It's quiet on the chair lift, save for the wind blowing through the cedars below us and the hum of the lift's steel cable passing through the pulleys overhead. This morning it was all giddy anticipation and chatter. What're you going to hit? A-Line? Angry Pirate? They just opened up Garbo yesterday—you wanna hit Blue Velvet or maybe Freight Train?
Seven hours later, the nerves and dust have settled and the chitchat has died down to a comfortably worn silence as everyone plans their last run of the weekend. One final blast down the mountain and then it’s back into the parking lot where we'll clumsily strip off the manky body armor and begin the slow limp home. Five minutes pass as we stare at the landmarks passing below our feet. There's Heckler's Rock. There goes a trio of riders clanking down B-Line, there's….
"Hey, those are 1997 Shimano SPD BMX shoes, right?" I snap out of my private reverie. "Those things are awesome! I had a set that I wore for years. I wish I never got rid of them."
The owner of the 17-year-old kicks, a member of Whistler's bike patrol, smiles sheepishly, "Yeah, I normally don't run these," he shrugs, "but I forgot that my big bike had clipless pedals on it and I was in a rush to get to work, so I reached for these. They're beat, but I love 'em."
Beth, a bike skills instructor, lifts up her feet and proudly shows off her own shoes—a pair of Five Ten Impacts that are so withered that they look more like giant, diseased prunes than something anyone would touch, much less actually wear. "These," she insists, "are the best shoes ever."
Everyone on the chair grunts in approval.
"What are you riding?" she asks.
I lift up my own shoes—a battered pair of Shimano AM41s that are so knackered that one of the soles sports a gaping hole the size of a fist and badly needs about 40 yards of duct tape to set things right.
"Nice," she says and everyone nods along.
I needed to toss my shoes in the bin a year ago, yet I'm still riding them. Everyone on the lift should have done the same, but nobody's parting ways with their mangled footwear either. That got me wondering: Why?
I mean, sure, you can argue that no one wants to part ways with their hard-earned cash if they can manage it, and that times are tight, but there's more to it than that.
I watched two guys yesterday inspecting one of their bikes—a dented and decrepit Rocky Mountain RM6—as they waited their turn in line for the chairlift. "I don't know," said the owner as he lifted the bike up by the saddle and its lower half just kind of ka-thunked back to earth. The linkage and pivots were so universally ruined that they had their own special and terrible kind of travel. His downhill bike may have just as well been held together by rubber bands and spittle. "There's something wrong with it, but I really like this thing."
I'm not sure what was keeping that old Rocky Mountain rideable—maybe unicorn tears or a personal favor from God—but I'm confident that if the bike could speak to its owner it'd be screaming, "Please, please kill me now. Just get it over with."
I looked around some more–there were worn and faded jerseys from 1999, battered helmets that really, really should be replaced, but were stickered up with so much care and pride that were probably never going to get a rest. Worn out pedals that squeaked and barely spun on their spindles. Components that had been, and we’re still being, loved.
I CAN'T QUIT YOU
I've been punching keys for a living for 20 years now, but I don't get teary-eyed when I see a classic typewriter. I like my digital camera just fine, but I was planning its replacement within a month of unwrapping the thing. In short, I'm as sentimental as a razor blade when it comes to material stuff. It's just so much crap, really. I use it, it gets beat, it gets broken and it gets sent to gear heaven. The exception is old cycling gear. It litters every corner of my life.
I haven't ridden toe-clips since 1990, but I will gouge your eyes out before I let you walk away with my last pair of Alfredo Binda toe straps. What use is a worn out 1-inch Chris King headset? I've no idea, but mine will probably never leave its place of honor on my mantle. And I've still got my original Tioga T-Bone stem, circa 1989. I know I'll never actually use a 140-millimeter, chrome quill stem again, but that stem spearheaded my first great ride and survived so many of my bad decisions aboard that bike. How could I possibly get rid of it? Simply looking at the old Tioga brings me back to a different time in my life. Not a better time mind you, but a time that's precious to me all the same because, well, it's mine—acne, Depeche Mode albums, inexplicable angst and all.
Sometimes a thing is more than just a thing. Sometimes it's a symbol of the thing that truly brings you happiness. My clapped out shoes have ridden with me along ancient Roman footpaths in the hills above Finale Ligure. These shoes have kept me warm on long soggy marches through the snow, as I pushed my Klunker to the top of the mountain before plunging back down with coaster brake, rigid forks and white knuckles. My shoes have ridden co-pilot through countless mundane, exhausting tromps along my backyard trails.
Yes, a new pair of shoes would be better. They'd offer more grip. They wouldn't hoover up dirt, mud and pebbles through the soles. They wouldn't smell like death. But then again, they wouldn't be these shoes…and that's why I won't be replacing them anytime soon.