He moves through life at a steady cadence. I've heard people refer to him as a machine. Is this a compliment? As cyclists, aren't we all machines? We attach to the pedals and become an extension of gears and cranks. We aim for that consistent cadence. We are shaped by every pedal stroke.
My father has definitely been shaped mentally and physically by revolutions of the crank. Looking back, I also feel defined by the miles he pedaled.
Two distinct sounds marked my childhood mornings: Dad's spoon clinking in his cereal bowl and the "pshish pshish" of his bicycle pump. Whether it was a weekday or the weekend, he awoke early. Before his eight-hour workday, he would add miles and miles to his morning commute. No matter how bad or good his workday turned out, he knew his day was productive. Before the sun awakened his miles were in.
Those early rises never adversely affected our family. Asleep we did not realize he was up early for us. Even though he weekly tacked on hundreds of miles, he was never missing.
And now I rise early.
I like as many of my miles to be invisible as possible. I've learned that letting my riding interfere with my family life is not an option. This doesn't mean all of my miles are done in the dark. The majority are just ridden at convenient times for my family.
Being up before the sun is an enjoyment that we should all experience. Seeing the sun burst through the trees is worth the loss of sleep. Riding before the day throws its little curveballs our way, ensures us our ride will not be stolen by the day's inconsistencies.
He thrives on the inconsistencies of his rides, in particular, the hills. A story he likes to tell is about a hill, the steepest and longest hill in my hometown. As a teenager I would ride with him sporadically. On one of these sequestered rides, we ended with this hill. I was suffering, ready to get off and walk my bike. Roaring up the hill, Dad looked over his shoulder to see if I was doing the same.
"What is the point?" I asked, only half expecting an answer.
I don't remember his reaction, but I'm sure it matches the reaction he has when he relates the story. His eyes squint, his lips tighten and a shot of breath comes out as he holds back a laugh.
I moved to topographically challenged terrain. Flatland is the name of the game, so I've needed to map out my rides to make sure I hit hills.
When I visit him, our rides are peppered with inclines and declines. I try to stay on his tire when he charges the hill. The key word being "try." He'll look back to see how I'm doing. I nod and blow the sweat of my upper lip. Now I understand the "point."
Sweat is cool. Not enough people understand this vital truth. After a hard ride, my dad would sit on the steps, shooting snot rockets and glurping phlegm from his throat. His jersey would be marbled with salt stains, his cheekbones caked in white and sweat ran from the tip of his nose. I remember searching my shirt after a good day of BMX riding or running around, but I never found the salt.
Later, I realized I wasn't riding far enough. You don't get those stains on a five-mile ride. You need to earn them. Sweat is a medal of honor after a long ride.
Dad didn't share many negative stories about his rides. There were the flats. But one flat tire on a ride was not worthy of complaint. After two or more, though, we heard about it.
I remember thinking, "Flat tires can't be that bad." I even remember the excitement of my first one, thinking that it was a rite of passage. If a flat tire happens at a good time it's no big deal, but they never happen at the right time.
We had been riding for more than five hours when my friend got a flat. I sat on the side of the road watching him fumble with his tube. While mosquitoes took turns spearing the back of my neck, I thought about how much I wanted a cold beer and a warm bath. The flat was a negative. There's no thrill in flats anymore.
Recently, we had a family reunion in Madison, Wisconsin. I brought my bike and dad brought his. We rode 40 miles together one afternoon. We fought the wind, climbed some decent hills, had no flat tires and left sweat, rubber and stress out on the roads we covered. I spent the majority of the ride keeping up with the two pistons in front of me.
Clint Cherepa is currently doing volunteer work in Nicaragua when not writing and running. He has yet to find a decent bike, but awaits returning to Wisconsin for some humbling rides with his father.
- Meeting a need for singletrack in metro Milwaukee
- Can't stop ... too often
- Beware the lever
- A stout St. Patrick's Day Ride
- The difference a fat bike can make
- Cycling trainers
- Two cheers (per bike) for the Midwest Tandem Rally
- Midwest mountain bikers unite!
- Moby Hill
- Standing on the pedals vs. sitting on the saddle