I’ve been back in Louisville, Kentucky this week visiting my parents, and just outside their door, country roads stretch out like the world’s longest roller coaster. I get on my road bike and cruise their ups and downs across shade-dappled surfaces. I pass through sweet-smelling honeysuckle patches. A snake slithers in the ditch.
In Louisville, I learned how to ride a bike. I was 18, and I didn’t know that bike tires had tubes (or that those tubes needed to be filled with air). I had never heard of clipless pedals. And I didn’t know how to stand up in the saddle to climb a hill. I just knew that I had this desire for speed, and once I got on a road bike, those other details didn’t matter.
In the summer after I started riding, I crashed in my first bike race, I broke my first bone, and I had my first experience with roadrash—which is like a burn, a flaying of the flesh, but the result of body-surfing across asphalt. It was an ugly debut into a sport that somehow stuck.
Despite its painful beginnings, cycling remains (over a decade later) the source of much pleasure. I went on from Louisville to race in college and then move to Colorado Springs for better racing and training partners. I started track racing. I eventually quit. But I still ride, and I still maintain that cycling is the best way to get a feel for a place.