I might like the story about after the story better than the story. I saw Simes, and he said Gibby called him up or emailed him or something in a froth that I had gotten something wrong about the way we talked about the way. Jack told me he’d read it. I never asked if he had. There is some further lesson about the way in all that.
I don’t wear a helmet after the ride is over, even if I’m still riding. Someone pointed this out when we were all coming back through Emmaus today and I had my helmet looped around my stem and hanging off the front of my handlebar like a figurehead on the bow of a ship. I don’t condone, recommend, or understand this behavior, but it is the way I ride.
There are other parts of the way I ride and I am generally unaware of almost all of them, until someone asks about one of them, or talks about it good or bad, or violates one of them knowing or unknowing. The other day, a guy new to the lunch ride, Colin, came out and surged ahead on the first few hills while the rest of us rode and talked, and smiled a little bit at the kid but mostly caught up on each other’s lives and remarked a million times, as cyclists will, on the spectacular blue of the summer sky and the uncanny quality of the crisp air down by where the road followed the creek, and the ordinarities of our days we would otherwise let become buried by the relentless routine of living and never share. We went out again the next day, and Colin went hard at the first real hill and I happened to be beside his boss, and I said, “The kid’s cute.” His boss said, “I think it’s my fault. I told him you were all really fast and he wants to show he belongs.” That makes sense.
But it is not the way.
The way, which is the way only as I understand it — and might not be and probably isn’t any bigger than that but which I am shocked sometimes to realize I am committed to as deeply as anything in my life — is that if you are on a ride with people who you understand to be fast, you ride their pace. If they’re going casual, you go casual. When they go hard, you try to go as hard as them.
I can’t say just when it was that this particular bit of the way became part of who I am. I only know that it is. In fact, for years and years, even as I was absorbing the way, I was unaware of its existence. I do remember the night I learned there was a way. I was at a party and talking to Jack Simes and Gibby Hatton, and they were telling eight million funny and wise stories about bike racing, and while telling one they explained the way to pass someone. I said, “I’d never heard that before.”
A guy was standing with us, a guy the three of us liked okay but didn’t really respect as a bike rider, and I knew it and I felt bad for the guy, and he must have known it and felt bad for himself because he kept saying all these things that were either too solicitous or deliberately naïve or of a level of accomplishment he did not in this group possess. I kept trying to make him feel okay but it wasn’t working. When I said I’d never heard what Simes and Gibby were talking about, the guy looked at me and said, “Bill, are you kidding—that’s just the way you ride.”
Simes has a manner of staring sometimes, of just going quiet, that reminds you who he is. Gibby had sort of clamped down on himself, and his face and body were as if a vise had put something very hard under tremendous pressure. The silence was like an obscenity.
“It is not,” said Gibby, very, very quiet. “Just the way you ride.”
I did not say anything conciliatory this time. I did not say anything.
It was Simes who broke the tension. He waved his hand between the four of us and said, “It’s the way . . . It’s the way of . . .” He laughed, which is not a short laugh but a linked rising and falling series of huh-huhs. I leaned in. I had a sense something I would want to hear was about to be spoken.
“It’s the way,” Simes said, “of the way.”
On the hill that second day, Matt Allyn and I rode up to Colin and passed him and dropped him and pedaled beside each other to the crest without mentioning the kid or really thinking much about what we’d done, and although we kept going faster and faster neither of us attacked the other because without knowing why we knew exactly what to do.
I don’t know all of the way, or where it is going or where it began. I know who is off it. I generally know who has a chance to find it, though I have been mistaken plenty about that. I know that you find it by paying attention to the people who have been on it before you. I know that the way I ride is the way I live, or else the way I live is the way I ride—I don’t know anymore except to know that the two are bound. I know the way of the way is real, though I don’t know if it is important, or if it will survive long, or if many people care about it anymore. I know I’m on it. And I know I’m thankful to be so.
Originally published in The Selection, August 16, 2013