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Words and photos: Collyn Ahart
Big cars and big portions, the indiscriminate kindness of strangers. Loud talkers and bellowing laughter, long gaits, relaxed jawlines and baggy denim. Whilst you can find all these stereotypes, the real DNA of Americans is movement. To say “he’s really going places” is as much about social mobility as it is about how many state lines you can cross. In America, to so many people, particularly those of us who grew up there, the bicycle was our first taste of freedom. Our first step up the ladder of independence. We’d been told the stories, we’d heard the myths: if you can move, you can go anywhere you want to go, be anyone you want to be. You are your own master. Manifest destiny on two wheels.
While the Italians and French might make similar associations between the bicycle and freedom and independence, nowhere but in America are the solo adventures, the unknown destinations, or the unrepentant wilderness so important to the making of the rider. This is what stands American cycling apart: The myth of the lone rider. And yeah, we’re all a bit like cowboys from time to time…
Home for the holidays, back to America and the roads of my childhood. These were the roads I could navigate blindfolded. I can see the rise and fall in the road from beside the fireplace. I’d ride them until I could tell myself the myths again. Solo on the road, perhaps a bit of a John Steinbeck, instead of a grey poodle for company, the reassuring sound of tyres on tarmac.
Occasionally I’d pass a local riding along. I let myself stay anonymous, try to avoid the inevitable questions that crop up when one exposes oneself as another local. Local by name rather than by address. Why did I leave? How do I like London? Do I ever think I’ll return? My answers are well rehearsed lines, but out on these roads there’s too much room for contemplation. I ride that line between local and foreigner. And then we break apart again, lone rangers facing into the rain and wind with only our own company to keep.
Long drawn out beaches turn to farmland with the blink of an eye. Rolling, jagged coastlines jut upward in violent spires, 26% inclines, nearly too steep to keep rolling. There would be no relenting. Up, down, and back again. There are only so many miles one can explore on a 50-mile island without turning around and doing them again in reverse. With each hill, I’m reminded of familiar aches from the years before.
On two occasions I had the company of my father and his trusty Boulder Bicycle randoneering bike. Loaded up with tools, food and spare clothes, he rides a heavy, slow and methodical pace of a man with too many miles in his legs to rush any more. We’d ride in silence, then break into chatter with every descent. In these hours together we got to share the convictions of any father and daughter, from politics to tyres to coffee to family.
What is home? I call London home, but I call America my home too. These American roads are my borderlands, my frontier, where I am both home and abroad, local and foreign, familiar and yet always different. By coming back home, I can see how far I’ve gone.
- Congratulations to yesterday’s Alpe d'Quiz winner Darren Edwards who receives a Rapha Backpack. Today's prize draw → http://t.co/h4frOXDYma
- @vickiewoodsford @tobytoof @daithetooth @WhittleFit Thanks Vickie, very kind of you to say.
- @daithetooth Thank you Dai.
- @rich_mitch @RaphaCycleClub You're welcome.
- @rich_mitch Hey Rich, you're probably best to head to our @RaphaCycleClub in London to try them on with advice some our knowledgable staff.
- RT @rapha_australia: The first #alpedquiz question has been asked. "FAUSTO COPPI WAS THE FIRST MAN TO DO WHAT?" Answer at http://t.co/EnOFN…
- RT @rapha_n_america: Up Close: The Rapha x Raeburn Fall-Winter Collection via @selectism :: http://t.co/O27Eo9pQGK
- What do you get the cyclist who has everything? Here's what we recommend for the dandy in your life. → http://t.co/ciPREr3fnP
- RT @racefietsblog: Leuk, de Alpe d' Quiz van @RaphaRacing is begonnen! 3 weken elke dag een andere prijs http://t.co/QiWhfY8hXy @rapha_euro…
- The @rapharacing #festive500 is back. Once again we challenge riders worldwide to clock 500km between 24-31 Dec. → http://t.co/HmgDlUJTiI