I prefer quiet birthday celebrations, if anything at all. Maybe some ice cream. Perhaps some cake. I think it stems from childhood when my birthday often fell over spring break. There was no bringing cupcakes to school, no special day set aside for summer and school vacation babies. And having grown up in New England, my birthday often coincided with the largest snowstorm of the year – a day most people elected to stay close to home. I guess I never really grew out of that.
This year I spent my birthday at the final class of my bike maintenance course, learning how to repair my brakes and true my wheel – an act requiring patience, and the ability to listen to what your bike is telling you. Truing a wheel is locating the point most out of balance and making fine adjustments. Listening and knowing that improvements are only halfway. They are about meeting in the middle – the right way to compromise to become stronger. Truing a wheel is restoring balance to something that can never be perfect, to something that struggles to remain unified under the pressure you put upon it.
Over the course of my class I learned that bicycle maintenance is whatever you need it to be. It is teaching you how to remain upright, teaching you how to be safe. It is teaching you that even if something isn’t pretty, isn’t just so, that it doesn’t mean it’s not good enough, that it can’t get you where you need to go. You just might have to pedal harder to get there.
I needed bike maintenance to be about getting me into shape. To be about putting me up on a rack and looking my chains in the eye and recognizing that parts of me are rusty, parts of me are broken, parts of me need fixing. I could ignore them. Could ride it out until the spokes fail, until the wheel gives out beneath me. Or, I could make some changes. Test my limits. Recalibrate. And set myself true. Make small adjustments and expect incremental changes.
On the way home the streets were deserted and I smiled thinking about how I’d spent the evening. It was only fitting that I would catch up with my past on Church Street, at the point where the rails of the N Judah intersect. Although I have tried avoiding it for years, the fact is, there are just some people you are supposed to know in this life. Some people that you constantly find yourself crossing paths with even when you don’t want to. People who you listen to their stories, and know their wheels are out of true, even if what they say is nothing at all. Because there are some things you must feel to know. And some parts you cannot fix.
So even though you can see the spokes beginning to pull away from their wheels, even though you can tell they really need to participate in the life of their bike, you part knowing they are going to risk it, while you are stopping, flipping your bike onto its back, and watching as they pedal away, seeing how far they can get without you.