The Pettit Files~Why I ride, it is about the bike
Lance Armstrong was wrong; it is about the bike.
The vessel of freedom-two wheels of hope, opportunities abound with the chain driven device. It’s ability to transport mind, body, and soul to far corners of maps, extend weekends and deepen beliefs of those across the board who don’t have any other similarities except the hours glued to a saddle watching the world bend before them, wind in the face and sun on the skin, a parchness of the throat and a thirst to see and do more.
Jobs, life, love are held at arms length knowing you can’t have a roof over your head without usually all of the above. Like a backseat driver they shout at you in verses and phrases you don’t completely understand, not giving them enough attention to completely understand just what their saying, and all they want is time, your time and undivided attention, like a school grade teacher calling for you in the same manner, “Mr. Pettit, your undivided attention please” It is basically impossible to give undivided attention, because if they are asking you to think, then you are listening and thinking at the same time attempting to digest all that they are saying, and although I raised this question often in school I was usually met with the same argument, “Well Mr. Pettit, if that is the way you feel, you can take it up with the principal” In his office our conversations where typical, he would quiz me on what I thought was right and wrong, knowing my family history and knowing I was different than those that shared my last name who came before me, he would usually tell me to lighten up on the teachers and avoid another possible suspension, I would nod like I understood him and the rules, meanwhile the white noise of his voice would be background noise as I scanned his office and thought about what he deemed important enough to hang on his walls.
But once on the bike, the sights and sounds filled whatever void I felt I was missing, and I think they greatest thing it gave me was an identity and independence. Traveling to races, experiencing new people and places, taking in mountain views and challenging myself in different ways than working with my family, those friendships are still the deepest and fondest I have. To break away from the norm takes guts and balls, but more of a blind belief your moving in the proper direction, cash doesn’t matter, so long as you can live and eat, what becomes a necessity develops quickly, like a pin of light in the darkness, everything else is lost in the shadows but what you want and need is in view of the narrow light, and without thinking you begin to move in the direction. Criticism rolls off you like a duck in water, and instead new sights and sounds take their place, and with tired legs and a mind full of wondering in great places, your friends and images are like still shots trapped in time.
I’m a week away from my 34th birthday, and perhaps its time I’m thinking about more than ever. They gray hairs are standing out more than ever, my skin is pulled tight over muscle and bone and new lines are forming on my face and creased forever, a telling of experience I wouldn’t change. Certain things are on my mind, I want to travel more, one day I would love to wear the stars and strips in a world championship, I don’t mind what age category or event, but I would prefer it to be with the worlds best, but to toe the line in our nations kit is a dream, far off yes, but still a dream. I would like to be a father, this could be more of a far off dream than a trip to worlds, and probably a surprise to many, but I’ll put it out there. And with each passing year as my own number climbs higher, I think of sharing those with a family of my own, but I don’t give that part of myself to anyone, instead I weave that into my background of wants and lust. I think of the failures of my biological father a guy I’ve never known and met only once, and the man who raised me, the dad I’ll always have, and although the many differences I also wouldn’t change them for the world. I think of becoming a better friend, boyfriend, employee, being stronger on the bike, keeping an open mind, and stretching those thoughts and dreams into reality, and then I struggle to fit all these ideals into a life that isn’t my own but to share it with everyone, then “time” seems too short and I’ll go and mull it over with a tired body and some pints of beer mixed with aged whiskey, it’s a battle I rarely win, but one I continue to fight.
In less than two years of solid riding I’ve become one of the stronger guys in the marathon class in Arizona, and proven myself valid against some strong men at nationals, 12 hour and 24 hour races, just scratching the surface of what I‘m capable of, then I think how great it would be to be in my 20’s again, but then I laugh and say fuck that, what a mess I was, hell even a couple years ago I was a talented joke who showed signs of brilliance and dependability, then like an atom bomb I blew up and had to leave a place and people I love to find just what was important to me.
The truth is I don’t know, no one does, I’ve seen things and experienced things that would break most, and broken me a time or two. Do I want the certainty of a career, retirement packages, vacation, sabbatical leaves and holidays off and paid? I’m fine making a 3rd of what I use to, it’s allowing me to discover what I find important, the people I meet are real, the times certainly are and these thoughts come to fruition instead of dreams inside a cubicle, but I admire my friends that live these life’s, it’s a balancing act to nod and smile then go and live as soon as your out of the building. There’s a breath of fresh air in the uncertainty, this time last year I was left with eating the fruit off of trees and cases of top ramen because that’s all I could afford, I thought of going back to the certainty of pouring concrete or fishing in Alaska, but then on long rides I would come across the most random beautiful things, allowing myself to live and write, I would feel at ease behind a keyboard after days of seeing no one, and the words may fall on deaf ears and blind eyes, but it calms me.
