Sneaker Friends

Like most people, I generally determine the value of my friends by the uncomfortable situations we’re willing to endure for each other. A few months ago, despite the ready availability of messaging apps, I agreed to a phone call with a friend. It lasted an hour, after which I understood how war unites veterans together for life. My conviction that experiencing discomfort is a critical part of any friendship also manifests – in those rare periods of self-clarity – in attempts to make up for forcibly strapping friends into the train wreck of my life via self-flagellation.

It’s not something new, like one of those dark and twisted things that come out in your 30s once you accept yourself for the person that you really are. Instead, it’s more similar to a mutation of prior tendencies to pair social activities with oxygen deprivation. Given that my aerobic capacity is currently capped at climbing a flight of stairs at a geriatric pace, I’ve managed to transfer the unique experience of bike rides that annihilate your self-esteem to sneaker lines.

sports lab by atmos bag

It works like this: a notice is posted online, including, recently, a dress code, and my Saturday starts at an hour that makes my lack of Friday night social activities glaringly obvious. In the winter, I pull on a base layer and my Woolie Boolies and join the hundreds of other people who apparently have nothing better to do on a weekend morning. We’re all waiting in the cold for the same thing, except that I’m in line not to buy a pair for myself, or as a reseller, but on the hope that I’ll win a pair of size 10 shoes for a best friend.


To date, I have yet to pull out the winning ticket to a pair of anything special. My inability to absolve myself – at least, temporarily – necessitates more lining up for hours. Every time, I ask the universe to make me appear to be a better friend by gifting me a pair of atmos x Nike shoes. It never happens, which makes sense in a karmic way. Rather than bringing home the white whale of Nike collabs, I’m forced to learn how to be a less exhausting friend through the negative people I keep around in my life as cautionary tales.

“But I can’t,” they’ll usually say in those conversations I seek out, out of either a foolish sense of charity or as overdue karmic punishment, “I can’t get out of this situation that I’m choosing to stay in.”

flat fix

Cornering myself into becoming a cheerleader for a more positive outlook, I advocate for looking on the bright side, arguing that it isn’t really as dismal as it seems. You could argue that playing the alternative role – of approving of marinating in extreme unhappiness – would be irresponsible. That the natural human response to a friend’s voluntarily relinquishment of agency is to firmly tell him or her to snap out of it, if only to exonerate yourself of responsibility for any consequent dive into even deeper depression. Yet, there is nothing more effective than a tantrum of hopeless despair to trigger a natural sense of sustained optimism.

I emerge from those conversations with a desperate sense of possibility. Like rides that crush your lungs and shatter your self-worth, I make a mental note of that fact that there is value in the effort of becoming a better friend, however vain. That your friends can’t let you win the race to the next telephone pole or the town line unless you drag your ass to the starting line of that group ride. That there’s slightly more shame to a DNS than a DNF.

I try to remember that as I wait in line, shivering, hands practically numb, for the next pair of hyped shoes.

The Postcard Project

“Do you read a lot?” A then-new friend asked me a few months ago.

“No, not really,” I said, almost with guilt, because the question sparked a memory of an acquaintance who seems to finish a book a week, broadcasting her consumption via Instagram. In comparison, I am a practicing anorexic, selecting to sip and savor tropes at a deliberate pace. I read, re-read, and watch sentences slowly unfurl into rich, bittersweet storylines. By the time I lumber through the last page – and they have to be real, paper pages – I can’t think of peeling back the cover of a new book until everything inside has settled.

