By Craig Latimer
First published in Singletrack Magazine issue 1
A speeding ticket gave Craig Latimer an unexpected excuse to ride his bike more. He didn’t count on quite how much more…
I am driving a borrowed vehicle, a sleek, powerful, four-wheel drive truck, late-model and plush. Also fast. In fact, I am driving it at 70-miles an hour through a 35 mile an hour zone. I am not doing it because I am disorderly or drunk or a bad person. In fact, I have borrowed the vehicle to deliver children’s books for a nonprofit, Christian organisation. Honest. I am driving at this speed simply because I am thinking about other things. Besides, all trucks – hell, most cars I’ve ever owned, rattle and shimmy like Tina Turner on hot coals once they exceed 50 miles an hour. This vehicle is buff and flying and besides, I’m thinking about what might have happened if Carlos Baerga had singled in the ninth inning against the Braves in the World Series and I’m thinking about what a little minx Julia Louise Dreyfess is and what a damn shame that Hank Williams died at 29 and where I should eat lunch and what privileges I’m going to take away from my kid if I get home and the lawn still isn’t mowed. I am yanked from this reverie by a-lookin’-in-my-mirror-and-a-seeing-a-po-lice-car.
After the officer informs me of my transgressions and fines me enough money to buy new Rockshox, I continue on my way, not realising that the journey has only begun.
A letter from those dutiful folks at the Department Of Transportation informs me that in March they will see fit to revoke my driving privileges for a period of two weeks. This, they reason, will teach me a lesson. “Oh yes”, they add, “…and Happy Christmas”.
The two week period for my suspension begins today and I have made an important decision. I am going to drive anyway. First of all, this not-driving is simply not going to fit into my lifestyle. I love to ride my bike as much as the next guy, but the current job description I have found for myself requires suits, ties, shined shoes, an appointment here, a drive across the county there, meetings with zoot-suit-corporate-types where bike-helmet-hair is neither acceptable nor understood. Besides, it’s just for two weeks. I will obey the speed limits religiously. I will not for one second be so foolish as to drive with alcohol on my breath or in my blood. I will be a model driver. I will be okay.
I have just finished talking to two different school groups on the glories of the non-profit Christian organisation. I leave the basement of the small church in the small country town where the meeting was held. I drive away on a back road which follows several sharp bends before it comes out to an intersection with a lightly travelled secondary road. At this intersection, there are Police everywhere and they have created a road block. An officer comes over to my window and says, “Sorry to bother you sir. Just a routine roadside check. Can I see your drivers license?”
How I laughed…
My newly imposed three month suspension begins today. I have made an important decision. I am going to ride my bike. Or as the judge put it, “If you are caught driving without a license again, you WILL be incarcerated,” and I don’t even want to think what would happen in jail to a pretty boy like me.
As the day of atonement drew near, I made sure that my bikes were ready for the task ahead. I would use my Fat for banging around town, for local errands and for the short run to my nearby office. For the longer trips into the city where I must do business, I will call on Low Fat, my mountain bike with the narrower tires and a semblance of an aerobar, more of an aerothang actually, but a bit quicker for the Urban Canyon and the increased traffic I will be dealing with. I have both bikes outfitted with speedos so I can keep track of my mileage and I have both bikes equipped with a rear rack. On these I hang the all-important panniers which I drag out of storage from my touring and commuting days. These won’t be seeing camping gear, but will be used to carry the suits, ties, shined shoes and toiletries necessary for my corporate look. These next ninety days should be an experience.
I live two miles from the town where my local office is. My house is on top of a hill and this morning I began my first day of motorised celibacy by gliding into town with Fat’s knobbies whirring. I grab some coffee and a danish and make my appointed rounds. I have no awkward corporate meetings to speak of. I get all my work done. I ride my bike home. It is good.
