Some people who only know me from playwriting don’t know that I lead an alternate life -- a life dominated by two wheeled adventures far from the constraints of anything resembling word processors or play scripts dripping in red ink. Maybe I seem more like the type to stare at my computer, who knows? But I do go outside, frequently, and my time spent on wheels greatly informs my playwriting, that other passion in my life.
I started mountain biking when I was thirteen, after convincing, nay begging, my dad to buy me a used Trek 820 in dashing metallic orange. That bike had twenty-four gears (3X8), courtesy of GripShift shifters, a Rockshox Indy C front fork, V-brakes, and a steel frame that could care less where you came from, where you were going, and what the weather gods decided to throw from the sky. I jumped it, did powerslides, explored forgotten leaf strewn trails, and endured my first, horrible, bonk-inducing race on it. It was a twenty-six inch gateway drug to a complicated endorphin heaven.
Two years later, at fifteen, I upgraded to my first full-on race bike, a Trek 8000, and got serious. I read Joe Friel’s Training Bible, started eating oatmeal, and dreamed of being Lance Armstrong somewhere in the Alps, fighting off lithe Italians and burly Germans on impossibly steep mountains with a small, knowing grin on my face. (The look!) I hung inspirational quotes on my bedroom walls and tried (and failed) to get into stretching. I bought an indoor trainer and spun monotonously through harsh West Virginian winters.
And for three years I raced and trained. By the time I hit my senior year of high school, I could be found logging long rides around the back roads of Preston County and racing across the state against a hotly contested field of juniors, many of whom went on to become excellent pro and semi-pro racers.
Then college came, the military came, and life finally came. I stopped riding as much. Pedaling became more about perseverance and less about glory. The inspirational posters remained at my dad’s house, hanging as a sort of monument to adolescent energy. Then again, who needs placards about inspiration when your son is tugging on your shirt to play “trains”?
But riding a bike has always been hard, even from the first pedal stroke on my beloved Trek 820. It has always hurt, deeply, sometimes reducing me to a primitive, survivalist level. There are rides when simply making the effort feels Herculean, like when the temperature hovers in the low 30s, the road spray soaks through even my most water resistant clothes, and my toes begin to feel like rectangular glaciers. On those days, I dream of hot showers and the warm comfort of my couch, not the harshness of a bike saddle.
And I realize that such suffering is not required by anyone or any facet of my life. I could lead just as acceptable an existence in sedation as I could in motion. In fact, stagnation and being
de-sensitized seem entirely laudable in our current overworked and underappreciated society.
Yet, I still ride, because I must. It’s that simple.
Of course, I write for the exact same reasons, and the circumstances that surround my cycling life directly translate to my writing: No one has ever forced me to write a word outside of school; my standing as a citizen of West Virginia is little impacted whether I am accepted into the O’Neill or if my plays never stand upon a single stage; and mostly, like riding a bike, writing is often a painful, visceral, emotionally reducing act.
Though there is another similarity between the two activities, as well. Despite the long, cold hours on wet roads, and despite the overwhelming burden of creating life from fiction, there are moments – fleeting, beautiful moments – of exhilarating joy. Moments like pure, enlivened sunshine. I’ve come to think they are gasps of ethereal understanding, glimpses of a greater Other, of the purposes beyond mortal comprehension. They remind me of weightlessness, like the sublime pause at the apex of a jump, scarcely acknowledged and appreciated before dropping into the past tense.
It may seem, too, at least to the rest of the world, that such minute celebrations are hardly worth the overwhelming suffering required. I know this because people often stare at me through their frosty car windows and shake their heads in disbelief, thinking, I am sure, that I must not own a calendar, or that I may have mistaken West Virginia for Florida.
What I have learned, though, and what I continue to learn, is that the beauty of a creation -- regardless of whether that creation takes the form of physical fitness and winning a KOM on Strava or having a world premiere of a play -- lies in its creating. Certainly there will always be cold days and long days and days of self-doubting, but if I stick around long enough, one of those moments will appear – and with it, the fulfillment to keep going.