This is a new pair for me: cycling and hockey. But there we were face to face, the bike and the icy pond with its hard surface and three skaters. Along this favorite route of mine, water is usually mixing with air above it; sky and pond reaching for each other. Today a trio of hockey players were carving out skating sounds of metal scrapes and exhilarating breath, hearts pumping, cold air and the fire of that kind of play coursing through them as they hit the puck and raced each other. And there was my own breathing pulling in the cold but warming it as it ran first through my lungs and heart, and then my blood. This is a pleasure of cycling: it is warming, it does make life course through one’s veins in that warm way.
Life around the pond today was these skaters as water birds of winter skittering along, pausing in their different ways to guess at where more sunlight might come from, but mainly pre-occupied with moving. And me pausing from my bicycle flight to look at these other birds in the distance. Today we chose not to hibernate, and decided to move to keep alive, migrating in very small ways but not for any real change of location, just to keep moving…from one end of the pond to another, one riding loop out and back.
And what better day to return to my blog–New Year’s Day–after having spent far too much time away from it. Migrating back. Writing is warming me, too. Thoughts to paper, fingers to keyboard…mind to hand, as the beautiful bicycle builder Dario Pegoretti would say. Here’s to a New Year of many rides, more writing, and warmth in everyday. Emily Gresh
Time, timing, movement, the body. There are very few elements to ballet, just the body moving through time. Here is a short video from Studio 7 at Boston Ballet. Shot in the course of a day and with varying rhythms of time sped up and slowed down, it does beautifully encapsulate what a day of dancing at the highest levels can be, behind the scenes, day in and day out, over hours in one day in the video, but those days add up to years and years. To lapse in time back into those memories does remind me that I do miss it very much.
Dancing with people at such a level of technique and ability was something unto itself, unrepeatable. But in cycling there has been at least the smallest echo of that experience. The slight familiarity of dancing hard with others around and dancing over hours and days is there. The gatherings collide in my mind on occasion…the early in the day light, the speeds, the near constant motion punctuated by rest. Empty spaces getting filled like roads ahead that become travelled. Emily Gresh
As promised, I have been working here and there, with help and advice, putting together two wheels, a frame, handle bars, cranks, brakes, tires, tubes, pedals, seat post, saddle and pieces of bicycle to create and know a new bike. The frame arrived on my birthday; yes, truly and unforgettably on the actual day-made-even-lovelier-day of my birthday, in the very early part of summer. As the summer has been ticking by I have been living with the frame in various parts of my house. I have been eying it after road rides and more than eying it after work. The other bike parts, the same. Before I started building, I admired the different pieces day after day, took them out of boxes and moved them around on different tables, all with anticipation. Admittedly, it has been slow finding the time, and even more importantly the right sense of time, to begin putting it together. But here it is, coming together weekend-like at last.
This is a project not to be rushed. In putting it together, there has to be time to just love it, in every minute. Unlike my road bikes, the Sweetpea is a leisurely bike. I am experiencing it coming together with the same generous amounts of time I hope to spend riding it around my town. With this bike, I will not be counting miles or miles per hour– although there is endless fun in ticking off and beating time, in knowing the push of time and the tautness of body needed to lose the slowness of office weeks and boring commutes that require a car. The light speed of my road bikes are incredible machines in and of themselves. And a dirt and gravel road ride that will be gritty and tough is just ahead, a week from now. That ride on hilly and rocky terrain–at a good speed given the amount miles that will have to be covered–will not be for the Sweetpea.
But the Sweetpea is a perfect counter point. A bike in which there is all of time. In the stand as it is now, I walk by it everyday in my basement. As much as I am looking forward to finishing the build and that first ride, knowing it piece by piece for the time being is exactly what an eye needing the sight of beautiful lines embodied in anything craves. The repetition of seeing it again and again, creating and re-creating the sight of it with daily visits up and down the basement stairs is a way of enjoying it timelessly for awhile. It is a wonderful creation there. Each piece. And the whole beautiful machine together soon. Emily Gresh
Within each of us is the handmade and unstoppable. Within each of us are the qualities that can deliver beyond compare, powerful beyond even what we believe is possible within ourselves. The right conditions, and the right people around us, are everything. How we come to those moments is a great deal of luck, a blind hope in the face of everything, and unbelievable inner strength. Every now and then, we get there. Every now and then we are the right cyclist for the bicycle we have come to own. Every now and then we get the maximum out of it and understand where to let up and where to dig deep, what is possible, best and good, and what is simply wear and tear on a perfectly wonderful machine. If we only know the handmade and unstoppable within us briefly, it is almost enough. It is best to find it and ride for as long as one can.
