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Beggars Would Ride

All Dig, No Ride

Words Mike Ferrentino
Date Jan 27, 2022

Winter rains had finally come, and with the rain the dirt had softened from its hard as concrete summer stance into something chocolatey and pliable. In this part of the world, soft dirt was a scarce commodity. The people who shape dirt into jumps and berms wait patiently for the kiss of rain to mollify the ground, to transform it from blue-groove indifference to graciously accepting the bite of shovel. Between shovel and sweat, once the rains fell, vacant lots everywhere across the arid land would transform quietly into Andy Goldsworthy-esque masterpieces of sculpted soil, works of art that themselves inspired another more kinetic artform. There were people who waited for the rain with the same yearning as those who waited for The Rapture. Travis was one of them.

The morning air was dew-thick with promise as Travis pedaled to The Patch. Up with the sun and eager to get started rebuilding the jumps that had been stacked and tamped into the scrubby empty lot between two apartment complexes, he wondered who of the usual crew would be there already. A loose coalition of riders had been working on this spot for almost a decade, unofficially building a zone that had somehow escaped development and had flourished in a place where NIMBYism and lawsuits and helicopter parenting had snuffed out so many similar collective efforts. The Patch was special; a touchstone for generations of riders, a place where kids learned how to ride and how to build under the tutelage of older kids, where grownups could put in their sweat equity and dare themselves to test their boundaries against the aspirations of the fearless young guard, where everyone was accepted. All you had to do was be willing to work. “No Dig, No Ride” was spray-painted on a piece of plywood at the de facto entrance/tool stash. Everyone who rode at The Patch knew the drill.

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Rolling up to the tool stash, Travis noticed first the waist high orange snow fencing. He also clocked that The Patch was suspiciously empty for such a perfect morning. Then he saw that the plywood sign was gone. It had been replaced by a red and white and black printed poster with a round logo that looked something like a mashup between a Manx Triskelion and a Swastika but was upon closer inspection a stylized interpretation of flexed arms inside a circle, with the words “SHOVELFIT” boldly stamped beneath. The ratty and well-worn collection of tools that had been part of the stash forever was also gone, replaced by a neat array of matching red handled shovels, spades, rakes, tampers and a few pickaxes.

“What the f…” Travis began to mutter to himself, when he was greeted by an apparition appearing at his left shoulder. A stocky man, dressed in a skintight sleeveless red shirt and what appeared to be black LuluLemon tights disappearing into a pair of Caterpillar work boots. Red terrycloth wrist band on the left arm, black on the right. Thinning blond hair indicative of rapidly approaching baldness held in place by a thick red sweatband with the words “SHOVELFIT” embroidered across the forehead. A somewhat pinkish, almost ruddy complexion. “Greetings, Travis,” the apparition boomed. “Just the man I was hoping to see!”

Stuart. Long time lurker, notorious knee-out, dead sailor jumper. Loud talker. Never seen riding anywhere but The Patch. He had done his share of digging over the years, was part of the scene, but there was always something a little off about him.

“Hey Stew,” Travis said with what he hoped was neutral reserve. “What’s all this?”

“It’s Stuart. You know that,” the stocky man replied, his initial bonhomie evaporating as if a switch had been flicked. My name is not ‘Stew.’ Nobody wants to be named after a dish of meats and vegetables cooked slowly in a liquid. So please do me the courtesy of calling me by my given name, Travis.”

“Noted, Stuart. What’s the deal here? Where is everyone?” Travis chin-gestured at the empty vacant lot of The Patch, noticing with dawning alarm that in addition to the fencing, the sign, and the new tools, the very features that defined The Patch were themselves greatly changed. “And where the hell is the manual transmission?”

The manual transmission had been a fun part of The Patch since early days; a stuttering line of wheel deep whoops and tables that ran along the outside edge of The Patch next to the beige concrete wall of the apartments next door. It was gone, replaced by three equidistant, head-high piles of sand.

“Well, as you can see, some changes have been made,” Stuart said. “You know I own this lot, correct?”

This was news to Travis. “Getthefuckouttahere. You don’t own The Patch. Nobody does.”

“Travis, don’t be naïve. Someone has always owned The Patch. It has been in my family since before we built these apartments,” Stuart said with an attempt at gravitas that was sadly undermined by his outfit.

Ah yes. Stuart’s mom. Bunny Hoover. Real estate mogul in training. She’d made some power moves in the wake of a somewhat scandalous divorce from her developer husband, Waldo Terwilliger, one of which had involved claiming the strip of empty land where The Patch was and building the apartments next to the manual transmission. That had been about a quarter century ago. Stuart would’ve been five. Travis had never really thought about this before.

“Sooo, your mom, who you still live with, owns The Patch?” That explained why The Patch had resisted the surge of building development that had claimed so many of its kin over the years. Bunny loved her son Stuart, and he loved bikes, so The Patch had stood without assault.

If that was the case, and Stuart was in fact the heir to The Patch, then why this sudden and dramatic change? Travis asked again; “Dude, what happened to the manual transmission?”

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You know, some days you can scour the internet for hours on end searching for an image to match what you're writing about and just get skunked. Other days, you type in a word or two, and whammo! Solid Gold.

“Evolution” Stuart said, as he swept his arm in a grandiose gesture at the sand piles. “Welcome to the realization of a dream, Travis. Welcome to SHOVELFIT!”

