I don’t know why, I just think this one flat-out works. Maybe it’s the strange dissonance that happens as you think the story is going to turn nostalgic then it looks forward. Or maybe it just works because it’s one of those that does. Super Intern moved to Boulder. I miss him.
My favorite cyclist in the entire world right now is Super Intern, a twenty-something Cat 5 who just joined our local pack this year but can already outclimb and outsprint me. I like him because, forgetting all about age, which is not that important, when it comes to cycling he’s as young as it gets.
Like this: Our boy has a full-carbon, super-zoot Look and a mid-range aluminum Orbea. He kills on the Orbea. He’s faster, snappier, smoother, happier on it, so much so that it’s the bike he chooses to race on. When cyclocross season came around, he was going to sell one of his road bikes to get a cross racer. Easy choice.
“Sell the Look,” I told him.
“But you love the Orbea.”
I began ticking off all the positives he himself attributed to the Orbea. “You’re faster on it. Quicker. With more control. And it’s more comfortable because the fit is somehow better.”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “But I can’t sell the Look. It’s a better bike.”
He’s young that way.
And like this: You can watch him feeling his way into maturity. It’s a visible process, on the bike – as he learned after a month of racing that it wasn’t a good idea to ride out front to “soften up the pack” – and off, as well. He showed up for one of our poker nights thinking that we were there to play cards, when everyone knows you’re going to sit around and insult each other for four hours. A few hands in, Frank the Tank looked over at Supe and smirked. “What,” he snarled at the kid, “are you doing playing cards in a purple shirt?”
“It’s not purple,” said Super Intern. “It’s lavender.”
So you can see the kid needs coaching.
In my own way I tried to help him. “Your wife liked that color when she bought it for him,” I said to the Tank. Other acceptable comebacks, I explained to Supe, would have been to shout, “The real question is what the hell are you doing playing cards with a guy in a purple shirt,” or to simply and elegantly stand and sweep all the chips off the table. “But whatever,” I said, “when someone attacks you got to give it back hard.”
Long minutes passed. Chips were won and lost, shuffled around the table, drinks refilled. Super Intern, nearly making eye contact with the Tank, said, “You’re slow.”
He’s young. He’s so young that he doesn’t know we’re all slow. He’s so young that he thinks because he’s not as slow as me and the Tank that means he’s fast.
And, for some reason, all of that makes me love the kid. It reminds me of when I knew even less about cycling than I know now, but when that felt like a lot. A quarter-century into the sport – more than half my life spent trying to master this damn toy – every time I learn something now, it just shows me much how much more there is that I don’t know. Super Intern loves the sport as I do, yet to him it is not an infinite pursuit but a road arcing out to the horizon, stretching beyond sight sure, but leading, he knows, to someplace he can reach. (And, who knows, he might get there someday.)
Super Intern loves the sport so much he’s worried that taking time off this winter, after the longest and toughest, and most successful, season of his life, might hurt him. He loves the sport so much that he alone of all the new riders who showed up this year has bothered to learn the names of all our routes – including the ridiculously fine distinctions between, say, Powder Valley and Powder Valley Short and Powder-Valley-Buhman and Powder-Valley-Schulz-Bridge – and the wheres and whys of all the stupid traditions inherent in each route: why there are some town signs it’s your duty to sprint for and some that show no class. He’s so young that he not only learned all this stuff, but he cares about it; he thinks it’s important.
Like I said, he’s young in ways that have little or nothing to do with age.
Super Intern is my favorite cyclist not because he reminds me of the past, of who I was. He reminds me, rather, of next season, of the eternal springs to come when, for a few months, a few weeks, a few rides, a few pedal strokes on those first chilly rides on sunny roads, I believe in it all one more time.
Originally published in the November 13, 2006 Sitting In