Mighty fine 2009: the best that I could do

As I searched for the right words to begin this post, I was heading into the final sunrise of the year at 30,000 feet, having left the place of my birth far behind me. Looking back on 2009 I was at a loss to find any accomplishments that were truly momentous. Most were relative to the bike obsession only, achievements that are meaningless to anybody with hairy legs. I felt an immediate compulsion to declare 2010 the Year of Getting Something done. However, upon arrival in Chicago that night, amid good friends and wine, I realized that I'd already done it. I had started the year utterly alone in searching for deeper meaning, and that night I was ending it with new found purpose and a positive spirit to guide me there.

365 days earlier, New Year’s Day began epically enough, with a full body hangover and a kitchen that hearkened back to my college days standards of cleanliness. The night before we’d hosted a 12-course dinner to ring in the New Year and judging by the all the empty dishes I set about ignoring, it was a smashing success. I smiled briefly at the empty Jell-O shots on the floor.

First things first: coffee and recovery while I waited for Katy to wake up. The Dark Knight got me through until it was time to clean up the mess.

It wasn’t as bad as it looked and we mowed through the worst of the baked-on grease, dried cheese, and heavy pots pretty quickly. While she went back to bed, I settled into the remainder of the Winter Classic from Wrigley Field, smiling as NBC tried to drown out the chant of “Detroit sucks!” from the raucous crowd, in front of me a huge plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and a gourmet Bloody Mary using the leftovers from last night, including the prime rib and stilton cheese. I found myself amidst the thick of an ice cold day where I'd not see the outside or even so much as a pair of pants, keeping my thoughts to myself as I watched movie after movie and delayed reality as much as possible.

And kept them to myself I did, all the way to the move out in late March which was as life-changing a day as I had ever experienced. Jack and I walked the mile and a half to my new apartment in Irving Park on a cool, spring evening at sunset and I wondered where else I was headed. I'd dreaded this day ever since I agreed to move in with Katy - not that I'd known it would end this way, but that it could - and here I was expecting the worst was still around the corner.

But what greeted me instead was clarity and simplification. Let me back up…

I was carrying with me, and still do, a heavy load of guilt for allowing my obsession with the bike to put such a gulf between me and the people I'd called friends since nearly 1999. Yet the late nights filled with cigarettes and alcohol no longer excite me because my mornings are much more important now. Would I rather wake up to nausea and a headache or the giddy anticipation of a soul-cleansing, five hour ride? I didn’t know what else to do than to make those relationships work as best they could under the circumstances while embracing the new friends I have.

But this last relationship wasn’t going to work under any circumstances. And moving into another apartment in less than a year had me second-guessing how important cycling competitively really was to me.

But that night as I walked into my new home, I looked down at Jack, who was of course looking right back at me. I then saw that our relationship was now another level completely. Back on January 1st we’d been contemplating sending him back to rescue…he just wasn’t working out…fitting in, we told ourselves…but in the end I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t fair to him, he is just being himself: a hyper, food-driven, inquisitive, loves-to-cuddle 30-pound Rottweiler-terrier mix.

And so I took him with me. By making that conscious choice to include him in my new life changed everything. With him now the central focus, and moving next door to my friend who owned the building I was living in, I quickly became part of a close group of friends, all part of the neighborhood, all with dogs.

I then realized my time off of the bike was much more important as the time on it, and as soon as I did, I began reaping the harvest from a newly balanced approach to life. But it wasn't just me - suddenly I was among friends who's schedule and pace of life jibed with mine. My neighbor Mark is a bikemate who comes on my Saturday rides with me, and the rest, Tina, Susan, Rob, Cari and Scott, Kayla and Janucz are always up for a backyard hang or beers and Mexican food at El Potosi down the street.

It's not that nobody else in my life has been this for me - I know I must sound ungrateful to anyone else reading this - but the timing just couldn't be better.

As Tina said at Susan's New Year's Eve party, "Brian, of course you've done something this year! Look around you - you have a posse now!" And Rob drove it home the following Saturday: "you're the glue, man. Before, I never really hung out at our neighborhood joints, and we certainly didn't do much like the dinner parties you throw." Indeed, the week I moved in I made a knockout risotto Milanese and invited them all over to stand in my kitchen and eat it. Nothing more formal than that. We were up until two and I put 15 wine bottles into the recycling. I repeated with rabbit stew the week before Thanksgiving.

It was a really warm feeling just then, to realize I have such supportive friends who are on such a similar wavelength as I. The guilt and regret are still there, always will be, but I have to go with what works best.

In 2009, I think I found my soul. Imagine what I can do in 2010 with that.

Now, a look back , 2009's Top 20:

1. Quality time.

2. ...and then going too far.

3. The new whip.

4. Leaving for San Luis Obispo (and more).

5. Back to Mt. Mitchell.

6. The breakthrough.

7. Almost...

8.. Sherman Park.

9. Jack goes mobile.

10. Tandemonium.

11. Shut up and ride, asshole.

12. My favorite race of the season.

13. 500th post.

14. Charm City invasion.

15. My first cross race.

16. Party pooper.

17. Race day hooky.

18. Stew.

19. The smile.

20. Home for Christmas.


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