Before Travis could muster a response, Stuart grabbed Travis’s handlebars, intensely locked eyes and began speaking with fervent urgency; “I have come to a realization. No Dig No Ride Makes No Sense. I was digging more than I was riding. All of us were. It was almost as if digging was more important than riding. So, why not take it to the next level? Why not focus on the digging? And instead of just using it as some secret handshake so that a bunch of wannabe Peter Pan characters can continue to avoid growing up, why not bring in more people, from more walks of life? Why not introduce them to the cathartic and transformative power of digging? Why not build a whole new fitness craze around it, with the noble dignity of hard work as a central pillar? Why not encourage people to come out and dig, motivate them to exorcise their demons, inspire them to get jacked, and monetize the damn scene? Fuck riding, let’s just dig! WELCOME TO SHOVELFIT! LET’S GET YOKED TOGETHER!”

“See over there, where the manual transmission used to be? That’s the Cool Hand Luke Challenge now. Shovelfit members work up to this, sorta like those crossfit challenges with the weird numbers. But this is much simpler. You, a shovel, a pile of sand, and a stopwatch. Move the sand – ‘who put all this dirt in my hole, Luke?’ – just like in the movie. There’s a leaderboard, and a whole competitive ladder. Then there’s the Gravedigger Zone over there, where that big hip jump used to be. That’s where you have to pickaxe and then dig a perfectly rectangular hole the length and width of your body, but only a couple feet deep. Digging hits so many core muscle groups at once that the workout they get when going full tilt for an hour will flat out smoke any gains those crossfit nerds may claim. Wait until they have to tamp the hole flat again, talk about feeling the burn! Their hands will bleed!”

Stuart was on a roll. He couldn’t stop himself now. “Think of it, man! Super low overhead, easy market penetration, $35 a month membership, after a year any member can open his or her own Shovelfit affiliate, portability, expandability, scalability, huge gains, and you gotta admit it makes more real world sense than flipping over tractor tires or swinging ropes or staggering around carrying anchor chains! On weekends we could stage Shovelfit members out in front of Home Depots and they can go work for people doing hard labor. Members will get a great workout, do good things in their communities, GET PAID, and the franchise can claim 50% of their take as tithing. The more they earn, the further up the leaderboards they move. EVERYBODY WINS!”

A vein was pulsing on Stuart’s pink forehead, just below where it disappeared up into his sweatband. He stared with zeal into Travis’s eyes, awaiting what must surely be an enlightened reply.

“I think you’re still steamed about the time you cased the landing on the big jump line a few years ago and we all laughed, and that this is bullshit,” Travis said quietly, turning to go. Might be a good day to hit the trails, give him some time to think through the red haze that was descending on his mind as he contemplated the loss of a riding spot that had defined so much of his life.

“You know what your problem is, Travis? You lack vision,” Stuart hissed, stung by the memory of his yard sale wreck. “What sort of adult spends all his time riding bikes anyway? Riding bikes is for kids. Work is for grownups. And Shovelfit, mark my words, will be how grownups measure their worth from now on. You’re just too immature to realize it!”

Stuart’s words faded behind Travis as he rode north toward the trails behind town. The loss of The Patch was going to be tough to swallow, but with time he’d get over it. There would be new spots, and people willing to dig, and meanwhile, there was plenty of riding to be had. As he rode past a boarded up Crossfit gym – vaguely recalling that crossfitters called them ‘boxes’ at some point – another casualty of fast paced opportunism running smack into the brick wall of a global pandemic, Travis smiled and wished Stuart well with his new venture.

pukie

This whole thing wasn't really written as a rip on Crossfit. But the more I think about it, the more I begin to feel maybe Stew was onto something. Maybe Shovelfit has legs. If someone turns it into a fitness craze, and gets as rich as Greg Glassman got off his Crossfit idea, I'm gonna be bummed. But also kinda proud.

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Comments

lamar454
Peter Appleton
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+6 Mike Ferrentino Cr4w Carlos Matutes kcy4130 Pete Roggeman okiecalvin

I will always remember my uncle’s last words, “What’s The Shovel For?”

Reply

Fasta_Pasta
Scott Jamieson
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+4 fartymarty kcy4130 Mike Ferrentino Pete Roggeman

To paraphrase Morgan Freeman:

You either get busy riding

Or you get busy Stewing

Reply

WyOh
WyOh
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 Etacata Sandy James Oates

Thx for a great morning read! Nicely done.

Reply

denomerdano
Deniz Merdano
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino DanL

You had me at Andy Goldsworthy

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

“What sort of adult spends all his time riding bikes anyway? Riding bikes is for kids. Work is for grownups. 

- this is such a stranger idea(l) we have in society where grownups have to be boring and serious.  When do we flip from being fun living to boring.

Reply

velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+3 fartymarty Pete Roggeman slimchances57

Riding bikes has been very helpful for me in preventing the onset of Grown Up.

The actual number plus the kids ensure the onset of Old

Reply

Nanok
Nanok
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

What a great read!

Reply

Captain-Snappy
Merwinn
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

When can I purchase the second installment?

Reply

DanL
DanL
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

bravo.

Reply

Straw
Straw
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Haha, nice.  I enjoyed the read.  The Patch sounded like it was a kind of utopia.

Reply

velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
3 months, 3 weeks ago
+2 Joseph Crabtree slimchances57

Sounds like the Post Office jumps.

Reply

Dhc7
Dhc7
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

Great read.

Reply

Glass
Glass
3 months, 3 weeks ago
0

I was lucky to have had a bunch of volunteers last Autumn to help me rebuild one of my old trails. I told them what, how and where to dig and also joked that digging was better than crossfit. You get the same workout, actually do something constructive while doing it and then the cherry on the cake is that you get to ride it afterwards!

Reply

fatdonkey
Ryan McLane
3 months, 2 weeks ago
0

RIP Pinkbike.  Times change, unfortunately.  Time to say goodbye to that old spot we held so dear to our hearts.  Then again, the inherent wonder and excitement of starting that new spot is pretty damn awesome too...

Reply

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