Thursday, August 2, 2012

In which A Man Called Horse ruins my life

I'm not very happy with my cycling buddy A Man Called Horse* right now. He broke the "if something isn't broken, don't fix it" rule. In fact, I'd go so far as to say he willfully messed with the order of the Universe, and now he’s I'm going to suffer the consequences. I warned him, and he did it anyway, and I'm not happy.

Last summer A Man Called Horse and I rode the bike trails together a lot. He said I was the only one crazy enough to ride with him in the 100-degree temperatures the Midwest enjoyed much of the summer. We'd ride 25 or more miles in the blistering heat, soaked through with sweat, a layer of bugs stuck to our skin. We were a perfect match, and not just because we both like riding when the weather man tells us to stay in at the risk of heat stroke.

The real reason we rode so well together is because my bike is amazing -- light, responsive, fast, built for a woman's body -- and A Man Called Horse's bike was a serious piece of shit. He rode an old mountain bike, too small for him, with gears that only rarely worked. He probably could have gotten a little more out of it, but he doesn't think to pump up his tires. I'm just going to say it: I kicked his ass every time we rode.

Or I would have, except I rode slower so he could keep up. Sometimes he had to ask me to slow down, but for the most part, I didn't ride ahead of him ..... OK, a few times I might have mocked him and said something slightly snarky clever like, "Why can't you keep up with me, old man?" Or, during his crazy vegan period, "How about I put a piece of bacon on a stick and hold it out in front of your face while I ride ahead of you? Would that make you ride faster?" Witty, but not insulting.

See, A Man Called Horse isn't an old man. He's younger than I am (fuck no, I'm not saying how much younger) and he's in much better shape. In fact, he does all kinds of crazy shit to challenge himself. Like, he'll go out and live in the woods for several weeks with nothing more than a clothespin and a piece of string in his pocket. In the winter. Or he'll rappel off bridges at night in the city, and run away from the cops through drainage ditches and creeks. And the reason I call him A Man Called Horse? Watch the movie. He's got the scars to prove it.

So for me to kick his ass in any physical activity is ridiculous. Ludicrous. Impossible. And yet, I really did kick his ass all summer and on into the fall on the bike trail -- all because of my fine, fast bike. But not because I could ever really kick his ass at any physical activity.

It drove him nuts. He had to stand up on his pedals half the time, even as he knew I was riding slower than I needed to. I can't count how many times he wheezed groaned said, "I hate your fucking bike." But he'd rationalize it by saying if he rode a shitty bike in the hardest gear, he'd be in that much better shape when he finally bought a good bike. And I supported him.

I told him not to buy a good bike or he'd get fat and lazy. I told him his bike was just fine, and it suited him. He's not a guy who cares about owning lots of fancy things. I strongly encouraged him to just keep his crappy bike and try to keep up with me so he could build stamina, lose weight, and maintain humility. I supported him in every way I could.

See, I am a good riding buddy even when I'm kicking ass. And I thought A Man Called Horse was too. I thought he was a man who enjoyed challenging himself. I thought he was a man who wanted to push his physical limits to the max. I thought he was a humble man who could tolerate getting his ass kicked by a woman .... but no. I was so wrong.

On our first ride this year he showed up on a new bike $50 bike he’d bought at a flea market. He probably paid too much. It was better than his old mountain bike, but it was still a piece of crap with gears that slipped. Once he filled the tires though, he could really tell a difference. I still kicked his ass, but he rode faster and easier. And he could still tell himself he was working out way harder than I was, so technically I wasn’t really kicking his ass. All was well. Until he went rogue.

A few weeks ago he showed up uncharacteristically early to pick me up for a ride. He was acting funny. Eager and even more energetic than usual. Giddy even. Until he noticed I was crying.

I’d just read that Rollo had died about 20 minutes earlier. We commiserated for a while, remembered the jazz and poetry service we’d all done together in church once, and then A Man Called Horse was back to his weird giddiness again. “This ride is for Rollo then,” he said.

He grabbed my bike and took off out the front door before I even had my shoes on. I had to chase after him to get my key out of my bike bag to lock the door, and he barely slowed down to let me do that.

When we got to the car, he said, “Go ahead and get in the car. I’ll put your bike on the rack.” I guess I didn’t move fast enough because as he lifted my bike he ordered, “Just get in the car and wait so we can get going.” Jeez. OK!

We drove to a street near our starting point on the trail, although we could just as easily have ridden from my house. A Man Called Horse parked and jumped out of the car, almost before it had stopped. He hurried to the rack to get my bike off.

I grabbed my helmet and gloves, got out and walked around the car to join him, but he walked about 15 feet from the back of the car, stood on the far side of my bike and said, “Here you go.” I have to admit, my mind was on Rollo. I noted A Man Called Horse’s odd behavior, but I didn’t really try to make sense of it.

I got busy putting on my helmet and gloves (unlike A Man Called Horse who rides in nothing but shorts and shoes), with my back to the car just as he'd positioned me. As I threw my leg over my bike, he took off ahead of me down the street. I followed, but he stayed pretty far ahead, talking back over his shoulder, across a major street and through a park to the levy.

