I have a problem with the word "no." On the other hand, I do not have a problem with the word "yes." Or depending on how you look at it maybe I just have problems all the way around?
I cannot say "no" to anything. This has been a problem in the past. Would I be interested in starting this bike racing team? Travel around the country and race bikes and possibly drink beers with my own band of merry men? Hell Yes! Would I like to go out for drinks? Well, yes, is the appropriate answer to that one as well. Be damned, work, or anything else that should get in the way of these leisurely activities. Should we fly to Panama to go rock climbing for three weeks? The answer, again, was — but of course.
This has also helped me to have some of the best, craziest experiences that one could imagine. They are not all good, that is not the way things work. But they are all something, I know that much to be true.
Without agreeing to certain things you will never find yourself in the back of a pickup truck staring at the Andes over your own shoes (with the caribineros de Chile shaking their fists at you.) You will also probably never find yourself naked from the waist up on an operating table in another in a third world country getting moles removed. One does not blow up boulders with hand molded nitro-glycerin, while chewing cacao, by saying "no thank you." And you certainly can not take shots of tequila from the business end of a glass shotgun by saying "I think I'll pass." Just sayin.
The point of this little word "yes" is to illustrate exactly how I found myself in Bill Strickland's Bicycling Magazine office one fine day early this summer. This, in fact, is where these photos come from. And if you leave me in your office alone, long enough, I will photograph most of it.
His wife Beth had put it to me a few days earlier that I should come down and see the opening night of the Lehigh Valley Velodrome with them. We had just finished up the Rapha East Coast Gentleman's Race (the full video comes out July 1st) and I did not think it fair to say "no" to such a lovely lady after she had just ridden 120 miles. Plus, it was promised that I could see the prestigious offices of Bicycling Magazine, possibly get a little drunk, and definitely enjoy everything that is organic and edible from the food stand at the track. How, pray tell, do you say "no" to something like that? Besides, I had kept the drink going for maybe two, three nights now, what was a little bus ride for one more before returning to the West?
Now, with that being said, there were other things on the agende that I wished to explore while in Emmaus, PA. Neither of them had to do with Mr. Armstrength either. If you know what I mean, well, one of them did, but only in a sort of round about way. A tertiary text that came from the real truth here. Bill Strickland is a writer. And as someone who has the sort of inkling to do the same, well, I wanted to know what it takes, or took. The other? Well, the other is a little harder to pin down than that (because what it takes to be a writer is totally easy to pin down.)
So, that is how I found myself sitting in Bill's office. A little adventure, sure, I'm always up for that….but as far as I knew I was On Assignment, and if I did not keep my wits about me, as I would later see, I would easily be making the half mile trek from the velodrome to a huge house situated a mile down the road.
Now the first thing that we did NOT do upon arriving at the prestigious Bicycling Magazine was to talk about Tour de Lance. The book has been getting reviews all over the board. Mostly good, but there will always be some detractors. And that is fine. The subject, I could care less about, (sorry L, I don't mean that as a direct slam to you, I'm sure you're 'totes aws' [read: totally awesome]) what I was more interested in was the simple fact that a book had been written. Seriously! A whole book. And what's more? It is good. It makes sense. You read it from cover to cover and...wait for it... it tells a story.
I do not know many writers that have written books. (Do I?) A unpublished cycling romance novel, sure. Great rides and routes in the Portland area, yes. Wait, I have to take that back a little bit, my friend Lesley wrote a book called Dear Diary about being an adolescent girl and having a drug habit (or three). So, there is that.
Bill also edited this book On Being a Writer, which, obviously I have become totally fascinated with. Know why? Want to know why? Because, in it, he interviews Tom Robbins. Yes, that Tom Robbins. Tom Fucking Robbins. Remember him? You told that girl that you had a crush on that you actually read Still Life with Woodpecker to impress her, then went out and found it just in case she question you on it? That Robbins.
The first Tom Robbins book I read was Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I stole it from my aunt and read it on the beach (after she finished it of course) and I remember a strangeness coming over me. I was now witness to the world that my parents and their siblings had been/were a part of, but never talked about. For example, if I was off belly down in the sand enjoying HST (Hunter S. Thompson) then they were joking to each other about how cute I was with my new tattoos and quest for edgy writing, all the while gobbling up anything T. Robbins had to offer.
AND Bill was out traveling to Seattle to interview him. Damn, that is what I call a writer. On assignment. For Playboy, or Rodale, or a gunslinger for hire. It does not matter.
He (and we're back talking about Bill here) gets to travel the world and interview cyclists. Or rather stand beside their buses and observe what they're doing. Maybe mark it all down in a notebook, maybe sneak behind a building or two to mark it down in a notebook. But either way - He's Doing It! And I will not ever stop applauding him for that. No matter how much he has resigned himself to not travel this year (I do it out of envy - sorry.)
Rouleur 18 is a pretty damn good example of this. (and if you have made it this far I applaud you). On the first page of writing, in what will go down in history as one of my favorite Rouleur's yet Strickland has written this...
At the finish, I walk among the racers like a human among wraiths, wondering what it means to me, for me, for all of us that they have done this to themselves once again. I don't like to talk to them then, though some of them want to. I watch. I take notes I rarely use. There is almost no way to write it right.And this, is pretty much how I feel every day. I travel to events like the tour of California and get caught up in talking to a bartender that is struggling to comprehend what is happening around her (what? she was cute) or all the way to Ghent to see the fabled Tour of Flanders and am content enough to watch it from the corner of a bar, and then I feel bad about it. But it is writing like this - like the Tour de Lance, or pretty much anything coming from Rouleur (however haughtily) that gives me a little bit of hope.
I guess that is probably what I found that day, sitting with Bill and reading over a cartoon about Lance, pretending that I was helping him edit, while really just wallowing in where I was. Hope. Inspiration. Maybe a touch of nostalgia that left me wondering, "where is this nostalgia coming from?"
And after all that. All that thinking and pondering. Then we went to the Velodrome. Which, I guess is just a nice way of saying 'To Be Continued."