By Christopher Cudworth
All cyclists are pirates, of a sort, riding by one Code or another. Some are road cyclists where the Code dictates sharing the burden on the pulls into the wind. Others are triathlete pirates where it’s every man or woman for themselves on those twitchy ships we call “tri-bikes.”
Drafting is against the rules in triathlon. Thus the tales or riding in the wind are not just legendary among triathletes, they are legion. “Can you imagine what the winds on Kona must be like,” one IronWoman says as we pull through 20 miles of headwind on a ride down by Ottawa, Illinois. I look over at her. She’s a good rider. Slung low on her Cannondale Slice tri-bike she cuts through the wind without complaint. Triathletes can be big complainers as a matter of jest, but when the going gets tough they generally shut up, put their heads down and ride because there’s a job to do. For better or worse.
They’re quite used to training without benefit of a group or an audience and that’s especially true for those who do the half Ironman and Ironman distances. You simply can’t train all those miles and expect someone else to be there with you all the time. Sometimes that has a cost, or perhaps it’s the other way around in which the cost produces the effort.
In that way the triathlon is rather like an allegory for marriage. It’s made up of so many moving parts; stages, transitions and the race as a whole is a test of will. Yet the goal is to keep it together and make it work in the long haul. That’s not always easy.
Which is probably why a fair amount of people who discover the sport of triathlon also seem to find a new current running through their lives with a force much like the pull of the Gulf Stream beckoning them on. If the pull becomes sufficient they really do become a pirate of a sort because life begins to be seen through something like a different code of existence.
It all reminds me of a song by Rickie Lee Jones, called Pirates:
Joey live on the edge of the corner
Of living on the run
I like to ride in the middle
I’m just tryin to have some fun
Until the pirates come
And take me
It happens. Pirates just try to have fun but life has a way or pushing back in ways that makes the wind feel that much better.
That is why it is so nice to get out on the open road where the shit that happens like a flat tire or a long pull into the wind with a band of fellow pirates can feel a lot better than the shit we all deal with in a lifetime.
We’ve come together for a 63-mile ride in the swells of north-central Illinois for a change of pace. Triathlon season is over for the lot of our riders, and criterium season for me, although I raced just once all year, riding off the front at the start like a pirate maniac, doing two laps at full sail for 26 mph and pulled over.
I know exactly why I did that. For quite some time I’d been marooned an an island not out of choice but of necessity. A pirate’s mind gets a little restless with nothing but the passing clouds for company. The manic pace was the product of a mind that had spent too much time talking to itself. But at least I had not started to answer too. I sailed through that madness to get to the other side, and a newly opened mind.
As we pull over to rest at the 42 mile point of the 63 mile Pumpkin Pie ride, there is no question the October wind is going to be a fierce companion on the way home. The final run will take us 21 miles straight into the teeth of a southern gale. So the crew takes a vote: If we’re going to work that hard, we might as well take a rest on the harbor of a rest stop and eat. There are pulled pork sandwiches to ingest, and cookies, potato soup and hot chocolate.
Yet if Heaven is pigging out on free food during a cool autumn ride, Hell is knowing you are probably actually gaining weight as you go. Sure enough, my scale on Monday morning shows a 3-pound gain. But that’s the reality of the Open Seas: even a good ship takes on water now and then.
I can’t feel too bad about a little potential weight gain because the captains of many bikes on the Pumpkin Pie Ride are definitely too big for the raft and too slow for a draft. Yet you develop an admiration for anyone who sets out on open water when the winds are high. There’s simply no sense or good faith in judging others lest the Great Judge of All render your own fate. Even the best pirate had better remain humble, for we ply a fearsome trade out in the wind.
It really does take a bit of courage and work to live outside the laws of smooth sailing. Our bikes are sharp and expensive like small ships that only we can steer. So we band together and follow the currents of our lives until they steer us elsewhere. As we talk about those ocean paths, a new Code kicks in. What gets shared at sea stays at sea.
And I won’t need a pilot
Got a pirate who might sail
Somewhere I heard far away
You answer me
So I’m holding on
To your rainbow sleeves
We love what we do, for better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. We learn there is more than one kind of vow in this world, a Pirate’s Code. We swear allegiances forged on conversations in which souls are bared. When we change shirts the others stare at the marks of 50 lashes and wonder, “How did they survive that?”
But we do. Even in the present the wind is known to shred the sails of hope and so we learn to pull in the canvas at times of great risk. But we patch them up and pedal on.
Well, goodbye boys,
Oh my buddy boys,
Oh my sad-eyed sinatras
It’s a cold globe around the sea
You keep the shirt that I bought ya
And I know you’ll get the chance to make it
And nothin’s gonna stop you
You just reach right out and take it
You say – so long, lonely avenue
So long lonely avenue
When it’s over and the girls have changed from funky bike shorts to cute shorts and skirts, shedding clothing between cars where fearless pirate girls change clothes without fear of showing lady parts, it all feels right and whole, being a pirate. So it is again a merry band walking up the street toward the pumpkin pie that is our promised reward, a slice of life, and pirate food in a home port.
I’ll see you there
Wait ’n see
Be lookin’ for me
Just like you
Just like me
We haven’t solved all the world’s problems or even all of our own this fine October morn. But we have sailed together and seen the rolling sea that we have navigated on intimate terms to discover yet another facet of ourselves with an outlaw joke or two thrown in for good measure. Pirates love a good laugh along with strong grog, hearty fare and a tailwind on the speeding loop back into harbor. But above all, pirates love other pirates. Ahoy, me mateys.