My Father’s Bike

My bike broke last week.  At least, the gears started slipping in a weird way, and a cursory examination didn’t yield any fixes that I thought I could manage, so I need to take it to the shop.  I commute Wednesdays by bicycle, because my Notre Dame teaching is less than 5 miles from home, and because the nazis lovely ladies in the parking department won’t replace my lost parking pass due to some technicality in my paperwork.  I have visited three different offices – twice – and am still unable to park my car on campus.  If the problem is not fixed by the next snowfall, I shall quit.

I digress.  Since I hadn’t gotten around to the bike shop errand, I headed out to my garage recently to investigate the options.  When my father passed away, almost three years ago, my mom brought two of his excellent bicycles to me, as his athletic successor, and since I was at that time eight months pregnant I tossed them in the shed and forgot all about them.  They moved to our new house out of inertia but have not been touched or ridden since 2009, and never by me.

So I was excited to discover that both his mountain bike and his tri bike were in excellent shape.  I pumped up the tires,  oiled the chains, and adjusted the seats, and was ready to go.  The road bike especially is a joy to ride – smaller and lighter than mine, and with cool aerobars.  I LOVED commuting on it and might never bother to fix my actual bike.

I was impressed by their readiness.  Each bike had a bottle holder with a full (kind of murky after 3 years) water bottle.  Each had a little pouch on the back, and each pouch contained a spare tube, tire irons, a hex key set, an asthma inhaler, and about seven dollars in wadded up bills and loose change. If I know my father, that money is what remains from an emergency twenty after he ended a workout by consuming mountains of biscuits and gravy with a group of good friends that he’d just met out on the road.  

Understand, my dad was Superman.  He could do anything.  He had run marathons, ultramarathons, and triathlons.  He had summited mountains all over the world.  I bike to work once a week, but he might easily have found himself 50 or a hundred miles from base camp on these bikes.  He owned more camping, hiking, mountaineering, and biking equipment than the outdoor store in South Bend, and he knew what he was doing.  I always trusted that he could handle anything that came along, and here I see why.  He was ready.   I love that he could boil down all of his stuff to a tiny bike pouch of essentials and had done so.  Carefully, thoughtfully, twice. 

It made me think about my own travel kit.

Oboists have a lot of stuff.  Reed tools and machines, oboe repair items, shelves, stands, and little cups of water.  I am always torn between being the Unfussy Oboist and being prepared for anything, which if you think about it is also Unfussy. I would ideally like to walk out on stage with a reed in the oboe and nothing else – but when a swab gets stuck or a pad falls off or a reed cracks I don’t want to be the one panicking.  My compromise is a backpack pocket filled with the less likely just-in-case solutions – pliers, wire, swab extractor, hand warmers, stand lights – and a little pouch that I use regularly, which sits by my feet in the orchestra and on my desk when I teach.  It has a knife, plaque, ruler, and cutting block.  It has cigarette papers, a screwdriver, and a silk swab.  It has a film canister full of water and one tiny square of fine sandpaper.  It has a pencil.  And that is all I keep with me most of the time. 

I’d like to think that my on-stage kit is a legacy of my father’s teaching.  In fact I think it is mostly expediency – these are the things I need, so they are the things I have – but I’ve never yet (knock wood) been unable to play due to a reed or oboe emergency, and I have been able occasionally to bail out colleagues from situations of their own.  The ability to be prepared for the unexpected while also maintaining a consistently optimistic, joyful outlook is something I absolutely associate with my father, and hope that I can always keep. 

Thank you, Dad.  I miss you.

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