I am so tired. I… am… so… very… very… tired…
I am so tired. I… am… so… very… very… tired…
Today, I had a number of errands and appointments in town early, logging about twenty miles. I then had a meeting in the city at 2:30. I finished the local stuff, rode home, got the suit packed, grabbed Low Fat and left for the city. It is 21 miles one way. After I arrived, I showered at the non-profit Christian organisation, knotted the tie and walked three blocks to the meeting. When it was over, I walked back, changed, and rode home. I did 64 miles today. I am weary.
On my way to an appointment, I use some bad judgement. On an off-camber turn into a parking lot and at a pretty good speed, I lay Fat down on the pavement, donating a nice chunk of my hip to the road. I get up, a bit shaken, but like all good road rashes, this one hurts much worse later. But it makes me think, “Hey, I gotta be careful.” Before, if I crashed or had some real or imagined minor injury, I just took a few days off riding until it healed. But the bike is now my link to my job and my life. If I encounter a bone-cracking endo, an ingrown toenail or a rogue haemorrhoid, I will become a person who cannot drive nor ride a bike and the professional world I inhabit will have little use for me. If I am not mobile, I am not employable. If I have no job, I will lose my home, my wife won’t be too keen on me and the downward spiral gains momentum.
I am rather new to this job, less than a year actually, and getting acclimatised to the position had kept me from riding much. In fact, prior to my enforced riding, I was easily in the worst shape I can remember. I have now rocketed from averaging an embarrassingly paltry 10-15 miles a week to getting about 150 miles a week. My body is slow to adapt but it doesn’t matter. There is no day off. There are no hard days followed by easy days, there are just every days. I must ride every day, some days longer than others but everyday. What I have got going here is a ninety day stage race.
I had an 8 a.m. meeting at my local office today. I left the house at 7 a.m. and rode Fat four miles to the office, parked the bike behind the building, went inside and changed. I got the office ready for the meeting, walked down to the corner to get coffee and doughnuts, came back and received my visitors. At 10 a.m. they left, I cleaned up post meeting papers, changed back to Bicycle Man, rode home, got different clothes and packed up Low Fat for the twenty-mile ride into the city. I arrived, showered, changed, had the meeting there, then afterward, picked up a bulk mailing that had to be delivered to the post office four miles away. I carefully bungied the forty-pound box to the rear bike rack, pedalled to the post office, delivered my cargo and rode home.
My legs are aching. I would like to have a beer or six as I slump in my chair tonight and watch The Simpsons but I have a 9 a.m. meeting 30 miles away tomorrow, and must be ready to ride. The stage race continues.
I am so tired. I… am… so… very… very… tired…
I am pedalling across town around 2:30 in the afternoon. There is a light but steady rain. Some friends of my teenage son drive by in their car, honking their horn, waving at me. They are bemused, amused, giggling and contemplating this strange old man, this grown-up who has to ride his bike in the rain as they drive their car. Just remember, I think to myself as I mentally admonish the youngsters: Driving Is A Privilege, Not a Right.
Just remember, I think to myself as I mentally admonish the youngsters: Driving Is A Privilege, Not a Right.
A serious development in my plans. My soccer playing son injures his knee in practice. It requires doctors’ appointments, visits for physical rehabilitation and the scrutiny of medical professionals who keep appointed rounds. I cannot deliver my son to these gatherings. It’s possible there is a world where a man can ride his bike and never need a car, but I’ll bet it’s not a married world. I love riding my bike, but the person penalised in my brush with the traffic law is my wife who has to come home from work, then pick up groceries or my son or arrange for the drive to the doctor’s appointment or pick up the shed door and the salt block from the hardware store. When she returns from a late errand, I have learned not to speak euphorically of my blissful day of bike riding. I learned real quick.
