Title: The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power
Author: Travis Hugh Culley
Publisher: Random House
Length: 324 pages
My bike club went camping this weekend. I love bikes and I love camping, so it was excruciating knowing I had a pre-Halloween event at my store, bills to pay, and a general inability to leave my husband and child to go on a frivolous trip that would inevitably involve a lot of drinking and riding.
I love books more than anything, and I adore Chris Rogers (the author we had in the store Saturday), but my mind was off in the distance with my new friends – family really – their tents, their bikes, and the dirt and grit far away from my rows and stacks of books.
This isn’t about me whining about not getting to go on a camping trip, though. This is about the discovery I made because of where my mind was not and my body was… in the city, longing for my cycling friends who were partying it up and having a blast.
The stars aligned, the shelves at the store all seemed to point me in one direction, and a copy of The Immortal Class seemed to fall from the heavens.
So overly marketed as to appeal to the counter culture, zine reading crowd, The Immortal Class is one of those small square-shaped trade paperbacks. With phrases like “adrenaline-spiked” and “frenzied rawness” slapped across a black and grey jacket in egg-yolk yellow.
Months after becoming obsessed with the world of cycling and setting goals to really hunker down, figure it out, and join this world – I discovered this weekend why it appeals to my soul so completely.
“[T]he world down here was remarkably organized. Even if it was loud and bombastic, rebellious and unconventional, the people were often fixated on levels of personal status. With one another, messengers were highly cooperative, and yet competing against one another, they were fighters to the bone. It was a tight society where one could promise lasting respect and recognition for what one could offer to the community.” – pg. 230
Of course this appeals to me – this whole world of simultaneous independence and camaraderie. I grew up in a Kung Fu studio. I trained, I relied on muscle memory and instinct. I know so well the feeling of not remembering what it feels like to not be sore somewhere. I built very specific familial relationships that were directly tied to how much blood, sweat, and tears were spilled in each others’ presence.
I still do my work outs. I still teach occasional students. But I am no longer that kind of fighter. I remember when I knew I would never go back in the ring – at least not in the way I used to. It wasn’t the hairline fracture on my sternum. It wasn’t the broken and busted fingers. It wasn’t even the shin injury that twelve years later hasn’t seemed to heal just right and still swells up when it rains. It wasn’t any one thing, really. It was actually before I got my third degree, something I only got because I promised myself I would. It was actually a summer before that when after working out no less than 55-60 hours a week for months on end, after more than a decade in uniform and sash, I realized I was tired – mentally and physically. My mind was ready for something new and my body needed a break from the routine.
I started running more avidly. For a few years I ran 3-5 miles a day. I enjoyed that thoroughly, and I still run periodically. (You may remember a post about Born to Run, a book on barefoot running that kick started the running bug again recently…) But there’s always been something missing from my running – speed. A rush I can’t manufacture on my own two feet, that I used to get in the ring, has been absent. Running didn’t fill the void Kung Fu, my years of being a tournament junkie, and finally the days of bleeding for money had left behind when I said ‘Enough.’
Cycling, though, cycling has suddenly lit up my world and started to warm my soul in a way I haven’t been warmed in a long time. Probably since I fell in love and got married… yes, it’s that good of a rush! Seeing all that I have to learn excites me. Inspecting bruises from crashes and the act of getting to know my bikes (or loaner bikes until I own my own, rather) fills me with the pride that though I am a far, far cry from being any good at this sport – like a white belt dropped in the midst of advanced ninjas – I am at least one step, one bruise, and one fall closer to the perfection I seek.
I have no illusions of grandeur. No presumption that I will be great at this. I’m pushing 30 and my body feels 50, but I’m sure as hell going to try.
I dare you to read The Immortal Class and not get the urge to hop on a bike. I dare you. And just remember this: The more you ride, the more you’ll want to ride.