I first started talking bicycle-related crap on the Internet in 1993, and almost immediately the Internet and the real world collided when I found someone called Mike talking bicycle-related crap on the same bit of the Internet from a couple of buildings away on the same university campus.
The years since have been continuously filled with me talking bicycle-related crap on the Internet, and with more collisions of the Internet and the real world. Some of the more notable of these began in the early 2000s around the time when the then modest population of the Gofar forum migrated to the fledgling Singletrack forum that replaced it. So modest was the population back then that open house parties were broadcast on it, and I soon found myself at the opposite end of the country in a flat full of people I’d previously only known through talking bicycle-related crap on the Internet, if at all. (As Internet/real world collisions would have it, Mike showed up, too.)
From then on, more collisions of the Internet and the real world occurred. I seemed to find myself driving up to the north for several of these, but slowly there came some more convenient ones down south. The northern ones generally involved harder partying with the riding seeming somewhat secondary; the southern ones tended a little to the reverse. But one thing was always a constant, always equally evident on the Internet and in the real world: without exception the people who met up were some of the most openly welcoming, unnecessarily generous and unrelentingly splendid people I’d ever met. People with an unspoken common understanding that favours need not be returned, but should be passed on.
At various times since then, I’ve been given stuff, put up for the night, helped out here and there, plied with food and booze, lent stuff, you name it; but most importantly I’ve shared some great times, some great laughs—proper, hysterical, unstoppable laughs—and some unforgettable miles of riding. I’ve found many friends who, even those with whom I’ve failed to meet up for years, I know I could always count on, and whom I hope would equally count on me.
It’s one of cycling’s many paradoxes: people who ride bikes are often lumped together when someone decides to moan about other people, and we reject the idea of being some sort of collective or community; yet, for the most part, those of us who love riding bicycles do form a bond, because we find amazing people through it. Quite why so many special people seem to be drawn to bicycles I don’t know, but this bond is tenacious and universal: it’s not simply individual relationships between people, it’s greater than the sum of its parts. Happiness and sadness ripple through its entirety.
So when someone in that community, a bright light at its hub, suffers unspeakably shitty misfortune, it is palpable to all. To say that sadness rippled through those bonds after today’s news about Jenn would, I suspect, be rather an understatement.
Thanks to the facts that I’ve barely ridden mountain bikes in years and I no longer have the free time to drive north for weekends, Jenn is one of those that I’ve sadly not seen in ages: I’ve only actually ridden with her two or three times, and they must have been nigh on ten years ago. (Though recently I’ve joined many other Singletrack contributors in having my typos spotted and corrected by her.) But tangential parts of the Internet and the real world have continued to collide in that time, and mutual friends are as strong a glue as anything. Knowing how warm-hearted those mutual friends are towards me, a frankly grumpy and selfish sort of a git, offers some sort of guide as to how much everyone must value Jenn, who is neither grumpy nor selfish. Or a git. And that gives some hint as to the cumulative impact of such crap news across all those bonds.
Back in 2008 I toured through France for a couple of weeks. A big old adventure, I thought at the time. It certainly stretched me, and I was fairly pleased with my efforts when I came back. At which point, I learned that Jenn had just set off to undertake the legendary and monumental challenge of the Tour Divide race. It’s some comfort to the rest of us that if anyone can extract the utmost from what life makes available, it is Jenn.
This seems a fine opportunity to tell every one of the people I’ve mentioned or alluded to, whether dealt a shitty hand or not, how fucking great they all are and how much they add to everyone else’s existence. (And no, I haven’t touched a dr—oh, alright, half a glass.)
And this is a fine opportunity to remind everyone that riding bikes and talking crap on the Internet may very well lead you to an oasis of humanity. And as the world further afield starts to look ever more bleak, that oasis becomes ever more reassuring, ever more surprising, ever more precious.
Ride bikes, talk crap, and meet people who do the same. Ride bikes with them, talk crap with them, get pissed with them, laugh with them, cry with them, be in awe of them, and don’t forget to tell them how much you value all of that.
A toast: To all you cheeky fuckers and beyond.
Photo by Steve M, shamelessly pilfered. We were all a bit younger then.