Backing up a bit to my time in school, when the riding went dark but the creativity and eye opening began…
My time in art school at the Cleveland Institute of Art was fraught with all things work and school related. I stopped riding my bike, started driving to school – about and hour each way if traffic was easy – and started eating all manner of ‘fast’ and cafeteria food. I worked for a woodworker and carpenter, as well as getting a job as a museum guard (standing around!). I also had a stint in a marketing firm doing graphics work, and teaching as a TA in the Graphics Design department. I put on a ton of weight. I think when I left Cleveland for the New York Studio Program (I was a Sculpture major) I weighed in at 280 pounds. On a 5’8″ frame. That is obese. Gigantic. Very unhealthy.
Moving to the big apple changed things. I discovered my two feet again, and absolutely loved exploring the city. I wandered with my camera and notebooks all over town, when I wasn’t in studio or working for some wonderful artists as a studio assistant. I lived in a dorm / apartment on W. 8th street, a block from Washington Square Park, and had studio space down in Tribeca. The first few weeks I took the subway to and from classes, once I was confident with navigating in the big city I took to my feet for most travel. Near the end of my stay I was wandering on average about 6-8 miles a day, on the weekends far more – exploring over to Brooklyn, up to Central Park, and across the water to Staten Island. I absolutely loved the city – so much so that I decided I would return to graduate school. While at the NYSP I began researching graduate schools in Architecture or Design. I visited Yale, Columbia, Pratt, and researched Harvard, Cranbrook, and others. I settled on wanting to live and work in NYC, so I focused 100% of my attention on Columbia, and their Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. Lots to like at the time – they were transitioning from paper to digital, they had a visionary director and set of faculty, and they supported a program for graduates who were skilled to travel to Japan for a woodworking / temple reconstruction internship. Upon leaving NYC I weighed 180 pounds. Somewhere along the way I dropped 6 inches from my waste and 100 pounds. Crazy, for sure. But a small budget, an expensive city, and lots of walking and working got me in fighting form.
I returned to Cleveland, finished my undergrad work, and at some point decided to keep up my fitness and active lifestyle. Cleveland is not a walking city (at least not for someone who was commuting across town for school and work). I convinced a girlfriend that riding bikes together would be great, and she could use hers to commute from where she was living to school and work and back – about 3-4 miles each way. I bought a pair of Trek 720s/820s? or something – all terrain type ‘mountain bikes’. Heavy, steel, mid range components, probably $375 or so each. I put a rack on mine and mounted up a trunk bag and rode some flat pedals with cages for awhile. I would throw mine on the back of the car and ride on the tow path in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. Good fun, but the couples riding disappointed (never discuss cadence, gear changing technique, or anything else ride related for that matter with a girlfriend), and I got sucked into working as much as I could to pay for school.
I got accepted to the graduate program (even won a small scholarship), and moved back to the city the following fall. The bike came with me, and although it didn’t get ridden often – I did ride from my neighborhood on the upper West Side down to the Battery and over the Brooklyn Bridge. I managed to get it onto the subway a few times to extend my range, and I have a distinct memory of a very cold ride to about halfway across the George Washington Bridge. It was windy, and man that thing can move…
I had trouble with my weight again – too much work in the studio and at school, and too little energy for anything else. I eventually burned out of the program and moved back to Cleveland. I weighed in somewhere around 220 – 230 when I took a job at the Cleveland Institute of Art as a Technical Assistant in the foundation woodshop. Man I missed making things with my hands while away at school. Before the year started I was offered to teach foundation design, and threw myself into my duties in the shop and teaching. I think I was probably the best bargain the school ever had in terms of salary to work ratio – I would teach 2 full days a week, run the shop the rest, and often run the shop at night, after dinner. I managed to pull the shop back from the ashes of neglect, get some new equipment in the door, and have some time for my own work. Until one afternoon when I nearly passed out in the shop monitoring students. I was finding it harder and harder to get up in the morning, and I’d often be short of breath. I knew my weight wasn’t helping… but when I went to see my doc, I learned not only was I back to 260 pounds, but suffering from high blood pressure, and my thyroid was about as whacked as he’d ever seen – levels about 10x lower than normal. I started on meds for my thyroid and worked to lose some weight. Eventually my contract with school came up for renewal, I wasn’t pleased with the offer, and I struck off on my own doing timber frame and woodworking, along with some design and small scale furniture.
This path had me relocating to eastern PA moving barns, then back to Ohio, and eventually to western NY. Along the way I got married to my college girlfriend, and my emotions and my weight were up and down while traveling, working, and trying to make a go of it. I stumbled into a job at New Energy Works Timberframers – starting in the shop (I was interviewed while buying materials for my own work) – and eventually moving up to the design office. There was a group that would mountain bike at the nearby HiTor management area. A couple of the guys convinced me that I could handle the ride – as they usually parked way up top, and ‘rode down’ the trails, shuttling cars, then stopping off for a beer or two.
I brought in my trusty Trek 720/820 something, complete with rear rack and bag, and thought I was going to die. Actually, the guys thought they were going to have to call the EMTs and helicopter me out. ‘Down’ was relative. There were all these ravines and hills and rocks and roots and creeks… well, it was as much a ride as a hike, for me. And the last ripping downhill, in what seemed to be a creek bed, tested my resolve on that bike, as the light faded into evening (we were out way longer than they were normally, on account of me…).
I survived, and actually showed up 2 weeks later, sans rack, ready to go again. The wheels were turning. This was late summer, so we only got out maybe 2-3 more times… but I was already thinking about how I’d like to get back into riding. At the same time these thoughts were entering my head I went through a separation followed by divorce, and pretty much fell into a pit of Guinness drinking and bar food eating that lasted quite a long while. After the dust settled I moved out of Rochester proper and found a place I could have a shop to work in. I also bought a cross bike to use as a commuter. I was doing my own projects at night, managing projects during the day, and sorting out who I was and what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I picked up a one size too small Trek XO-1 at a local Rochester bike shop on clearance. I had a messenger bag, baggy shorts, a couple of clip on lights, and some SPD compatible shoes. I started doing the ‘half’ commute. I’d park my truck about 8 miles from the office, then ride into work and ride back in the evening. 1 road, no turns, wide shoulder for the most part, and 2 lanes each direction, much of it divided highway. Not at all where I like to ride now – but it was safe and relatively easy. And there were a few other commuters – so the owner took a supply closet and had a shower installed. I’d leave clothes in the office, and carry essentials in the bag.
The bug had bitten… and now I wanted to be able to ride up from the bottom of our mountain bike route, instead of shuttling. And eventually be able to ride to and from the office, from home.
To be continued…