Last Friday I finally dragged myself into the cold, cold night and rolled with the East Bay Bike Party. I had been out of the scene for months, for no good reason other than being extremely lazy and afraid of the cold. But a good friend is leaving next month for a two year stint in the Peace Corps, and this was her last one, so I layered up, swallowed my overwhelming desire to just read a book, and rode into Oakland to meet up with the crew. Because it’s winter right now, the ride is smaller (about 300 people, or so), but still chalk full of weirdness, costumes, good music, yelling, drinking, and dancing. Sign me up!
Somehow, in the intervening months, I had forgotten just how much I like Bike Party. Its such a silly concept, and sort of a bad idea, if you think about it. But that is what makes it so truly wonderful. One of my most constant struggles with cycling is not forgetting what got me into a saddle in the fist place. For many years, I was a competitive swimmer. I loved being in the water far more than I loved being anywhere else, so my family very rightly thought this would be a good activity for me to pursue. But in this shift, I got further and further away from why I loved being in the water in the first place. Even still, there is a very strong urge to swim laps, not just float or tread or play in the water – no matter how many water noodles are sitting around. It is difficult for me to remember how to play, which makes me very, very sad. I hear the way I have started talking about cycling – everything exists in miles, cadence, soreness, grades, and suffering. At the risk of being inflammatory, I will admit that I think I sound a little bit like a douche bag. Bike Party is a wonderful way to break the spell of my own hype and return to the more playful aspects of my avocation. If something is going to consume this much of my life, I better damn well remember why I like it.
Bike Party isn’t about miles. It isn’t about politics, or cadence, or suffering. Its about remembering how to play, on your bike. Remembering what it feels like to ride free, though the night – sometimes with hundreds of strangers, sometimes on the solo ride home on empty streets that for only a second, you own completely. It’s about standing up on your pedals to shake your ass to a good song, having a dance party the only way you can while cruising down a street. I will beat back the hard line training rhetoric in favor of loosening up once and a while – that silliness is the larger part of my nature and to harness it in the service of these newly embraced challenges is, I think, the thing that will save me.
A concrete example I can provide comes in the form of the above picture. The legs you see are mine – this photo was taken in Point Richmond, at the mid-point of a short 18 mile out-and-back. The shorts you see over the lycra are also mine, and they are covered in mustaches. Yes. Mustaches. I wear mustache boxer shorts over my kit sometimes for no other reason than because I think that shit is hilarious. Other cyclists are often confused by it, sometimes affronted. But I can tell you this; when I’m climbing, wishing I was anywhere else, I can look down at my legs (which I often do in times like those), and derail my mind from the “what the hell am I doing here?….This is awful….I should just give this shit up right now” track, and interrupt the feedback loop with “oh. look. mustaches!”. This tactic may only work because I have the attention of a house cat when I’m riding, but I think this is how it needs to be.
I cannot say enough about play. There is tremendous value to me in discovering something, anything, new and exciting that challenges the way I see or engage the world around me. But there is something even more inherently wonderful in the rediscovery of something – particularly when that rediscovery restores the shininess of joy to something that has become tarnished by the seriousness of my own obsession.