This is a great ride. A back road, thirty miler to a noon meeting. A bright, hot sunny day. I am incorporating a new route, investigating some fine dirt roads and have allowed myself plenty of time to enjoy the ride. Then a problem. My pannier comes detached and horrifyingly gets yanked by the spokes into my back wheel. A major disaster. I pull over and attempt a roadside repair. Some spokes are broken and the wheel is out of whack. Panic rips through me. I pop off the rear wheel, getting a nice smear of black grease on my hands and beyond. I do some kicking and pounding on the wheel in an attempt to shape it into rideable form. Sweat is pouring off me. I begin to curse this thing that has happened. A mosquito bites me in the ass. If I can’t get this fixed, I can’t get to the meeting. A trucks drives by. At high speed. Gravel and stones and choking dust fly. Why is that asshole allowed to drive? I swear at the bike and at my lot in life. If I can’t get this fixed, I can’t get to the meeting. I know I already said that, but I really am starting to panic. At the meeting will be professionals, civic leaders, corporate hob nobs, people who probably drove to the meeting in air-conditioned cars with big soft seats and digital compact disc stereos. But that’s them. Me, I’m out on this freaking hot, dusty road with a broken bike. I wipe the sweat from my face, not realising I’m applying road grease war paint across my forehead at the same time that I am hating the cop that gave me the ticket, hating the legal system that keeps me, a taxpaying, fairly honest citizen from driving. I am 45 years old with a kid in college and one in high school. I carried the freaking Olympic torch this summer for chrissake! I earned a merit badge in Cub Scouts. I’m not just another loser, I have a high-school diploma! I once threw a Frisbee off the Eiffel Tower. I am very good to my mother. Why won’t the bastards let me drive a car?!
I bend the wheel into a semblance of shape and limp to my meeting, getting there just in time to shower off the grease and dust. Halfway through a meeting that revolves around a discussion of financing budgets and corporate growth, I want to jump up on the table and shout, “I can kick the shit out of anybody here in a bike race!”
I realise I need therapy.
Most days I stop at this roadside stand and buy some corn on the cob for dinner. A little girl about 12 years-old runs the stand for her parents. Today, after about two weeks of visits, she watched me very closely as I counted a dozen ears and stuffed them into my panniers.
“Do you always ride your bike,” she asks.
“Yes,” l tell her. “I ride every single day.”
“Are you ever going to drive a car?”
“Yes,” I say. “But only when the prickly men that hold sway over the rules which unjustly govern society look within their souls to see the crimes that they commit against the good people. When our so-called leaders come out of their ivory towers and face the reality of what is fair in a society which attempts to function in the face of iron clad rules that cannot conform to fit what is truly a proper measure of justice. And when that day comes and I rise up, it will be to show them that they can’t break the spirit of a man who isn’t afraid to ramble the roads of this land in a manner that befits the will of humans everywhere.”
“That’ll be two dollars for the corn,” she says.
I got my bill for my petrol company credit card. I bought no petrol in August. I owe them no money. YESSSSSS!
I am in incredible bike shape. I am a god. I have a 10:30 a.m. meeting in the city and I purposely lollygag around the house, not walking out the door until 9:10. From the get go, Low Fat and I are low flying. I am prime. This is a down on the bars, knobby singing zoom-ride, blowing off intersections like suicide is painless. This is flat-out bicycle-messenger riding, city-kamikaze style, stoplight-ignoring, four-way scan and go. I hit the traffic flow hard, booming and zooming along the right hand lane. It’s me and Low Fat vs. the fossil fuel, emission spewing traffic and we’re winning. My legs feel like dynopistons. Passing cars slowed by grid-lock makes for the greater illusion of speed and I’m like LeMond on the final day of the ‘89 Tour. I cruise into my lock-up spot outside the offices of the non-profit Christian organisation with enough time for a long shower and a carefully knotted tie. A ride so exhilarating, it’s better than a French kiss from a girl chewing Juicy Fruit. I’m selling my car.
