Monday, August 29, 2011

Cycling and art

I view cycling as an extension of my creativity, a kind of art in motion. The whir of hubs, crunch of tires on dirt and rhythm of pedal strokes are music; the trickles of sweat and labored breaths are poetry, the flow of my legs and sway of my upper body a dance. I draw invisible patterns on the world with my movements — broad paint strokes on the strenuous climbs, staccato marks on technical trails and swooping pencil lines for ethereal descents. Every ride is a different kind of work, seen and known only by me, but I find this creative outlet immensely satisfying all the same. I return home and write paragraphs and process photos, but these are only reflections of the beautiful creation that I left outside.

It doesn't surprise me that a lot of creative types find their way to cycling, or maybe it's the other way around. I recently received an e-mail from A. Jeffrey Tomassetti, a 2011 Tour Divide finisher who lives in Florida, offering to send me one of his Tour Divide-inspired original paintings, free of charge. He simply wanted to create something for his Tour Divide "compatriots." Even though Jeff and I have never met, he believed as a fellow finisher, I could understand and appreciate the depth of his work.

This is the painting Jeffrey sent to me, titled "Red Rock Pass." The painting is acrylic and texture layers with a Nanoraptor tire tread "lift" to reveal the darker layer underneath. Here's what Jeffrey wrote about it in his artist statement:

"During the 2011 Tour Divide Race from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, I studied bike tracks on the trail for hours and was consumed by their beauty. Often the trail was wet, impassable mud, which grabbed hard onto the bike until the wheels would no longer turn."

And then he quoted from my book, "Be Brave, Be Strong:" "Just a few short minutes of downpour had rendered the once-solid road into a chunky sludge the color and consistency of peanut butter. I could only pedal a few strokes into the goop before my rear wheel seized up like the mouth of a greedy kid who had taken too large a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

I love that Jeffrey created this peanut-butter-colored painting with a Nanoraptor bike tread slogging down the center. His attention to details add to this painting's meaning, from the clear gloss coat that glistens like water from a recent rainstorm, and the cracks in the paint revealing once-dry and smooth dirt. I can relate to this particular Tour Divide scene a thousand times over; it remains the image that's burned deep into my memory.

Then he named it "Red Rock Pass." This is a picture a local photographer snapped of me on the backside of Red Rock Pass, near Island Park, Idaho, during the 2009 Tour Divide. The Centennial Valley of Montana was my first full and harrowing encounter with the horrors of wheel-sucking, bike-stopping mud, followed by an intense lightning storm. The photographer actually took this photo after I hosed off my bike and myself at an RV park on Red Rock Road. "The Mud" would become a near-daily battle through Wyoming, parts of Colorado and all of New Mexico. When people ask me what the hardest part of the Tour Divide was, I always say "The Mud." The Mud of Tour Divide is a worthy adversary more terrorizing than distance, elevation, and even solitude. And the Nanoraptor tire track signals, to me at least, the ultimate conquering of The Mud.

Thanks for this great painting, Jeff. As you can see, I hung it in the middle of my living room next to all of my bikes. It seems a fitting home for "Red Rock Pass."