He shot down the ramp to the path, zooming ahead of me. I followed at a more normal pace, but he was rocketing away down the path. I looked down at my computer: 18 mph and I still wasn’t catching up to him. WTF, I thought. He’s going to kill himself in the first five miles.

I backed off to a more reasonable cruising speed of about 15 mph , and eventually he slowed down to let me catch up. Almost.

It had rained earlier, and I remember making some remark about getting goose poop up my back because I don’t have fenders. As he replied from a couple of bike’s lengths ahead of me, I glanced at his back tire to see if he had fenders on his new piece of crap bike.  Hmmm. That tire looked brand new, and like it cost more than the bike. I didn’t remember that from when we stopped so he could put air in his tires.

Then he slowed a little bit more and made a comment that I don’t remember to this day … You know how people who suffer a trauma, like an accident or a horrible shooting, don’t remember what happened just before? Like that.

Because as I pulled up on the right side of him, I looked over at his bike and saw 4 big, bold letters running along his down tube. I can hardly write this because I felt like my head had exploded. Those 4 letters spelled TREK.

“What the fuck did you do?” I screamed. The geese scattered ahead of us on the path. “What the fuck are you doing on a Trek? Where did you get that bike?”

He just grinned at me. From a flat-bar Trek so new the little tags on the tires weren’t worn off yet he just grinned.

“Tell me you did not buy a Trek. Tell me right now you did not buy a Trek bicycle after all the times I told you to stick with the piece of shit bike you had. I ride a Trek! Tell me you did not go out and buy yourself a fucking Trek.”

He laughed. The fucker laughed. “It’s mine! I bought it for $200 from a guy who had only ridden it around the block once. I couldn’t believe it when I picked up your bike and realized you rode a Trek too. I never noticed before.”

“Of course you didn’t notice! You don’t give a shit about whether a bike is good or bad. You want to ride a piece of shit so you can work out harder, remember? How could you do this to me? To us? What the fuck were you thinking?”

I berated him for the next 10 miles, but he didn’t repent. In fact, he just wanted to ride faster. And faster. Eventually we came to a hill, and instead of changing gears he …. I can’t believe I’m going to tell this …. he stood up on his peddles. To go up a little hill.

I glared at him and hissed, “Sit down. Sit down!

“What?” He peddled harder, still standing.

“Sit your ass down on your seat immediately, before somebody sees you. You’re riding a Trek now. A Trek! You can’t be standing up on your peddles like somebody who rides a piece of shit bike. Sit down right now!

“Oh, I guess I should just use my gears, huh?”

“Yes, you should use your gears. If you’re going to ride a Trek and break your promise to me, at least don’t embarrass me out here on the trail. Keep your butt on your seat.”

Well, he didn’t, at least not on that ride. I had to call his butt down at least six more times. It was humiliating on that first ride. But on the next ride he only did it a couple of times, and now he’s shifting like a pro. A fucking pro who had to go out and buy himself a Trek.

(Oh, fine. I might as well show you what it looks like. He’s so proud of it [and I don't blame him].)

The first ride.

And as I suspected, his new bike turned him into a beast. Now when we ride, he rides ahead of me, and if he stays close enough, talks back over his shoulder. What I mean is, I no longer kick his ass, OK? He can kick mine.

And he’s bought all kinds of accoutrements for his bike: lights, a computer, fancy hand grips, and an entire pannier system for the back. He still only rides in shorts and shoes, but his bike is as decked out as a bike can get without looking like a big sissy. In other words, he’s got everything but the pom poms shooting out the end of his handlebars.

And now he notices other people's bikes. What brand they are. How much they cost. Shit he never paid attention to before. He's obsessed now that he's a Trek rider.

I’m so happy for him. Really, I am. He's kicking my ass now having so much fun with his new toy.

I only made one mistake after he bought his new bike. That first ride we were only a few miles from the end when he said, “How much different do you think our bikes are now?”

I lied said, “Oh, I’m sure they’re about the same.”

“But you paid more for yours, and it’s a road bike. Lighter, thinner tires,” he persisted.

“Yeah, but they’re both Treks….”

“Trade for a sec.”

“Why? You just got your bike. Besides your seat is too tall for me and …”

“Trade.” A Man Called Horse was already off his bike and reaching for mine.

“Fine.” I traded with him and he took off on my bike. I followed more slowly on his. After a mile or so, he turned around and zoomed back.

“Oh, man, I don't believe it. Your bike still kicks ass. If I’m going to be a real cyclist, I’m going to need one of these next ……”

It never fucking ends.

I have to admit, they look pretty sexy together on the back of the car.


  1. WOW. I was convinced he'd sabotaged your bike somehow and you were going to zoom right into the Great Miami and get seriously injured.

    But the truth was worse!

    1. Much worse. Now he rides a quarter of a mile ahead of me. Oh, he stops every once in a while to wait for me to catch up, but then he takes off again as soon as I get there. Unbearable is what it is. ;-)