Ten years ago, in the first blush of enjoyment over my new mountain bike, I put on a very loosely organised, no entry fee, buddy’s-only, word-of-mouth, semi-gnarly mountain bike race. Last night was the tenth anniversary of the race which is 15 miles long. And hilly. I stormed through it, then we repaired to my buddies house to celebrate the 10th anniversary. We did this by drinking and shouting and watching a really cool tape of Muhammad Ali fights and turning Chris Duarte up loud and pounding enough Rolling Rocks to start an avalanche. My buddy drove me home and this morning I groggily awoke, packed up The Suit and wobbled Low Fat toward a forty mile round trip and a corporate appearance.
I am too old for this.
Neil Young and Steve Earle are in Pittsburgh. I can’t go because I can’t drive. I feel like a grounded teenager.
I work in my home office most all day. My son, who has recovered from his injury, has his first junior soccer game today at a field in the country about 17 miles from here. I finish up my office work and leave the house about 3:20. The route I will be taking to the game is over some beautiful, hilly, dirt roads, with a quick cut-through connector of some single track crossing a game land. It is one helluva beautiful day.
After a day of great weather outside and me in the office inside, this is so terrific it can’t be described. I power up and over a big hill then zoom down the other side. I catch a big sweeping bend to the right and am hauling serious ass. Clocking close to forty as the road swings back left, I’m on the line like Oprah on a baked ham. I’m drawing closer to the soccer field and it’s 4:28. The game starts at 4:30 and I glide up to the field just as the captains shake hands and the teams take their position. My healthy kid makes a couple of great saves in goal and we win 2-1 on this most incredible day. This ride, my life, my kid, our team, all is Glory! Glory! Glory!
Here is how it works. To attain the corporate look while travelling by bike, the panniers must be packed methodically. In the side and back pockets are the travelling essentials. One rear pocket holds spare tube, plastic tire tools, mini-pump, Swiss army knife and mini tool kit. Other rear pocket holds deodorant, shampoo/conditioner and small jar of maple syrup. Side pocket holds bike lock. For corporate meetings in the city, all the clothes are laid out the night before, then folded carefully just before leaving to avoid wrinkles. Tie can be folded up into the shirt and placed carefully on folded slacks with the socks jammed into the shoes which are placed in a plastic bag at the bottom of the compartment. In the other large compartment, the sport coat is carefully folded. Side pocket holds a ball cap and whatever papers need to go to the meeting. I keep a bungy cord on the rack for the unforeseeable as well as a place to jam a newspaper or magazine.
This is weird. Most of my life of recent vintage has been working during the week and getting out on the weekend to ride my bike. Now, I ride my bike all week and on the weekends, I seek blissful recovery time. My buddies call for a weekend ride. I can’t go, I say. I need to rest up for the week ahead.
I am two months into my three month sentence. I have gone 1,250 miles on two different bikes. The first month was interesting, an experiment. The second month has been tolerable but this last month is going to be tough. The weather is turning wet and cold and my wife hates me. She is driving everywhere, doing every errand and I am bursting with good health.
She HATES me.
The weather is very bad today. The forecast is for 100% chance of rain. The wind is gusting up to 40 miles an hour. I have to pick up ten cases of juice and eight hundred cups for a big race I am putting on tomorrow. I make a decision to do something illegal. I am going to drive. Let me tell you about love. I am cruising down the highway experiencing this wonderful sensation of a motor vehicle as it effortlessly pulls me along, truly as if it is the wind beneath my wings. And I’ve always hated that song. But I don’t hate anything right now, I just know I am gliding as if by magic.
I have brought along for the ride a hot cup of coffee and a Chocolate Kreme Krimpie TastyKake and the sensation of powering along (I have set the cruise control five miles below the speed limit) while enjoying the aromatic coffee and the sweet chocolate biscuit is enough to make me weep. The rain outside beats fiercely but inside, me, my coffee and my cupcake are cosy and dry. It is warm in the car, so I flick a switch and cool air flows from the air vents. No, now it is cold so I switch a dial and comforting heat wraps me in its hands. Isn’t this true joy?
