Bikes Change Lives : Todd Watts
Over the course of years and many opened and abandoned blogs, I’ve detailed the events which motivate my cycling habit. I ride now for pure pleasure, with the added benefit of feeling much younger than I should at this age.
The condensed version of my early cycling life consists of a Schwinn Stingray, green banana seat and sissy bar jacked up high, to a steel truck of a ten speed used to lug papers on my route in junior high school, to a mountain bike used on a 45 mile commute each day between school, work, and home.
Then, a vacuum.
Life happened, kids were born, bills mounted, work consumed my life to pay for that consumption. Bikes and I parted ways, the gap being filled by other coping mechanisms, like cigarettes and drinking and not sleeping.
For like a decade (I kid you not).
Cycling poked its head into my life every once in awhile and asked if I wanted a ride, but I looked up and away, feigning ignorance or invisibility. “I’ll get to you later,” I’d say to myself.
In May 2004 my drinking career hit a speed bump while at a golf tournament in Pueblo, but let’s be honest, it was a drinking tournament at a golf course. I just about accidentally killed myself that weekend. That Sunday night I had my one and only panic attack. When you’ve dialed 9-1 with a finger hovering over the final 1 and you’re not sure what’s really happening, you call mom. Damn the truth and the pride and the dignity and all other things which drinking robbed me of, I wanted to live.
Mind you, this was just the zenith of my drinking. A wake-up call. I drank daily, but this wasn’t my everyday life.
Had there not been a doctor appointment the Monday following (podiatrist, unrelated), I don’t know where I’d be right now. He refused to treat me until I went to a GP immediately. My blood pressure was 210/130 and I was green. I must’ve smelled like a bar mat at closing time on a Saturday night.
This event inspired The Trip in 2005. Having lost my father to Parkinson’s Disease in 2002, I was snowed in the weekend of the memorial service and could not get a flight out to California. There was no closure. To draw that circle closer to complete, I set out to raise some money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation on a bike ride to Dallas to see my kids (the same trip I made over a decade over 35 times). A Giant Rainier was my steed, modified for road riding. Not having a ton of vacation to use, I squeezed in as many miles as possible over eight days. Over a 750 mile course, I rode 380 miles in five days with mom driving SAG.
Following that endeavor, I slipped back into a night lifestyle, but continued to ride to work. Becoming healthy was a slow process for me.
Years later, and now a teetotaler, bikes are an addiction. I don’t ride to be healthy, but for fun and peace of mind. Healthy is a side-effect. Before being certain of a move back to California, I brought a bike with me on a trip earlier last year. On the trip back around Labor Day, I rode every day in what would soon be my new arena. It pains me to know that three perfectly nice bikes are being left behind (stored in the garage), dormant, just yearning to be out on the open road.
That ride in 2005 gave me time to think about my dad’s life, as well as my own. The open road opens my mind, hence the addiction. We all like to be happy and to release the stress of our lives. For years those stresses were suppressed with Jägermeister, Marlboro, and chili cheese fries. Now there’s nothing better for me than waking after a solid eight and climbing on a bike as the sun rises. This would have sounded terribly dull and impossible fifteen years ago, when I was supposedly younger and healthier. The truth is that I’m in better shape now than during Pararescue training in the Air Force.
Living at altitude and sporting grey carpet on my chin also features the added benefit of catching kids on hills (most, not all) and surprising cat-callers (nods to the ladies).
It’s not the same kind of ‘fun’ as playing NTN trivia at 1:00 a.m., drunker than the collective Rat Pack and discussing the finer points of Van Halen’s lead vocal situation (why did it matter so much?).
If it weren’t for bikes, I’d be at the same crossroads as in 2004, when reality was elusive. How would I cope?
I’m sure I would find a way, but from this vantage it is unimaginable. This is why helmets and hyper-awareness on the roads are my mantra. Injury timeouts at the height of the cycling season is like the opening page of The Cat In The Hat. Sitting still, looking out a window.
This is why I ride.
Todd Watts works at Epicenter Cycling as "The bearded bike builder." You can find him rocking out to Sinatra while turning his wrench. He's a jazzy dude with jazzy taste in music and a cat named Phoebe.
Read more of Todd's awesome word assemblage on his blog: The Caffeinated Cyclist