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David L. Stanley
On the Road Again

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 


David Stanley's book Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle is available as an audiobook here.

When the pandemic lockdown first hit, cyclists noticed an extraordinary reduction in road traffic. As regular readers may recall (The Roads are Empty, and I’m too Scared to Ride), the reduction in traffic gave us a marked upswing in distracted driving as drivers interpreted low traffic levels as an excuse to read the morning paper on their phone as they drove a 3,500 lb vehicle.

Things are different today, but not any better. As we maneuver our way through the pandemic, 18 months later, drivers seem angrier and more careless than ever. Just three days ago, September 27, a 16-year-old driver ran down six cyclists in Houston. He has not been charged. In July, NY Jets coach Greg Knapp was murdered (yes, I chose that word on purpose) by a driver who swerved into a bike lane and struck him dead. That driver was not charged. It is dangerous out there.

Yet still, I want to ride outside. The late summer and early fall of 2021 in Michigan has been magnificent. Aside from a few days when it rained so hard one couldn’t see across the street, the weather has been in the low 70s F/low 20s C, the winds calm, the sky cloudless. The leaves are turning, the apple orchard & cidery that is 6 miles from my home and right on my favorite ride is cranking out the donuts. They tin their exquisite hard cider in cans that fit neatly into a jersey pocket.

Yes, sir. I wanted to ride outside.

I did some recon. On my favorite loop, I travel 2.5 miles of moderately trafficked road and reach farm roads with little traffic. Ergo, I got in the car at the time when I normally ride and drove those roads. I parked midway through a favorite loop. I counted cars. I watched behavior. I did so twice. It seemed safe enough.

I bought a rear light. It’s one of those blinky things that flashes red at irregular intervals to the rear, and flashes amber whenever it feels like it to the side. It’s bright, so bright that if I did ride in groups, I would hate to sit on the wheel of someone with one, even with some fancy-pants sunglasses. That would be like the Ultra-Violence overload scene in A Clockwork Orange.

Not long after I bought my light, I was driving down a road near our subdivision and I saw a flashing light, just above the road level, at least one-half mile down the road. My first thought? A little road construction, maybe a yard care guy with a road flasher set out behind his work trailer that was parked by the roadside. As I closed, I realized, no, it was a woman on her morning ride. They are that bright.

Still, my head is always on a swivel. Years of racing criteriums and track taught me how to turn my head on a bike without swerving the bike across the road. Every possible car noise is investigated. I do like a little music on my rides, but the left ear bud, the ear on the traffic side, is never in my ear, and the volume is low. I want to hear the truck just before it plows me over, I suppose.

It felt good to be on the road again. Riding a bike on a trainer is good for fitness, no doubt, but it doesn’t do much for the soul. Hearing one’s tires roll over tarmac and firmly packed gravel roads is a restorative. There are others: the splashing of sailboat’s prow as it beats to windward, the thudding of feet as they meet dirt on a trail run. No matter what one chooses, it needs to be outside.

On my first ride, I saw a fox, a blessed rarity, seated by a drainage ditch near a farm field. I was dive-bombed by Michigan’s ubiquitous red-winged blackbird, territorial as hell even after the babies have fledged and left the nest. Deer abound in the farms; they love to visit the cutover corn fields in the late afternoons when I ride. School buses roll past me, and to date, not one kid has thrown the remains of a lunch or a beverage out the bus window at me. So, I got that going for me… which is nice.

This past Saturday, there was a breeze from the northwest, 10-15 mph. That meant a headwind out but a comfy tailwind home. Heading west and then north into the wind, I tacked comfortably into the wind at 17 mph, 39x16 at 90 rpm on empty, smoothly finished chip and seal road. As I looped around to put the winds astern, I was able to roll the 53x19 at 20 mph with hardly any effort.

I heard the unmistakable potatopotatopotato rumble of a Harley behind me. It belched a couple times as it slowed and I looked back to see what was going on. A good-sized guy sporting his club colors was slowing down right beside me. Dude was wearing a biker beanie helmet covered in stickers. A huge grin was plastered on his face.

“Hey, my brutha! What a great day to ride, huh?” he said as we rolled next to each other.

“You got that right. Man, we have just been nailing the good weather, ya know?” I answered.

“Dude, that bike of yours… that’s titanium, isn’t it?” he asked.

I ride a Lynskey, so the answer is yes.

“Sure is, how’d you know?”

“I’m a toolmaker. Right before the lockdown, I got trained on working with Tee-Eye. We were gonna start doing some work for a new company. Shit is a bitch to weld, lemme tell ya.”

“That’s what I hear. I like the ride, nice and smooth. That, and my sweat is like acid. This bike, you can’t even tell that I’ve been dripping sweat on it for 6-7 years.

“That’s one sweet ride you got, my friend,” I said to him. “That Harley sound… Man, looks like you just rolled it outta the showroom.”

“Yeah, it’s my brother’s. It’s a 2014 Heritage Softail. It’s mint, man. Clean, real clean.”

“Damn, there is not one speck of dust on it.”

“Nope, he likes cleaning it more than ridin’ it. Hehe. I ride it on weekends sometimes, if he’s gotta work. It’s gonna be mine by spring.”

“Your brother is selling his bike? That’s not supposed to happen. We’re supposed to just keep adding to the quiver. A man can’t be selling his bikes.”

“Well, I need transportation. Our shop closed down a couple months after the pandemic. I haven’t found good work since, just a couple little jobs. Money’s tight, ya know.

“My brother runs a construction crew. So’s I’m gonna go back to framin’ houses for him, ’til I get back on my feet. He’s gonna pay me half in cash and half with the bike. I figure 3, 4 houses in, the bike’ll be mine. I like to work. I’m gonna get in the hours, get the bike, keep framin’ ’til some tool work, maybe some welding opens up full-time.”

“Man, losing a good job sucks right now, eh?”

“Yeah, I like tool work. Like metal work. I’m pretty good, too, so it really sucks. We’ll get by. Always do. Hey, we’re out ridin’, eh? It’s all good.”

“You know that’s right.”

“Stay safe out here, brother. These cars, man, motherf**kers are f**king crazy. Good talkin’.”

“Yeah, you, too. Be safe. Thanks for slowin’ down.”

And with a twist, he was going about 60 mph 2 seconds later. On a damned good looking Harley. I watched the bike shrink, then disappear over the next 5 seconds.
“That,” I thought to myself, “is not a conversation you can have when you’re riding a trainer in the basement.”


David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.

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