good I have it.

Let me try again: I ride for me. I’m not a professional. I ride for pleasure. I don’t race (more on that in a future post). While it’s frequently the source of some frustration, I also have the luxury of being able to put my bike away—not riding on days with bad weather or unsavory conditions. Or on days when I would rather be with my family. Even for me, riding is rarely a source of escapism from the rigors of daily life; I love my daily life, complete with a job that brings me a decent income and satisfaction, but especially with ample time to play with, watch, share, and enjoy my children. It feels incredibly complete. Riding for me is a bonus, a source of exercise, and an opportunity to reflect on how happy/lucky I am. I often pass up rides on days when I’m tired, frustrated, or angry; I don’t ride to escape.

I became a father for the first time almost fourteen years ago. It was the single biggest shift in life I have ever experienced. It remains—and will always be—the best. Reflecting on the immediate aftermath of Wouter Weylandt’s death, this is what saddens me most. For him, to miss out on the longevity of this incredible experience; for his girlfriend and child, to lose a man, who by all accounts was as decent and pleasant as they come.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Troy permalink
    May 11, 2011 3:31 am

    Great read, well done.

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