A Shadow of My Former Self

We all get older, what with time remaining steadfastly unidirectional, and wear and tear eventually becoming worn and torn. The photo above is of me, on this morning’s gravel ramble, about 20 minutes in, when I asked my companions if we could stop and stretch for a minute. I’m not actually on the verge of death there (at least no more than usual), I’m just trying to get my lower back to release momentarily, so I can seize it up again.

To say that I’m a shadow of my former self too neatly encapsulates a process I’m sure many of you are familiar with. There are days when I flirt with fitness, form, and function to a degree that possibly rivals the normal state of affairs when I was, say, 28. The decline isn’t linear. It’s gradual but also circuitous. We are gifted good days, and we know, now, to appreciate them.

This is the wisdom of experience, if not always age.

Which brings me to another way in which I’m a shadow of a former self, one I’m more ok with.

Padraig and I worked on Red Kite Prayer for about a decade. Before I say anything else, I want to say it’s mostly work I’m proud of. I learned an awful lot, became a better writer, connected with a lot of readers, got to be close friends with Padraig, and had a lot of fun along the way. When Padraig suggested shutting down RKP to start The Cycling Independent, I didn’t initially see the point. In my mind, I’d just keep writing and doing my thing, and I didn’t mind how that was presented very much.

But the pivot to TCI was actually big and important and here’s why:

Red Kite Prayer billed itself as “The Soul of Cycling.” We were writing about cycling for “hardcore cyclists.” I engaged a tendency toward the inside joke, the secret handshake, and the celebration of the obscure habits of only the most serious pedallers. In retrospect, I think this was a manifestation of both a fascination with the arcane aspects of bike riding, but also some imposter syndrome, some insecurity. I spent a lot of that decade burrowing into the culture to be able to prove that I belonged there. And if the upshot of that was just that I was demonstrating the fragility of my ego, then no big deal. I see it now for it was, and I’ve moved on.

But it was more than that.

TCI’s tagline is, “If you ride bikes, you’re one of us.” This is a conscious rejection of insiderness, an acknowledgement that all the old inside jokes don’t achieve our real goal, which is to welcome as many people into our cycling world as possible. Tell a more inclusive, less serious story about cycling, and maybe more riders will feel right identifying as cyclists. It’s a shift in tone both towards readers and towards ourselves. I am trying to take myself much less seriously and trying to make cycling much less precious.

I am a work in progress in all regards. Day-by-day now I’ll get fitter. I’ll get closer to whatever I used to be, even if I’m never quite that again, and I’ll get better at making room for people to join our cycling community, even if sometimes I fall back on old habits.

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  1. johnrom719 says

    Hi Robot, great essay here. Yes, esoterica appeals to our exclusive sides. Understanding insider stuff “proves” we belong, but also draws a sharp line between us and the outsiders. As we mature (or at least age) both you and I have decided to work on erasing the line.

    This proffers a question: how shall we refer to ourselves? Apparently ‘cyclist’ is perceived as a hardcore racer type while a ‘bicyclist’ is a regular person who rides bikes. This came up in our local club when we were expanding our constitutional purpose to include support for commuting. Does the language matter? Is this a distinction without a difference? Maybe a good paceline pull.

    John, Romans 7:19

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      John, I love it. I’m in. Tune in this week for inconclusive prattling about words and meanings.

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