The ability to feel is the most important. The warmth the cold, wind, rain, those are all things you could feel, but I prefer to feel the warmth along the wind and smell the opening of flowers, and on rare occasions in the valley a strong sense of pine tress, I hear the palms drum each other, the leafs hold and pull apart, at times I imagine them as kelp forest while scuba diving, looking towards the surface of the ocean and seeing the sun through the tangled arms, the dryness that’s still a mystery to me after a lifetime in the northwest. The sight of a sunrise before you feel it, the body locked in a chill and surely the rays reach you and usher in safety, warmth and a new day, feeling is the most important aspect we have. I felt friendship over the weekend, my body had enough and I hit the wall the hardest I have in months, I saw spots through the nightlight and lost track of my friends, I was left walking stretches of easy trails in the dark, as I came up to them I simply said I’m done, you boys can move on, but I’m not doing to well, instead we camped where I stopped, and although they gave me grief, they new I wasn’t feeling well and we enjoyed ourselves, I felt the warmth of synthetic down of my sleeping bag, and the deep sense of relief from good friends out along the trail, their voices carried on after my eyes closed to sleep, and instead of feeling, the sounds took over, the sound of voices of my friends, the wind through the scrub brush, my girl telling me to be as safe Jonny P could be ushered me to sleep.
And while all feelings aren’t great, their memories are just as important. Being out in the middle of the ocean, the torn hands of labor, the steel of handcuffs and concrete of cells, the top steps of podiums, the handshakes of new friends, a kiss of a woman you love, and the memories of those no longer with you. They all feel like a big paycheck when you ran outta cash weeks ago, the feeling lifts you up and seems like anything is possible. There is a certain amount of disparity I need to operate. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, it makes all those things above seem richer and give them more importance. In disparity you unlock more of yourself than you thought possible, when your given no other choice but to just do it, you find new and sometimes dark things inside your mind, but it gets done and the sense of relief returning to the safety of a job, the arms of those that love you, the softness of laundered clothes and the comfort of hot water at the turn of a knob.
Sometimes in those times I’m reminded of the closed doors I forced upon myself, the loss of friendship, and on the rare occasion the man responsible for my life, the shunness I felt when those I burnt turned their shoulder, the feeling of disappointment I gave to those who once believed in me and saw the wasted potential, and at times it gives me motivation to prove them and myself wrong, and sometimes it allows me to torture myself out in the middle of nowhere, a sort of baptism, I put pain upon myself for the wrongs I’ve done then allow the beauty of my surroundings to fill all that was emaciated. I try to see my parents faces and how they have changed in the months and years I haven’t seen them, all that I want to do and all that others want me to do, then I think I’ve spent enough time here, better get a move on.
It is a short time we have, I watched my grandmother battle with dementia and alzheimers in her late 70’s, and while taking care of her the bike was never more needed. It’s 40 plus years away, and those days and decades happen fast, the shell of my grandfather left bed ridden and unable to speak or take care of even the smallest task, I slept on the couch next to his bed, cried and damned his life then threw a leg over the bike and rode, just to ride, to not feel helpless, to move and feel alive. I thanked myself for being different than my family, but even in the differences the commonalities arise. The smell of hospice I left while riding away from their house, on one hand you had death and sadness, on the other you had vibrance and exploration, a jubilant discovery. I remember carrying a man who showed me a softness my parents didn’t have time to, I placed him in his bed to die, packed a bag and left for a mountain bike race in northern Arizona, I left before my mother landed from Seattle, I hoped on a bike and felt nothing but gratitude, to cry alone and feel this sadness and life along patches of singletrack. Up along the trails in the pines and aspens while my grandpa’s heart stopped, mine beat, I felt the sun between tall trees, and heard the wind rustle the beautiful round leaves of aspens, the sounds of my exhales and the earth beneath my tires.
It is about the bike, the choices you make and the life’s directions you take. I love the idea of no motors, if you want to get somewhere it is your effort and yours alone, and while others tell me a life shared is better than a life alone, it’s a theory I desperately want to understand and be a part of, but it’s a struggle I’ll continue to deal with. But I’m comforted by the fact that I’ll get on a bike and ride, clear all these thoughts, not think about training or heart rates, vo2 max’s or diets, races or schedules, just my legs moving like pistons churning these thoughts over and over like a tumbler smoothing them to a polish of a fine memory and more to come, so Lance Armstrong, you are wrong about many things, but perhaps the biggest, it is about the bike, just plain and simple.