I forget now exactly how I ever found out about the Landlords, but it must have had something to do with their book. Even though I eventually got asked to write a eulogy for them, or the club, or it, or whatever thing it was when it disappeared or died or whatever it did, I’m not going to pretend to be able to tell you what was going on with any of it. All I know is that I liked the book, and I thought it was in some crazy way significant. It was mostly a photo book, partly a cultural investigation, in some ways a manifesto, and most likely some kind of joke on the rest of us—though with empathy. As the pre-eminent anthropologist of cycling Mike Spriggs from Gage+Desoto described, “It’s like a history AND a future lesson all in one.” Never did find out who they were, where they went, what they meant.
I caught a wind once, coming home, out of nowhere, best wind of that year for me, a cross-tail, and all around me everything went silent except for my tires on the road, except for the snicking of my chain. I sat up high, with my hands on the tops of the bar, and I breathed deep and pedaled and went fast and listened as hard as I could to nothing. Turned a corner and the wind was gone, and when I turned the next corner that should have brought it back, it was still gone.
I was out once at 5 a.m., foggy and sunny and one of those mornings where I might have been the last cyclist on earth, or the first, or the only ever, and just past the little old cemetery that sits down in a pocket of land that follows the sweep of the singing creek a few valleys away from mine, I looked to the left and saw across a tattered cornfield a big black silhouette of a dog that seemed so feral but so somehow human too that it sent a shiver into my heart, and I stopped pedaling, and I coasted and looked at the dog, and it stood up on its hind legs and watched me pass and I watched it watch me until enough fog came between us that we each vanished for the other. I have never seen such a creature again, never will, anymore than I will ever find that same wind. I rode with Eddy Merckx once, when he was old and just a little fat, but he can never not be Eddy Merckx, and he had his team with him, his boys, the ones who’d ridden his best years with him, Jos Spruyt, and Italo Ziloli, and Jos Huysmans and the rest, and they rode surrounding him and bumping up against him and laughing with him and telling stories with such ease that a little piece of my heart broke because I’d had a chance to see even this shadow of such a thing. I made a jump once in a race, the kind of jump I see real racers make but this time it was mine and I was not witnessing but creating, just this once, and I finished third in a sprint behind two German six-day racers, and afterward my friends all looked at me a little different, and I had known for some time then that there were dogs that could stand up and take a hard look at us, right into us, even if only once, but, still, we can shiver at such things, our hearts can break, we can listen as hard as we can to nothing, and it all vanishes. But it’s okay. We had it. We had it once. We had the Landlords. We had them. Or maybe they had us. Just that one time.
Originally published as Eulogy on the Landlords Cycling site, April 24, 2013.