Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Cycling Widow
by Barb Cooper

I don't know why it took me so long to figure it out but it finally occurred to me what I am. For centuries, we Texas women have lost our mates for months at a time to passions that take them away from family life and their responsibilities. We've been Hunting Widows or Golf Widows and mostly, Football Widows. Obviously, we haven't actually lost our husbands -- we can usually locate the physical incarnation of the men on a golf course or in the den -- It's just that their MINDS are gone, and for whole sporting seasons, all they can talk about, all they can THINK about, all they DREAM about is whatever obsession currently drives them. Even an exorcism wouldn't be able to bring these men back.

How do I know this? Well, it seems that there is a new breed of widow, especially in Austin, home of one of the greatest bicycle racers of all time. You can call us the Cycling Widows but I think you better whisper when you say it, especially now that race season is upon us.

My husband is not a professional cyclist. In fact, he's only been riding for about two years. He's in the high-tech world for most of the daylight hours and he's a dedicated and involved father and husband during most of the nighttime ones... except if a bike ride is planned... or a cycling magazine comes in the mail... or, heaven help me, if a race is in the offing. Or, heaven help me even more, if a race has just happened -- the recap/debriefing of such events should have been included in the Geneva Convention under cruel and unusual punishment of prisoners.

He has a sense of humor about it, though, and I get little glimpses into the strange, strange world of Boys and Their Bikes. My husband says that when the guys ride, it's as if they are all six-years-old again on their first Tuffy bikes. By day they are computer professionals and lawyers and policemen, and all exhibit the judgment of their weighty professions, but when they ride together, if some other rider has the audacity to pass them, it's, as my spouse says, "Go Time." -- meaning they will almost kill themselves to catch that hapless cyclist and leave him or her in the dust. It's an unwritten rule. They laugh at themselves and each other for it (especially if the other rider turns out to be some octogenarian out for a joy ride), but it still happens.

Another funny thing is the cycling lingo. Maybe it comes from our favorite announcer, Phil Liggett, who, along with his cohort Paul Sherwin, usually presides over televised cycling. Phil is given to classic utterances like: "Lance Armstrong is coming down this finishing straight like a Grand Prix motor car!" and "Are they on the road to stardom, or are they lambs to the slaughter?" or "He's suffering like he's never suffered before...." Professional cyclists never have "hard" rides; the rides are always "epic." The cyclists all "suffer" and "sacrifice" for their sport (understandable given what I've read about saddle sores).

My husband and his riding friends have adopted the hyperbole. "Oh, man, we suffered today!" my husband will announce cheerfully and then I get to hear the entire forty-one hills of the latest ride recounted. Even as my eyes are rolling back in my head and I'm praying I don't swallow my tongue, I can just hear the satisfaction in his voice. If he wasn't so darned cute about all this, I'd be forced to remind him that I've gone through potty training with BOTH of our children and I know all about suffering. What he does is ride a bike. There's a difference.

But, you know, cycling is actually pretty benign, as obsessions go. I know that when my husband's head swivels as he's watching some pretty woman pedal by, chances are, he's not looking at HER. Seriously! He's checking out her bike. Also, a nice bicycle is a lot less expensive than a red sports car and hair implants. Plus, it's not a bad thing to wake up on Sunday mornings and wander down to the kitchen for a cup of coffee only to find that the kitchen is full of men dressed in colorful tights.

And, of course, my husband now weighs something like five pounds LESS than he weighed in high school, and he has this weird physiological drive that makes him eat everything in the house not expressly labeled as FOR DINNER PARTY ON TUESDAY when he drops below a certain weight. This is very galling, not only because I often forget to label things, but also because I'm decidedly NOT thinner than I was in high-school. Plus it brings out my competitive nature and I suddenly need to eat every M&M in the house before my husband finds them (talk about "Go Time." We all have our areas in which we excel).

Then, too, there was the lovely romantic evening my husband and I had in Dallas a few years ago. My parents kept the kids so we could go out for a nice dinner with wine and candlelight and no children. Afterward, I snuggled up next to him; he was almost asleep. "I love..." he said. I smiled and leaned closer to hear.

"...my bike."
Barb Cooper is an Austin mama, writer and contented cycling widow.