I didn’t used to be like this. Until a handful of years ago, I faithfully relied on my slim Kindle, a nearly ancient version featuring the miniature keyboard and absolutely no touch screen. You had to click through the pages, back and forth, via oblong buttons on the side of the device. “Flipping through” a book meant furiously clicking back a page at a time and hoping you’d land somewhere near that sentence you really liked but forgot to bookmark. And then repeating the process to get back to where you were. It made recalling passages nearly impossible. You simply couldn’t go back to something you didn’t have the foresight to highlight. On the other hand, it encouraged progression like any good electronic device; the meter at the bottom of the screen encouraged me to read faster, consume more, and hoard titles – instantly delivered via wi-fi! – in my slim, gray bank. I bought into it, becoming the ideal Amazon customer. I bought e-books because “they’re so much cheaper than the print versions,” and left them to hibernate. I became those people who buy books – print or electronic – as if purchasing literature would also include the instant download of the thought and intellect required to actually read and comprehend what was inside. Books, by virtue of their ability to be consumed in bulk, were the new intellectual status symbol.

Somehow, through this era of enarmorment with an “electronic reading device,” I was able to retain enough self-awareness to realize that I wouldn’t be able to read anything remotely thought-provoking in an electronic format. Those books remained out of reach, simply because recalling themes and paragraphs would either take several days to click back to, or the process would be so frustrating that I would invariably drive my head through a wall. This, coupled with the purchase of an iPhone that turned my life into a parody of human interaction, switching from screen to screen to screen to screen, finally broke me. I ricocheted back to real books, embracing the ability to literally thumb through creamy pages fat with words.

Recently, that focus on the real has leaked over to email, Facetime, Skype, texts. So much of our lives is filtered through a screen – both literally and figuratively – that communication, while instantaneous, becomes less meaningful. “It erodes,” Noam Chomsky once said in an interview, of the Internet, “normal human relations.”

Separated by most of my friends by an ocean and several time zones, it’s never clear whether anyone who is unfortunate enough to be closely associated with me truly understands my gratitude for their company. In a world saturated with emails and texts, lines declaring that partners in crime are missed, that five year old custom-made frames are still dearly loved, that I still think of that ride when, or how grateful I am that certain people stuck around until I clawed my way out of a vortex of depression, seem to risk getting lost in the deluge. And because I think the world of my friends, and because I am stubborn, I started to make postcards.

Measuring 10.5cm by 15cm, they’re small collages of memories patched together from piles of old magazines. They’re fun to make between food portraits, and layering paper on thicker stock gives them a nice, tangible weight. They’re real. Hand-made, hand-written, and hand-sent. Three have arrived at their destinations thus far (the wait is excruciating, compared with the click and send of email), with more (hopefully, lots more) on the way.

Fingers crossed they have their intended impact. And even if they don’t, each one is really the best 70yen I’ve spent. 

paris, tu me manques

I've been back from Paris for a few days now, with a suitcase full of delicious stuff (chocolate! caramel sauce!), time spent with some new friends (Ryan van Duzer! The Grubers!), good memories made with old friends (Alex W.! Dave Chiu!), and a nasty cold that's turning into walking pneumonia (I haven't stopped coughing since the Tour ended). 

But here's some stuff I was up to while I was in Paris...

[More pictures from Paris are here!]

september selection

Work's been kind of hectic the past two weeks [hence the lack of posting], but here are a few highlights [well, the ones that didn't involve Lotto-Belisol trains] for the month:
- The 300 not on 100. So jealous. Wish I had been there!

- Le-N-lo: possibly the best $299 modification you could ever add to your bike.

- ...Sorry, I LOL'ed:

- This month's boner killer: proof that Degenkolb has been doing nothing but eating kuchen between the TDF and World's. [Thanks, Josh.]

Andddd I'm headed to NYC in a few hours for a week of coffee, bikes, friends, and CX. See you guys on the other side!

3, 3, 3

Three days before my birthday [I am now officially 70 years younger than the Tour de France], I only managed a scant 30 miles.
But there was a little over 3700ft of climbing, which included one of my most favorite passes. I even took a few of you there with me, breaking up the cathartic quiet with mental images of a Rosko, a Parlee, and a super fast Ridley.

As a woman, I suppose I should have been riding 100 miles or 100 km on Sunday, but a haircut and color [you can't tell but it's a dark, dark brown] seemed more pressing. Because you can't turn 30 with bad hair [but sweaty eyeliner is perfectly acceptable].

More words soon.