We each come to these moments and conditions in different ways. Cycling has been important to me, freeing up a great deal, giving me plenty to enjoy within myself not so much based in speed or physical accomplishment but a different experience of myself that is related to dancing and tapped so much there, but also a release from dancing, and though a completely different experience, cycling is likewise related to surviving cancer at young age, and also similarly a complete release from surviving cancer at a young age.
In each cyclist, in each person, we have to applaud these things, the ability to know however briefly what we are capable of and how much we can find in life, to see these moments and know them in others so that we can continue to find them in ourselves. To thrive post-cancer is a tremendous accomplishment, to find one’s way back to health through cycling is admirable in anyone. To thrive in life, with or without the turmoil and shock of serious illness, is a greater accomplishment than we all sometimes admit and so worthy of our recognition.
It is with the most heartiest congratulations that I admire and applaud cancer survivor and cyclist Barb Greenlee and the next iteration of the Inspire bike pictured above and launched recently, and the many beautiful moments I know she will find on the bike and in life. Designed by Barb and beautifully brought to reality by Liv/Giant, I can’t wait to have the bike open more doors to cycling for women, cancer survivors, and the handmade and unstoppable in riders everywhere. Emily Gresh
There are always two directions when thinking about making time for cycling in the winter–why I am too busy to do it and why I cannot afford to miss my one bike ride of the week at the moment. In the past, for me there was the discipline of daily ballet class. Every day. Maybe not seven days a week, but often six days a week, and definitely no less than five days a week of daily class. And not your daughter’s ballet class, one of cute tikes in pink leotards. Think ferocious athletes, about 45 of them all in one mirrored room, all going for it in combinations of steps that are as familiar to them as breathing and sleeping. And always playing with that fire of how much to push beyond reasonable limits and how much to hold back to avoid injury and or exhaustion. Sure, some days I would really hold back for whatever reasons, to conserve energy or repair my body. But even holding back then was hardly a holding back of much.
So one bike ride a week during the deep winter is not asking much of myself. But like everyone in New England during this time of year, some weeks it is a pinch just getting in the one ride. I did say winter riding would be beautiful, didn’t I? That was back in the fall or early winter before the snow and real cold hit, wasn’t it? Yes, the romanticized side of winter riding. Warmth. Chatter. Two sentence conversations that provide a week’s aftermath of laughter. Post-ride espresso. The smooth gearing of my bike. The fantastic mechanics of the body and many bodies working together getting through a ride. Beautiful riding gear. Sweet winter. As good as ballet class. But ballet class was always hard and demanding. Winter riding requires greater discipline, too. You have to demand more than just a little from yourself. Not a simple hop on the bike.
Salty roads, mud being kicked up by the tires in front of me, cold, dampness. Dark. It is a chase through all that lately. There is a just getting through it, but the riding is still essential. The weekly ritual as necessary as the daily class. There are all the essential reasons for daily class within the reasons now for the weekly ride. Like breathing and sleeping. Familiar and necessary. Just not as easy. Emily Gresh
Here are a few images from the Tour de Pink California–an incredible ride for many, many reasons. Thanks to the Young Survival Coalition and Giant Bicycles for this ride which supports young women facing breast cancer. It was a pleasure to ride my Inspire bike for 200 plus miles, but mainly it was pervaded by an intense feeling of being surrounded by survivors kicking ass on bikes. As I was inspired by seeing other young women survivors out there riding during my own diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, I hope others continue to be inspired. It looks sunny and beautiful here but the journey is a long one for us all. Emily Gresh
It is somehow far into November, Thanksgiving already, when I’m still thinking West Coast Tour de Pink which was a month ago now. A long overdue ride report:
Riding two hundred plus miles in California is just as you would imagine it: sunny and warm, miles passing without even realizing it. Cycling often holds metaphors for life so perhaps it’s true that living in California, with the means to really enjoy it, as one enjoys a really nice bike, is a little work but mainly play. As I was instructed heading out on the first day’s leg of the Cali Tour: “The bad news is today’s ride is hilly; the good news is it’s all downhill.” Imagine getting born and this is the prophecy handed to you: a sloping, downhill ride, under perfect skies…along the Pacific Coast Highway in California.
But the pleasures of my East Coast life are here for me. I came home from palm trees and Pacific waters to the cathedral-like beauty of autumn in New England, arches of trees and warm colors constructed leaf by leaf. When hit by certain angles of light, this could bring nearly anyone to their knees in the private little forum that is one’s mind, regardless of elevation gained or lost. If you know what it is to ride through the sunlight of autumn as it comes streaming through changing leaves, you know that its effect is that of exhilaration…that in effect, it’s a racing downhill ride. Hands off the brakes, fingers ready to slow the rush but staying open to speed. Coasting, concentrating, and letting go, all at the same time.
The textured and etched greys of late November are up next, snow close behind. Uphill, downhill. Beautiful either and every way. Emily Gresh