Help! Is there a doctor in the house? No, but there is one in the garage.
He’s a bit of a general practitioner yet has expertise in some of the most delicate procedures. He knows how to use a bandage when necessary, yet he’s capable of major surgery if warranted. Truth be told, there’s even a bit of Dr. Frankenstein to be found in him as he’s skilled enough to take the necessary parts and build one up from scratch. Fear not, as his “bedside manner” is warm, waiting and wise.
Most call him simply Ray, but there’s nothing simple about his work as a skilled operator with keen abilities to diagnose. The examination room, waiting room, office, therapy couch and operating table are all combined into one simple square box of a building behind his home. This man labors not on human anatomies, but on expensive two-wheeled modes of transportation, or what we call bicycles. Formally, he has achieved, by his own self-crafted diploma having multiple years of on-the-job experience, a Doctorate of “Cyclology.” The master of whom I speak is Ottawa local, Ray Maxson, a seasoned man now in his 70s and a cycling veteran of countless miles of pavement. There are few limitations to his mechanical capabilities though most all of his attention is devoted to what are road, touring and even racing bicycles.
Be advised, he may throw around words like Bianchi and Bontrager and Campagnola and Cannondale, leading clients to think he’s speaking a foreign language or giving a world geography lesson, but he’s not.
This doctor’s office has no stethoscope or blood pressure cuff. No formal diploma hangs on a wall. Instead, dangling from the ceiling and hanging from walls are expensive bikes, colorful cycling jerseys and plenty of bicycle-specific mechanic’s tools. A door of a refrigerator located in the corner of the garage is covered with embroidered patches celebrating his many organized rides ridden.
Impromptu individual and group “therapy sessions” can crop up just about any night of the week with post-ride patrons. Confessions can be made but the gathered prefer to affirm biking behaviors though, to the non-cyclist, seem odd and even irrational.
Commonality and camraderie can be found even in their uniform wearing of helmets with holes in them, florescent jerseys and the requisite tight-fitting butt-padded spandex cycling shorts.
Any degrees earned are through the literal School of Hard Knocks. A function of accumulated miles, everyone has had one or more unforgiving collisions with pavement resulting in anything from a gnarly “strawberry,” to broken bones, torn ligaments and even a concussion or two. The inevitability of cycling crashes cannot be understated by this consoling community.
Some support groups offer much needed help finding freedom from unhealthy or “abnormal” behaviors. This eclectic gathering is more about “enabling” behavior or ways to keep bikers biking. As each “set of wheels” can rival the price tag of a new mid-sized sedan, it makes perfect sense to be aboard the lightest and most aerodynamic machine possible while still getting great exercise and calorie burn.
Work your way around the circle of two-wheeled thrill-seekers and you might hear, “Hi, my name is Paul (or Pauline) and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday than going on a 100-mile bike ride to finish in time for a late lunch!” The numbers they speak of tend to be about how many thousands of miles have been ridden just this year or the suffering endured riding into near endless 20 mph winds. They don’t work for ODOT but are acutely aware of and disappointed by recently chip-and-tarred roads. Similarly, they take giddy delight in any newly paved asphalt ones.
Each knows the ongoing contest of nerves when cars and trucks speed perilously close causing them to question the merit of Share the Road signs. More than a few in motorized vehicles seem ignorant of the fact that carbon-fiber, plastic and rubber, all weighing less than 15 pounds, are no match for 4,000 pounds made mostly of steel. These are the folks whose first thought about travel is how to get there by bicycle rather than plane, train or automobile.
One might conclude that this band of local bicyclists frequenting Doctor Ray’s welcoming domain is a bit crazy or even “off their rocker.” Indeed, most days of the week they are off their rocker … and onto their saddle passionately pedaling to their heart’s content. And yes, I admit to being one of them, too.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org