One of my favorite bicycling routes starts at the East end of Donner Lake and heads west over Donner Pass in the Sierras, down to Cisco Grove and back again. It’s about 45 miles out and back, starting at about 6000 feet elevation and traverses the summit twice at about 7100 feet. Near the beginning of the ride is the ‘face’ which is a tough 4 mile climb followed by a fast and lengthy descent to the turn-around. Then do it in reverse.
I was riding this route one day and really felt strong at the turnaround where I caught up with another rider. I had never seen him before, but he was riding well, so I dropped in behind him. I started feeling my oats, so I picked up the pace and passed him. A little later, he did the same. Back and forth we went for the entire 10 miles up. By the time we got to the summit we were in a full-on hammer mode; neither wanting to give in to the other, each pushing himself harder than we thought we could. On the descent back to Donner Lake, we were hitting speeds in excess of 45 to 50 miles per hour, faster than I had ever taken that hill. All the while, I don’t think we exchanged more than a few words. We were both too focused on suffering in silence. It turned out that he had parked right next to me at the marina.
As we got off our bikes and tried to catch our breath, we were both laughing and thanking each other for a fantastic ride. Neither of us could walk well, but we grabbed some sodas and started talking. As we talked, I admitted to being a cowardly downhill rider and that he caused me to push my comfort zone on the downhill. He admitted to being a good down-hiller, but I made him climb the back half faster than he thought he could. We talked about bikes and swapped some cycling stories and just enjoyed the rest of the morning. I don’t recall his name and I’ve never seen him again, but that ride has always stayed with me as a fantastic day.
I could stop my story here, but recent events reminded me of something else about that ride.
I’m not sure I thought about it at the time (nor did I care) that he had darker skin. I suspect he noticed my lobster red, sunburnt skin color, but I doubt he cared about that any more than I cared about his skin tone. There was no discussion of politics or race or religion, only of cycling. We were just two guys who loved to ride and felt the thrill of challenging and being challenged by a complete stranger in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
Perhaps I’m naive or ignorant, but I fail to understand why it matters what a person looks like or dresses like or identifies as. In life, what matters to me is how we can help each other be better people today than we were yesterday. That stranger certainly made me a better rider that day and I think I helped him too. Burnt skin, black skin, blue skin, whatever shade of the rainbow we are, how will we help each other be better tomorrow than we are today?