When I first met Fletcher he spoke a language that was as foreign as that thing between his legs. Not that thing (get your mind out of the gutter), his bike. It was sleek and lightweight, like no bike I knew existed. Cadence, peloton and derailleur, he said. Lead, filly and fetlock, I replied. What I rode was furry and four legged. Temperamental, strong and fast. The effort and reward was not in the distance, the climb or the sprint, but in the staying on, the balance, the going with, gracefully. While he was just sweaty when he spoke his language, I was sweaty, dirty and smelly when I spoke mine.
I also knew a cool language my father taught me as a child. He said goggles and lanes, he spoke of stroke and free and fly laps. And other languages I taught myself: I said endorphins, kilometers, pronation and, if truth be told, shin splints and planter fasciitis, orthotics and RICE. After a few decades, on fifteen degree, snowy mornings, tadasana and namaste rolled easily off the tongue, much easier than Yak Tracks.
Horses moved me, both literally and figuratively. I was buoyed by my father and by water. Running made me strong but hurt me. Yoga made me stronger and healed me.
Over the years I’ve been immersed in Fletcher’s culture, and advanced my fluency in his language. I can hold a line, ride a wheel, clip in and more importantly clip out. I understand the physique of a climber vs. a sprinter, the role of the domestique. I know enough to comply when he suggests another layer, booties and knee warmers on what seems like a perfectly warm spring day. Together we spoke it through chemo and through radiation. We spoke it during the spring classics, and now through the Tour De France.
I spoke my native tongue with a neighbor for a few hours the other day. I hadn’t ridden in about five years. Dressage, she said. Diagonal, I replied. It was awesome. Just like riding a bike, you never forget. I vow to speak it more often.
We admire those who speak multiple languages, and I’ve tried to get Fletcher to be multi-lingual. But some prefer to go deep instead of broad.* My skills in each of these are conversational while Fletcher’s fluency in his native tongue is dissertation material. He says hill repeats, intervals, and century. While I can say, “have a nice day” and “where is the restroom” five ways, in his one language he understands dialects, can diagram sentences, critique the literature.
As I write this he is talking to himself for 30 miles in 95-degree heat while I, more sensibly, put on my bathing suit.
*Plus he doesn’t like to get wet, is convinced that he looks funny when he runs, and would have a roomful of yogis in stitches.