Enjoy life’s ride through the mud
Vail, CO Colorado
“Don’t worry, it will be OK.”
With those words, Chris Etheridge yanked my bicycle out of my hands and raced away.
Unfortunately, during that moment in time ” close to 10 year ago ” I had trouble believing him. The race was only four laps old and Chris had already broken his bike and now he had mine.
A cycle cross race is a competition usually held in fall and winter. Racers use a bicycle which looks much like any road bike but the tires are thicker and frame and brakes are designed to be ridden on both dirt and pavement.
Usually the race course is a short route, on asphalt and dirt, beginning and ending at the start/finish area. Along the course are obstacles that the riders need to dismount, pick up their steed and jump over.
Chris and I were entered in different age and ability categories. But in both divisions there was a water feature that the competitive riders would ride through, dirtying both themselves and their bikes. I completed the “old beginner” class earlier that day, finishing with my bike nearly spotless. While other riders would blast through the mud and bash over the obstacles I would ride around or lift my bike over gently. What I lost in speed I made up for in cleanliness. I like to take care of my gear; almost to the point of being obsessive.
I also am reluctant to lend out my stuff in fear that borrowers would not take as good care of it as I do.
The beginner race went off earlier in the day. I was battling for 20th place against some guy with a wooden leg. My division had to ride for 45 minutes. Each lap took about five minutes, so we would pass the start/finish line several times before we finished. Spectators, and racers waiting to compete in the more advanced categories, would cheer and jeer those of us racing ” cheering everyone else, harassing me.
I’ve come to realize that I’m the type of person people like to abuse. I suppose it is because I often abuse others.
It seemed every lap my friends and even my wife would have something to say as I passed. “Go faster, Biff. Didn’t anyone tell you this is a race?” “Jeffrey, push it. The guy with the wooden leg just stopped to make a phone call.” And, from my wife, “Hurry up and lose so we can go to lunch.”
It seemed that everyone was busting my chops except Chris Etherridge. He would just smile, applaud and offer encouragement as I passed.
The race was over. The guy with the mahogany leg beat me by a splinter. I talked my wife into staying to watch the pro and experts compete. Chris was in that class.
Chris owned a bike shop, which is a good thing because he was always breaking stuff. Perhaps it was because he was stronger than the rest of us.
It was about four laps into the race when Chris snapped the seat off his bike. He still was able to maintain his position in the lead pack even though he could not sit down. As he passed he yelled to his girlfriend, Mona, “Borrow me a bike and I’ll pick it up on the next lap.” I remember thinking, “Not mine.”
I was greatful that Chris’ girlfriend didn’t ask me. I was standing about 10 feet from her holding my bike, but I wasn’t going to stay for the entire race. Plus, I didn’t want Chris to break my ride like he did his own.
I watched as the lead pack approached. Chris was near the front but he had lost some ground. I was looking around for Mona to see whose bike she was able to borrow when Chris veered off the course. Next thing I know Mona is next to me and Chris runs up and throws his bike on the ground. Mona points to mine and says, “Here, take Jeffrey’s, it is really, really clean.” Chris laughed out loud, took my bike and said, “Don’t worry, it will be OK.”
As Chris raced away I couldn’t stop myself from worrying. To make matters worse, all my friends were abusing me. One said, “Man, that bike never moved that fast when you’re pedaling.” Another: “Did you remind him not to get it dirty?” All in all, everyone was having a great time at my expense.
I don’t remember how Chris did in that race. He almost always finished near the front. I do remember once I stopped worrying about my bike I was able to enjoy the moment, enjoy my friends and enjoy watching Chris race. He was beautiful to watch and perfect combination of strength and grace. More importantly, he was modest and kind.
Chris died a little over a year later. He was hit by a car while riding his bicycle.
I wish I could say I have since learned to follow Chris’s advice and not concern myself over the small things but rather enjoy the beautiful ride which is life. I shudder to think of all the time I’ve wasted on needless worry and all I have missed as a result.
Sometimes you just have to ride through the mud and remind yourself, “Don’t worry, it will be OK.”
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or from http://www.webersbooks.com