This spring marked 9 years with my bike. She’s a sleek, black and silver road bike that’s taken me through forests, along Lake Michigan and to my earliest dates. I’ve hit exhilarating speeds of over 30 miles per hour on her. Other than one particularly nasty spill and some tough miles that felt like parsecs, she’s been a vehicle for joy.
On a Saturday morning, I checked my rearview mirror and saw her strapped to the back of my car. I hope to transition into mountain biking soon and it seems logical to sell my road bike before getting another bike. I realized when I saw her in the mirror that this ride might be one of my last with her, or possibly even the grand finale. I was heading to a completely new route, the weather was perfect, and I felt so happy to have this opportunity with her. Simultaneously, I felt that familiar twist of the knife that subtly lurks in each person’s abdomen - heartache.
The night before, I was with a dear friend of mine. She spoke to this jaded old man who’s a whole 2 years older than her (and only 25) about her aspirations. I’ve rescinded the long-held agreement with myself that I’d “be somebody.” More specifically, that I’d use my creativity to acquire prestige, wealth, and at the very least, a career. My friend is still under contract to live out her full potential and I admire her for sticking it out thus far. She mentioned moving to New York to pursue her goals and that she’d hopefully be there within the next year. She told me this and the knife twisted. A St. Vincent song started spinning on my mental record player. I looked at my beautiful friend and tears that I didn’t let fall started welling up. She’s gone through dark times in her past and I felt so glad she was looking forward to her bright future - even though I will likely be a very small, distant part of it.
Not long ago, I told her that I intimately know heartache has the potential to kill a person, but that doesn’t even matter because love never dies. Love is such a flexible word with a plethora of meanings to different people across the planet. For me, love is an emotion, the opposite of hate, and the root of compassion, something we so desperately need to cultivate more of as a species. We would not nurse our children, put down our beloved pets when the time comes, or water our gardens without loving them first. Those compassionate moments would be impossible if we allowed ourselves to endlessly cling to hate. Happiness would evade us until we ceased to exist.
That glance at my bike made me realize that happy moments can be hard. They only come about because they are the universal counterpart to times of struggle. They represent the culmination of whatever emotional roller coaster got you there. I love her so much, but I know I have to let her go despite the knife telling me to hold on with everything I got. I find myself in the exact same spot when I wonder about where I’ll go when I leave Chicago. I envision a quaint ranch somewhere near the Rockies, but I also see myself having an absolute bawl fest with my parents on the day I last visit them. I smell fresh mountain air on a sunny morning, but I also see the city’s skyline at night, fading away in the rearview mirror as I head west. I feel free, knowing full well what it cost to feel that way.
I cried until I got to the trailhead. I parked and told myself “She’s just a bicycle for fuck’s sake.” Once I got saddled, rolled off and clicked up through the gears, I was only focused on the road. “Feel like I’m heading to Roubaix with all these bumps… brake hard, blind curve… upshift here.” 16 miles later, I put her back on the rack and patted her handlebars. I was content with the ride despite its bittersweet nature. My vehicle had done her mechanically magical job again. My friend will go off to do brilliant work, and so will I. We must love to know heartache, and once we know heartache, we know how to love.
“For you, darling, I’d do it all again.”