There is an old saying, usually reserved for things like war, things like Woodstock, things like the 1960's.
"You weren't there, man. You don't know..."
In such circumstances, it suffices to describe what words often cannot: a feeling which the words on the pages and volumes of Oxford have yet to describe, even in combination. A vibe, a groove, a dark cloud of mystique shrouding the emotions, the smells, the aches from the onlookers - who, in some cases, even in attendance truly weren't "there."
I wasn't there... but I was close.
I was sitting on my ragged couch in the living room the morning of January 8th, a Sunday, hot coffee on the side table, warm dog across my lap, tablet web browser parked on the Dirty Kanza registration page. It'd been my biggest cycling-related regret, finally calling.
"You should totally do it, man, it's a BLAST, and you can - I know you can, with all the long miles you put in: piece o' cake!" he reassured me while I stood, pondering how the heck I could swing it, whether or not my Kogswell would've been enough bike.
There I stood in the service area, holding onto a neon yellow jersey (another one?) from my most recent employee purchase, every bit head to toe a complete and utter Fred if there ever was one, me, just talking to a co-worker about the DK. At the time, without the benefits of foresight, it was one of those passing conversations which instantly inspired heartburn. Anxiety would churn as I'd instantly play the entire event in my head, despite never having done the ride before - and I could see myself failing, as usual. Man, if only I'd listened... how much farther along I'd possibly be.
I think it was probably 2009 when the above took place. I'd been working part time at Bike Source in Overland Park and often had the privilege of sharing a shift with Joel Dyke. He was one of those guys that I really liked working with; not that there were any I would've rather not; but seeing his name on the weekly schedule would come with the reaction of "yeah, Thursday is gonna be a good day." We never knew what we were gonna get... rubber bands shot at our bare legs, a quick wedgie, a smack on the backside or a nipple tweak - but it was always in exactly the good fun that his wife outlined in her amazing tribute to Joel in the 10th Anniversary DK retrospective magazine. He was an amazing guy - and, sure, not everybody "got it," sometimes not even me -- but, no matter how crappy my day had been at the day-job, I'd roll my bike into the 'Source and eventually hear "what's up, sexy pants?" Designed to get your attention and possibly make one mildly uncomfortable, that was the whole point: it always managed to snap me outside of my own head, and silliness would ensue and last the rest of the evening. He taught me how to build wheels, we'd talk about frame geometry and applications for things like my rando riding, and -- another big, giant regret -- I was basically given an open invitation, when I was ready to do it, to order the crown, dropouts and fork legs for the Kogswell's replacement front fork and "come on over" to his place for a lesson in brazing and framebuilding, hands-on. Of all the stuff I never seem to make time for, that's a biggie - had I only known, you know? It was one of those things that'd always get pushed out to next month... and the next month. And, really, its not about the fork, or the skill - as cool as that would have been - but, that just reinforces Joel and who he was, and I should have made the time to hang out with him - even if we didn't get a darn thing accomplished. I was lucky enough to have run into him at the KC-area swap meet downtown last spring, and we talked about DK again: this was finally my year, and he was loaded with good advice and the usual smile. We'll definitely all miss that big grin. Sure, we were just "co-workers" at a bike shop - but our conversations were always terrific, like bottomless pits of good, stream of consciousness conversation about everything and anything. Sure - all told, the time we spent together at Bike Source in total probably doesn't add up to much, but it was still valuable. No, I wasn't a room-mate, or a regular riding partner, or anything like that - but, he always treated me like one. I'll never forget that.
So, it was with a lot of regret that I sold my DK registration back in April, in a moment of panic and stupidity and self-doubt. Sure, some lucky guy on the waiting list was probably jacked that he finally got in, but, man .... if there was a DK to talk about for decades to come, this was certainly the one. I was there... but, only in the capacity of support crew for two brave riders. Their stories are their own... because I was there... but, I wasn't "there."
Next year.... next year....
I will tell you one thing: life is short. I have wasted far too much time being - whatever one wants to call it, I could continue to self-diagnose all day, you all know that... afraid? doubtful? sheepish? gutless? unsure? I think of all the friends I've lost to unfortunate cycling accidents, or just accidents in general - to the ones who have moved away, while they're still there, thanks to technology, its just not the same as sharing a pint or a cool morning on a country back-road with crunching leaves under our tires. It was amazing, this year, to finally have connected with Lincoln S. out of Colorado, from Ride the Rockies 2002... the dude has barely changed, and that smile is still there. The man is livin'.... and, I know, it's not like I'm NOT.... I doubt I'd trade anything... but, shaking hands again and feeling as comfortable and talking as energetically as we'd done back in Alamosa and everywhere else we went... there are more moments like that to be made, more friendships to forge and nurture and support, and I've wasted a lot of time on the notion that "we can do that tomorrow." I just can't do that anymore. No excuses. The only one standing in my way is me, and I'm tired of that being the reason for so many missed opportunities. I'm not gonna close on something trite or borrowed, but, its not a coincidence, all of these things culminating and surrounding a terrific weekend in the Flint Hills, but, I'm finally loosening up - finally ready to live a better version of me. Walk a little taller, prouder, for what I've seen and who I've met.
With that, my epic write up of a (likely) far easier version of the Dirty Kanza 200 will have to wait until next year. For now, click the link below and read a supremely well-written piece by one of the strong-men of DK, Dan Hughes:
Thanks for reading
...until next time...