Friday, September 23, 2011

Swan Song

My heart hurts.

Sure, living in Florida is going to be great. We're a quiet two-mile bike ride to the beach. It's warm there in February. Naples is a cycling paradise, with bike lanes all over the place and hundreds of people pedaling everywhere, and I can go diving and sailing again, and RandoGirl's new job is really great.

But there is so much here in middle Tennessee that I have come to love. My friends at the bike club and work. My band, The Kickstands. Trees that change colors.


I started to make my goodbyes months ago. We only told a few people at first, but I started going out and riding some of the roads with whom I had developed a love/hate relationship during our six years here. First were my College Grove favorites, Pulltight Hill and Choctaw ... so many intersections down there with turn arrows that I've personally painted. I rode them in the heat, and then again in the rain, and finally on a rare cool August morning under a powder blue sky, the smell of fresh-cut hay redolent on a light breeze.

There were some new roads down there, and I scouted them for the Hope on Wheels century even though I knew that I would not be around for it. They were calm and flat and green, and I hope that the organizers continue to use this route for a few more years.

While down there, we visited some of our favorite stops. The College Grove Grocery, of course, but also Bethesda Market and Marcy Jo's further south. Fresh-baked goodness and warm southern kindness, with ice-cold refreshment when we needed it most.

Even my commute to work became precious. It was harder than ever to fit it into the schedule, but I cherished those days fighting my way down Trousdale towards Harding, sitting at the traffic light sipping my coffee, surrounded by the carbon monoxide flatulence of SUVs.

On time-tight weekend mornings, I used my commute route to a quick stop at Panera, then cut west through Radnor Lake and Percy Priest parks. On a foggy Sunday morning, I hazarded my way down Granny White Pike one last time to Oman, just to do the fierce climb up to the observatory there. As the skies cleared, I retraced my route, continued on south, and finished shredding my legs on North Berry's Chapel and Holly Tree Gap.

There won't be climbs like that in Florida, I told myself. Of course, there aren't many climbs like that anywhere.

Saturday, I did one last ride with the Harpeth Bike Club. Larry Lewis and John Wallace put together a route running from the top of the Natchez Trace up through Kingston Springs, Pegram, and other areas up there that don't even have a name. For the first 13 miles, I stayed with the lead group on a series of short, steep climbs. They stopped at a store then, and I rolled on, thinking that the group would soon catch up.

In Kingston Springs, I passed a graveyard familiar from the first 200K that I had ever done. Rolling on through Narrows of the Harpeth park, there were other reminders of that first tough March ride over four years ago.

The edges of some roads were now sharper, cleanly edged with fresh graveled shoulders laid with the post-Nashville flood repairs.

The road turned upwards again, and I remembered another club ride ... maybe the same route, but on a much hotter day. I bought water at the next store stop and started to wait, but got antsy and soon rolled on. I told myself it was because of an appointment I had that afternoon.

Rolling down to River Road, I started east back towards the city. Usually, I took this road west and on much colder days, since it was part of the Music City 200K that we often ride during winter. I passed by a store that I will always think of with snow on its roof, remembering the time that I rode this route wearing winter boots with chemical warmers over my toes, while Jeff Bauer wore sandals.

Mostly, in the past few months, I've been trying to get in lots of rides with old friends like Jeff, Fredia Barry, Vida Greer, Bill Glass, Alan Gosart, and others. They've all promised to come south to visit when the weather in Tennessee turns cold, and we've promised to come back for the Harpeth River Ride in the spring. There are still good times ahead for us and these great friends, but I will miss being able to have these times whenever I want.

I will miss taking these times for granted.

Back at Kingston Springs, I rolled past the last store stop and turned right on US 70. Soon I was on part of the old Thanksgiving 200K route -- the Turkey Trot -- but going against the usual grain again. Another tough climb up something that's usually a fun descent, followed by a quick descent down something that's always been a tough climb.

Forcing my way over the rolling hills, I thought about my first Harpeth River Ride. It was June of 2005, and we had just moved here from Tampa, FL. I was a little heavier, and definitely not used to climbing that much, but I did the century, anyway. It took me a long time. Nobody knew me when I started, and not many more knew me by the end, but I met a lot of folks that I would get to know much better in the coming years.

Over six years later, I've seen those same people -- and those same roads -- from a lot of different perspectives. Hot, steamy days when their surface is hard and rough, and you retreat to the trees at every opportunity. Cold, wet, dreary days when you're just getting through it all. Those rare wonderful days when you can only feel sorry for whatever life there is on other planets because you just freakin' well know that they ain't got it this good.

We didn't even know that we had it this good.

Singing my swan song to cycling in middle Tennessee for the past few months has brought home to me how much I love these roads and these friends. All have a special place in my heart ... one that I hope to keep alive by memory and regular visits. The pain in my heart is because that place is getting ready to be severed from the Now, and knows that it must survive on mere shards of the Past and the hope of a Future.

To those we leave behind, I envy you this wonderful, wonderful Now. Get out and enjoy it while you can.


  1. Robert, I didn't let on very much at the time a few months ago on that Tuesday ride, but I was very sad that you were moving to Florida. I was sad for selfish reasons. Your presence is a very stable and calming one. It is full of good humor and smiles, and I will miss seeing you. A while back, you encouraged me to commute more. I have gone through seasons of doing it more than others, but these days, it's pretty much all of the riding that I am able to do. You structured it for me in an email, and it is how I keep my mind wrapped around it especially on the mornings when I wake up and don't want to. It turns out that every time I overcome that hesitation, I am glad to be out there pedalling. Usually, I don't see anyone else out there riding amidst the flatulating SUVs. I hope that changes. Thanks for being who you are. Jay S

  2. Beautifully written and making me very sad.

  3. A wonderful goodbye letter. Thank you for the gift of your friendship. Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.

    "Everything changes, nothing perishes."


  4. Very nice send-off, Robert. Wish we could have ridden more...pls come to CO!

  5. Aw man. I grew up in Florida and I sure miss sailing. Maybe I'll ride down there some day and you can take me sailing! Best wishes to you and Randogirl! Pat C.

  6. Good Luck Robert! Here's what I know and you don't. YOU'LL BE BACK! Soon and for the rest of your life!

    Dave T

  7. Robert, you're one of a kind and I will greatly miss having the pleasure of your wit and intellect on a regular basis. I look forward to new adventures with you and Carol in Flordia....basking in the sun on your yacht; sipping wine on your palatial veranda; and early morning rides with a 50mph tail wind.


  8. You'll be back. They always come back. I did.
    But you'll keep posting while you're gone, right?

  9. Good luck with the move. I can only imagine how much you will miss your randonneuring friends as well as the terrain! Look forward to your posts in a new state...

  10. Robert, your eloquence touches all of us. It has been great getting to know you and RG, from that first tandem trip down the Trace, all of the advice about randonneuring, to the last night at Roosters. I wish we could have ridden more often, and lately. The absence of you and RG leave a big hole in middle TN cycling. May we meet again. Enjoy your new life. Kevin B