There’s a great little bike shop in Minneapolis called Charlie’s Tangletown Bike Shop – not unlike many other fine shops in the growing list of bike-friendly cities around the country – friendly and knowledgeable people who share their passion for all things bicycle. However, this place is very special to me. First, it was started by my partner’s younger brother, Charlie Siftar, a handful of years ago and second, because Charlie died last week from a heart attack while he was out riding his fat bike with a friend. This happened on the day before we were to fly from San Diego to Minneapolis to celebrate his mom’s 89th birthday. It may sound macabre but when it’s my time to go, I hope it’s doing something that I love like riding my bike.
What sets Charlie apart from me (and a lot of my cycling friends) is that he had a long, successful career in industry first. He has two great kids and an equally great wife with all of the financial and emotional stresses and challenges that go with this. At some point, however, he said enough is enough; I’m going to follow my passion. He left his job and after working at another shop for a few years, started Charlie’s Tangletown Bike Shop. How many of us have the heart or chutzpah to take this enormous leap of faith?
I had the pleasure to ride with Charlie several times during previous visits to the Twin Cities. Both times, he opened up his garage, literally filled from floor to ceiling with classic bikes and told me to take my pick. Talk about being overwhelmed with possibilities! One hot summer day, he and one of his buddies took me on a century ride through the flat, wind-blown, grid-patterned roads surrounding Minneapolis. These guys must have been genetically programmed to hammer in these kinds of conditions. It was only when we hit the rare steep hill coming off the Mississippi River that I felt like I could redeem myself and represent New England with pride. His friend even led me out for the final sprint of the day – I think he might have felt sorry for me.
At his funeral two days ago, the service had to be delayed because there were so many people trying to find parking places, some ended up about half a mile away. The church was packed with people and I think there might have been more folks standing then in the pews. When anyone dies young (Charlie was in his mid 50’s), it’s hard to accept the loss. When someone dies who has touched the lives of so many people, it gets even harder. When someone dies who really is a cornerstone of his community, it stops making sense. We’ll all miss you Charlie!
Rest and recovery can sometimes be harder for me than full-on training. I just don’t do it very well. For that matter, I don’t do sit around and relax very well either. There is usually some excuse I can come up with to go out and do something physically challenging. I separated my left shoulder in a high-speed encounter with an oak tree trying to stay on the leader’s wheel in a cyclocross race in December when my front wheel washed out on a pile of acorns. I separated my right shoulder in an ill-advised meathead move on a “cool down” lap through a sand pit in Kingsport, Tennessee 3 days before my race in at Nationals in Asheville. Entirely avoidable, totally unnecessary – I just wanted to see how far I could get through the pit at full speed. Since Nationals was the focus of my entire year of training, that race was going to happen for me no matter what; in spite of whatever pain I was experiencing.
Here it is February. I finally went to see my doctor several weeks ago and he confirmed the extent of both shoulder injuries. Give yourself 3 or 4 weeks of gentle recovery and you’ll be fine, he said. It’s hard for me to keep a positive attitude when everything I do hurts – especially sleeping on either side or walking a few miles or reaching for a glass. Strangely, riding a bike doesn’t hurt too badly but I know it can’t be helping me. I’m trying to rest and recover without losing all of my fitness. There’s always a good argument to minimize down time but this is a huge challenge for me. Friends are calling or stopping by to go riding. I was even thinking of scheduling my long overdue third hernia operation now so that I would be absolutely forced to rest and recover in time for the spring cycling season.
It’s depressing to see fitness draining away out of your body knowing how much work will have to be done to get it back. I’ve been through this many other times – usually after one type of injury or illness or other life event – but recovery times seem to get longer with each passing year. Injuries from a year or two ago are still nagging me. I had one doctor a few years ago advise me to stop training and racing; just ride for fun. “You’re getting kind of old for this sort of thing,” he counseled. I had another doctor suggest that I amputate a toe that was chronically painful due to some torn ligaments.
Here’s an idea – how about we throw away our notions of aging and continue to live and train and race as long as it’s fun? When I get to the point where the costs far outweigh the benefits, I’ll consider taking up golf or darts or maybe even tournament Parcheesi. Just think of the bizarre injuries you could get doing that!