I could have killed him. My favorite sunglasses—Oakley Radar XLs, sponsored team glasses which retail somewhere around $300—lost to the Gulf on a Labor Day beach trip. Granted, my road season was already over, but they were a cycling fashion accessory I would have taken to my grave.
My husband, who’d been borrowing them from time to time, didn’t tell me they were gone. Or at least not until we were back home and headed out for a ride, which only made me that much more furious. I went full gas up every hill along our route, and eventually split off on my own. The cold, hard, immature truth of it was this: I wasn’t going to let him replace the Oakleys given their price tag, not in a million years, but I was still going to make him pay.
Now I knew why Jack had been strolling up and down the beach. At the time I’d naively assumed he was—very uncharacteristically—shell-hunting. “Ah, would you look at that! The rare and beautiful Oakleyas sunglassus.” I’m sure it was a stellar find for someone. Captain Nemo, maybe.
Jack and I have been together a little over eight years. This wasn’t our first squabble, and I know it won’t be our last. Sometimes it’s my fault, and sometimes it’s his, though often we lose sight of the beginning of an argument completely, and it just is, like the color of the sky. We have a two-year-old son now, which also makes married life very different, in both good and bad ways. Kids are cute as buttons, but they’re a physical and emotional full-body workout. Parenthood takes conditioning. I estimate we’ll be fully fit and prepared, oh, in about two decades, give or take a few years if Theo inherits my knack for finding a career that requires utter devotion for very little pay. I’ve tried two so far: professional cycling and writing.
What I’ve missed the most since we became parents, angry days aside, is cycling together. Jack and I used to do weekend group rides, or go out just the two of us. I give him credit for my being fast on the bike, both because he bought me my first road bike and because those early training days of being dropped by him were so maddening that I was motivated to get better quickly. For several years we raced together, descending the rabbit hole of the roadie world. When I was pregnant in 2013, he did his biggest block of training and racing. Post-baby we reversed roles, more or less out of necessity; he gave up the bike and I went all in.
My husband and I are very different people. I was an English major; Jack was comp sci. In high school I lived in the sticks of rural Southeast Texas; Jack graduated from Greenwich High School in Connecticut. He doesn’t understand why I can’t sit still, and I can’t understand how he can play a computer game for hours on end. He’s got a loud, quick temper; I’m a quiet, vindictive smolderer. We’re both guilty of the same thing—sometimes one of us will start talking, and the other’s eyes will get this glazed, vacant look, like a kid stuck in a classroom lecture. Exhibit A, Kat: strongly held beliefs concerning commas and hyphens, home-improvement ideas. Exhibit B, Jack: databases, the extremely detailed aerodynamics of every bike part known to man. Our marriage is a Venn diagram: there’s a big chunk where we intersect, but there are also these vast outlying realms that might as well be separate celestial bodies. (My planet will be neat as a pin, by the way, and his will be utter chaos.)
Earlier this year I was racing as a domestic pro in a largely failed experiment to see how far I could go with bike racing. Jack was coaching me. If someone gave me a ticket back in time, I probably wouldn’t do things any differently, but all the same, we’re lucky our marriage survived the experiment. Those days were a flurry of training and travel, frustration and elation, physical highs and mental lows: in sum, it’s not a sane lifestyle.
At this point things are back to normal, or even what I’d call “pre-normal” because for many years before I got the UCI license the norm for me was an uber-intense, all-consuming focus on bike racing. Right now we’re both training a little but not a lot. Once or twice a week we go on a lunch ride together while our son is in daycare.
It feels like we’re dating again. One day we rode to do a quick errand and then to a hole-in-the-wall, pay-by-the-slice pizza place. As we sat there in our kits eating greasy pizza that I knew wouldn’t sit well on the ride home, I had warm and fuzzy feelings for the “us” of things. I thought: People who go to marriage counseling, and buy expensive presents, and whack each other with frying pans, and jump through other complicated or painful hoops, maybe they should try this first? Two bikes, a bit of road, the willingness to speed up or slow down to keep pace with the significant other, and you’ve got this recipe for a magical balm to smooth out some of the rough patches.
I could market this, right? I could work on my image, get a memorable hairstyle and fashion ensemble a la Richard Simmons or Lady Gaga. I could come up with a catchy slogan or jingle (Take your “nooner” on the road!), craft a dedicated Facebook campaign. I could write a book and give TV interviews. Fortunes have been made that easily.
Maybe it wouldn’t work for everyone, though. For Jack and me, cycling is an area of shared interest and a way to revive and remember a shared history, the one we had pre-parenthood. But there’s also something about being on a bike and being outside that I think could work for most couples. And to be asked on a casual lunch ride—for a certain kind of person that’s like being handed a bouquet of flowers. It’s saying, “Hey, I’d really like to spend some time with you,” and “Even after all these years, I still think your butt looks great in spandex.” You can do your best to try to hold on to the anger and petty resentments, but in the end, how can you? The breeze is in your face, your legs are moving, and you’re going somewhere, or maybe nowhere in particular, with the person you chose—out of all the other people in the world—to spend your life with.
I’m not going to lie, though. It took a lot of lunch rides to get over those sunglasses.