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
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
A quick post on this great contest (link above). It was definitely an honor and truly amazing experience to be a part of the first year of the contest sponsored by Giant Bicycles, highlighting the women’s brand Liv/giant and benefitting the Young Survival Coalition. Having my design selected as the winning design was such a joy. And, even better, sales from the bike raised $75,000 for the Young Survival Coalition, helping thousands of young women and their friends and family members find support during their experiences with breast cancer. I look forward to seeing the next iteration of the Inspire and hearing the story of another survivor.
With a little creativity and a few colored pencils, any survivor can enter her idea of a cool bike which can then become a reality. Survivors can submit their designs and a short essay by October 31. Good luck! Emily Gresh
Day 2: riding 95 miles with my friend Jon and new friends, and yes I was drafting like crazy.
Tour de Pink 2012: 235 miles over three days. Philadelphia to Washington D.C.
Surely, the most intense part of this ride was not the riding itself but the people with whom I was riding and the cause. It is intense to be a survivor on the ride, I must admit. There is a bright pink band on the official jersey I receive. It has “survivor” printed on it in black lettering. I get one of those and, yes, it makes me pause. I wore my Rapha jersey on day 2 so it’s not pictured in the photo above but you can see the “survivor” sleeve there on my friend Kim, a four year survivor and really strong cyclist, not to mention incredible person.
The experience of having had that serious of an illness is still surreal and my moment-to-moment appreciation of every second of my good health now seems more personal than what I wear on my sleeve literally for this ride. But it is important to be visible here. As someone who has been through cancer sooner rather than later in life, I am grateful that I can see the faces of young survivors, as heartbreaking as it is to see so many people around me effected by cancer. We’ve been through something terrible and looking at anyone of us in an everyday setting, you’d never know. On the ride, I know I’m not alone in this experience. In this ride, along with other rides–but this one particularly for me–I know I’m not alone in understanding with the fullest weight that even after such adversity, so much is possible in life. More than I ever expected. My thanks to what I learned from the survivors who were out there on bikes doing the Tour de Pink long before me and helped me see the other side. And thanks to everyone who supported my ride by making a donation in support of the Young Survival Coalition. Emily Gresh
Here it is a year later, a year since I completed my first Tour de Pink, the ride I had set my sights on when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer just after my thirty-ninth birthday. The year itself, my second year of real cycling and post-cancer, seems as miraculous as the year of having cancer was devastating and nightmarish.
Maybe not every day of riding but almost every day of riding, there are moments of crystalline miracles, easily forgotten on the one hand–a particular color of sky when starting out, a joke, some flavor of mood, and unforgettable on the other hand–that flavor of the day stays with you forever, along with the memory of a steady tempo that is matched precisely to the body’s workings, the right combination of conversation, unlabored pedaling to one’s own thoughts, the shape of a certain bicycle ahead, the shine of simple yet highly technical machinery, a few important words that then drift through the entire ride. These miracles have been my days. And my year.
I know I will enjoy the three days of riding–200+ miles from Philadelphia to Washington D.C.–and the camaraderie that will continue from last year into tomorrow when the ride begins, along with new faces. I know my body will endure and soak up the fun of those miles as it does each day and every ride, one year to the next. And of course, I will be riding my Inspire bike. Emily Gresh
If you are so inclined, here is the link to my fund-raising page for the Tour de Pink and the Young Survival Coalition. Every donation helps ensure that the rides continue and other young women and their friends and family members receive the information, community, and support they need when facing breast cancer.