The following post has very little to do with cycling other than I talk of the area I ride and it features a series of photos that I took while on my bike Thursday. You’re welcome to continue on, or just look at the photos. – Management.
This coming week it will be five years since my family and I moved from just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to central Michigan. As many long time readers of this blog and my western PA friends know, I was NOT happy about moving here. I had hilly road loops, trails nearby, and best of all mountains just a forty-five minute drive away. Not to mention family, friends and a blessed ride and work routine. There was no need to move anywhere else! Now here we are, nearly five years on and I can’t even let myself think about moving away from here, not yet. I have fallen in love with a place that has everything I never knew I wanted, and has shown me the things that I know I don’t ever want to experience again.
When I was in my early twenties I was living with my parents and hating every second of it. Not because I didn’t love my parents, but because I was out of art school, dirt poor, working a shit job, and hated living in a small town with a bunch of hicks (my early twenties opinion) who wondered why anyone in their right mind would like art, want to be a graphic designer and chose to ride a bicycle.
Fast forward a few years, I met my now wife who was in law school at the time. We dated, fell in love, got married and got an apartment in the city. Well, Regent Square, a neighborhood right up against the city’s ass. We lived there for few years and loved it. We had a cool apartment, we were in walking distance of pubs and shop and I was a short drive from seeing live music in the city with one of my best friends.
I still rode my bike constantly: I braved traffic and busses on Beechwood Boulevard, hit the bike lanes, rode singletrack in the city and county parks and I was loved it. I was thin, employed, married and while we weren’t living comfortably, we were happy with our small apartment and our urban lives. And when you’re in your late twenties, that’s all that you really care about. Well, that and sex.
Then we bought a house; then we had a baby; then we bought different house; then Wifey lost her job; then she took a crap one; then she got a better one; then I “quit” my job of sixteen years (taking a buyout package before being laid off… fucking newspapers); then I started XXC Magazine and then Wifey got a fantastic job that she loves. AWESOME!!/FUCK!!
The job was/is great, but that/this job required us to move here to central Michigan (Mount Pleasant). A place I knew nothing about other than that there was a small university here, despite the name there were no mountains, and it wasn’t close to a big city. THAT part I was thrilled about, because as I got older there was one thing I was certain of: I now hated cities and urban living.
As cities go, Pittsburgh is an excellent one, but in the area outside of the city that we were actually living everyone alway seemed pissed off and mad at the world. On top of that there was tons of fucking traffic, urban decay and a sense of hopelessness permeating the area (if you’ve ever been through the McKeesport area you know what I’m talking about). While I wasn’t happy about the move here to Michigan, I wasn’t eager to continue living where we were either. Wifey’s job offer was a once in a lifetime opportunity for her and our family and as much as I was a dick about coming here, I couldn’t say no, especially after I got here.
In my last year in PA I was racing less and focused more on producing the magazine. My riding became more centered on long rides in the mountains where I would string together forest roads, two-track, singletrack and snowmobile trails into 40 to 60 mile rides with several thousand feet of elevation change. Here in Michigan there are no mountains and the elevation gains and losses are now measured in hundreds rather than thousands, but there are seemingly endless dirt roads and low traffic farm roads just 3.5 miles north or south from our house in town. A town that is in many ways like that cool neighborhood we lived in when we were first married, but instead of being sandwiched between the city and a ghetto, we’re surrounded by farms.
I lost the mountains, but I haven’t lost the sense of peace that comes with riding in the mountains. Often when I ride the dirt and gravel roads near my house I can ride for ten miles or more and not be passed by a single car hearing nothing but the whirl of my wheels, the birds and the cows. When I do get passed I’m usually met with a smile and a wave instead of a horn, a middle finger and barrage of cussing. It’s now been five years and I’ve (knock on wood) yet to have an “incident” with a motorist*. I could have one every ride for the rest of the year and still not come close to what it was like to ride in Western Pennsylvania.
Of course, all that glitters is not gold…
Living in a small town does have its drawbacks; employment for a forty-four year old with only a two-year art school degree being one. After XXC Magazine shit the bed, I was left with nothing to do. I found myself usurping the role of a house husband/stay at home dad. A roll that we’re financially lucky enough for me to fulfill and one that am quite good at. Still, it’s not a “career,” and God forbid, if anything would ever happen to Wifey, B-Man and I would be left with no financial stability. Working at the bike shop over the spring and summer was good for my morale and my wallet, but also proved that my talents lie elsewhere; as in anyplace that doesn’t require me to have a wrench in my hand.
I waffle on how comfortable I am with my role. It has nothing to do with being a man, or any bullshit like that. I go through phases where am truly happy with what I do. Until I meet someone and they inevitably ask what I do and I’m met with responses like “must be nice,” or “oh…. .”
That feeling usually doesn’t last all that long, especially when B comes home from school and asks for help with homework, when Wifey gets home from work and knows that there’s a meal ready for her or when B is sick and home from school.
If you would have asked me thirty years ago where I would be living and what I would be doing when I was forty-four, I can pretty much say it wouldn’t have been here and doing what I do now. But that’s life and right now this is working for us, I am here and this is what I am doing now. And yes, I am lucky. I do freelance web and graphic design stuff and there will always be shit jobs that I can get, but there won’t always be time to spend with my boy and make sure he’s happy and healthy.
I never thought I would be living here and sure as hell didn’t want to come here five years ago, but it all worked out for the best. Now I can’t help but think about were we’ll be in five or ten years. Thanks to all the folks I’ve met through cycling, Wifey’s work, the soccer club and B’s school who have made moving to a small college town in the middle of rural Michigan awesome.