I lost a dear friend today. He was stolen from a train station in Milbrae, while I was at work after I had locked him to a bike rack. I’m not angry, I’m just very, very sad. So I want to commemorate him in the best way I know how:
As far as I know, Baxter is about as old as I am. He came to me from a friend, Harry, when I returned to Brisbane after some time abroad. He was blue, then, and he had a milk crate ziptied to his rack for carrying things. I decided to ride him from Canada to Argentina. According to Harry, he’d come over with a Canadian some years before and crossed Australia, so this would be nothing new. I had him stripped and painted a dark British racing green. I had new, overpriced wheels made for him. I had my friend Karl and my dad help me put him together over a couple of days under Karl’s house. It was Karl who named him: “The Baxter,” as he called him. We fixed Baxter with a new Brooks saddle, fancy tyres and reliable racks. We puzzled over how to put his gears together. I rode him from Newcastle to Nerang on Australia’s east coast with my friend Rob. And then I packed him in a box, said goodbye to all my family and my friends, and got on a plane.
It’s not really rational, is it, our tendency to endow inanimate objects with personalities. We can even develop relationships with them, which doesn’t make any sense either. But over eleven months of travel I grew fond of my tent, thanked my sleeping bag for keeping me warm in the cold places, sang the praises of a pair of gloves as I sped down high mountain roads and cursed my tyres for being so permeable to small sharp things. But most of all, I grew fond of Baxter. He struggled with me on the climbs, sang with me on the descents, weathered my neglect and would, at times, throw a total tantrum to remind me not to take him for granted.
I remember him feeling wobbly and unsteady beneath me as we rode out of Vancouver, mirroring my own uncertainty, my apprehension and my excitement. I remember him labouring his way up the Cascades as I shouted at the stern mountains. I remember riding him to meet the woman I now live with for the first time in Berkeley, and I remember riding him away from her when I left the Bay Area. I remember chatting to him throughout what would have otherwise been an unbearable loneliness in Arizona. I remember his chain turning gritty with the sand of Baja’s beaches and deserts. I remember guzzling down rum after a speeding semi-trailer missed us by inches on a Baja highway, and hooting as we careened into oncoming traffic during a Mexico City alley cat race. I remember him dripping with my sweat on the steep Devil’s Spine road from Mazatlan to Durango and I remember him, jolting and mud spattered, on muddy mountain tracks in the Huasteca. I remember parking him with Rob’s Oscar, Jamie’s Patrick and Simon’s Sex on Toast on the beach at Cerro Hermoso the night we made the Oaxacan Pacific. I remember leaning him on Oscar – always in the shade, mind – at lunchtimes. I remember leaving him in a Cancun hostel when I went backpacking with the Berkeley girl, and having so much to tell him when I got back. I remember struggling and bumping up ridiculous Guatemalan roads, feeling very ready to throw in the towel and take a bus, and him echoing my sentiments by choosing that moment to have a crank and pedal drop off. We probably would’ve sat right there and waited for a bus, if Oscar and Rob hadn’t been there.
Four months ago I packed him into a box once more and we returned to the Bay Area. I started a new life, a new relationship and a new job and Baxter settled into a period of comfortable retirement, covering just a few kilometres per day on my commute to and from the train station. It is true that I neglected him during this time – I left him in the rain, parts of him started to rust, his chain skipped and clunked awfully along his weathered chain rings – but at the end of each day I would find him at the station, give him a pat and ask “How’s it going, Bax?” as I knelt down to unlock him.
I never took enough care of him when we were touring, either. His tyres were always overinflated, I took too long to change his chain and barely ever oiled his shifters. And yet he copped it all and simply kept on, because he is a touring bicycle – my touring bicycle – and he loves nothing more than to be on the road, happily wheezing our way up hills, cruising our way across the flats and drafting behind Oscar and Rob when there’s a headwind (heheh). We both knew that wherever I would go, he would go too, and that sooner or later we’d be back on the road once more. He’s fine to ride as a commuter bike, but Baxter is happiest when he’s laden with panniers and knows he won’t be sleeping in the same place he woke up at. I’m not just saying this. I can feel it when we ride.
Except now we wont ride any more. Despite everything the Canadians told me about Americans, what Americans told me about Mexicans, what Mexicans told me about Guatemalans, what Guatemalans told me about Salvadorans and what Salvadorans told me about other Salvadorans, Baxter made his merry way through North and Central America unmolested. It took day at a train station in suburban California to finally lose him. The thief will probably sell him on, and hopefully the new, innocent owner will give Baxter as much love and more maintenance than I did.
He’s out there somewhere. I will always love and remember him.
So long old friend.