Cycling Stuff Cycling Wed

Cycling Wed: “A million-dollar suitcase”

Dear Cyclists,

This Wednesday, I am breaking with tradition, and promoting someone other than myself.  In the place of my words, I would like to present an up-and-coming professional bike racer, and blogger, Ms Ashley James.

All who have ridden with Ashley know that it is not a surprise that she won the 2009 US under-23 cyclocross national championship.  Her shy demeanor, her incessant humility and her slightness of frame deceives the eyes when you watch her climb away from many of the strongest local (male) riders.  That’s impressive stuff.

But there is more.

Her blog.  Her beautiful words.

(As background, our family knows Ash because she is the girlfriend of the locally famous boy-bike-racer, Clayton, who, like Madonna, requires just a single name. Despite Clayton’s boyish grin, he presciently refers to Ash as the “million-dollar suitcase.” Yes, he is indeed a very smart boy.  Our family has been lucky that these two pillars of youth have been part of our annual family mountain-bike vacation to western NC…@Tsali)

I wouldn’t promote her blog if it was just the usual self-indulgent cyclist-dribble about the minutia of a race that no one cares about, or what they had for breakfast, or how great their shopping experience was at Whole Foods.

Ashley’s words are not that.

Here she is on the essence of cyclocross:

…”I always feel awkward trying to give a recap of the race because I guess my perception of what happened really isn’t that interesting. Also, it feels weird to focus on the actual race, which comprises such a small part of why I love cross. It’s the camaraderie, something that anyone who’s ever been to a cross race has experienced. I’ve met so many beautiful, kind people through this sport. I’ve been so fortunate to stumble into this small, crazy, spandex-clad culture. I can’t ignore the heartbreak and tragedy that has recently fallen into our lives, but at the same time I can’t give up on bicycles. It’s the friendship, the passion, the mobility, and the freedom. And within all of that, is always hope.”

And here: on early-morning rides through the rural Wisconsin countryside with her stepdad Jeff—who, tragically, was killed by an inattentive driver while riding his bike last week.

…”And all those early spring rides that were completely miserable. Cold, long, boring. 5:30 in the morning. I would ride behind Jeff for hours, counting down the time before I could go back to sleep. I never told you this Jeff, but I get it. Those morning rides were so beautiful I can’t even explain. Helium skies high above the new day and sunbeams that fell like anchors from the sun, solidifying us in its warmness.  I would understand if you wanted to keep that sunrise to yourself, but you always let me come with.”

And on the grief of Jeff’s death.

…”Jeff’s service is going to be huge. If half the people whose lives he touched showed up, that tiny Cudahay church will be packed. But grief is a measure of how much we loved. And all that grief, that love, won’t fit inside the church. It will melt through the windows and pour out beneath the doors. That love will flow out into the world and sink deep into the soil. It will fill the trees and give energy to each blade of grass. It will evaporate into the air and swirl into the wind. That love will pour like sunbeams, and we will breath it. Into our bodies and back out into the world, our own selves not only matching this world but blending with it. Seamlessly and beautifully. Harmoniously, in a breath. Because in that grief, that love, there is celebration of a beautiful life.”

That’s right Ash.

It’s not just the race, it’s the camaraderie–the people.

It’s not just a ride, it’s the helium skies and sunbeams.

It’s not just the grief, it’s also the celebration of life and love.

h/t to the “Afib-rider” for the very nice picture of AJ from this weekend’s CX festival.