I awake from my thoughts and suppose that there might be even more. I press a button and the car is filled with majestic melody. It is the radio playing “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Wow, maybe I’m all wrong about this song. The music and the car sweep me along down the freeway. I change the channel. An interesting discussion is taking place about some sporting event. I don’t recall it exactly now, but the two people talking are marvellously witty and insightful. The discussion only ends when a commercial interjects with a man trying to sell the various used vehicles he has on his lot. He sounds so very reliable and sincere and it seems that if you were to go to his place of business right away, he will grant you with especially good service. Is all radio this wonderful?
As I glide along I notice on the hard shoulder that a truck and car have tried to occupy the same space at the same time. And then I notice the flashing lights of a Police car. The TastyKake begins to choke me. I spike a level of paranoia heretofore unknown. I can actually feel my body prickle and my stomach grow knuckles.
I swerve to the off-ramp, merge into traffic, then pull off on a side street and get out of the car. I pace up and down alongside the car feeling the need for a Camel although I’ve never smoked in my life. Jesus, I almost freaked out back there. Here I am, The Fugitive. That cop pulls me over and I have to leap off the Hoover Dam. How did things get so out of control?
Finally, I begin to calm down, my breathing returns to normal, I get back in the car and furtively move through the city streets. I pick up the drinks and lurk home on back roads, a perfectly good drive spoiled.
An appointment in the city today at 10 a.m. I ride in and stop at a service station across from the meeting place. I ask the attendant for a rest room key and squeeze my bike bags and gear into a filthy, smelly stall and change into Corporate Man. Except for Corporate Shoes. It seems that I neglected to pack my dress shoes. Damn! So, I am now ready for battle in my slacks, shirt, nifty tie, sport coat and … my seriously beat up Answer Accelerators. Must look at the up side, though. At this meeting, someone might be wearing a blue blazer identical to mine. Someone could have my tie on. Someone could be wearing an oxblood cloth blue shirt just like mine. But I’ll bet I’ve got the best bike shoes in the room.
One more week. Just one more week. Seven more days. Then I can drive.
Big business meeting today. I think my sport coat is starting to suffer the wear and tear of being constantly stuffed into panniers. If you realise what it’s been through, it looks pretty damn good. But when I walk into the corporate scene and see people who have arrived well-dressed, their clothes coddled by the comfort of an automobile, I probably look pretty hay-seed. This has been the crux of this whole thing. On one hand, I want to say, “Hey, considering I’ve ridden my bike 20 miles through a rainstorm to get here, I’d say I look pretty snappy.” On the other hand, I don’t really want any extra consideration or any attention brought to my circumstances.
You cannot believe how many times I have already explained this story of how I lost my license. I find myself steering conversation away from my appearance and means of conveyance. Not because I’m embarrassed by it but because I have grown weary of reciting the story.
And this is weird. Every time I do tell someone I have lost my license, the first thing they think is ‘drunk driving’. Makes me wonder about my reputation in the drinking community.
I walk down the driveway and I go to the mail box. The mail has not yet arrived. I walk back up the drive way and I wait on the porch. The mailman comes down the road and pulls up and stuffs papers into my box, then drives away. I walk down the driveway and I go to the mailbox. My heart is pounding. I reach in and sort through, coming to an envelope from the Dept. of Transportation. I open the letter. Inside is my license. Oh, Sweet Jesus. I feel weak and fall to my knees. Oh, Thank You! Oh, Thank You! I can be just like the other kids now, Oh Lordy, I Can Drive!
It’s a year since my first, innocent speeding ticket. A year…
Got a big chunk of mud up my nose when we raged down that muddy slide and crossed that creek and Twisted Rich endoed but got up laughing so it was okay. We hadn’t ridden down here in the mountains all summer but I picked up Rich and Mac and Tweener and drove ‘em all down for a day in the forest. Kicked their asses, too.
Well, hell, I guess I should.
[This article first appeared on www.dirtragmag.com and was republished in Issue 1 of Singletrack Magazine April 2001 – Used with permission.]