chernobylclock
Beggars Would Ride

The Art Of Being Wrong

Words Mike Ferrentino
Date Dec 1, 2022
Reading time

My dad possessed an enviable self-confidence. He was an engineer, and as with many engineers, there was this combination of intellect and curiosity and capability that could easily be mistaken for arrogance. I went toe-to-toe against that intellect during my formative years, and lost every time. I am still unpacking the legacy of those lessons. It is fair to say that I did not inherit that unsinkable self-confidence, because I doubt just about every single decision I make, but it is also fair to say that maybe my dad was just smarter and more driven than I am. But then again, it can be hard to discern where wisdom and intellect diverge or intertwine, and confidence goes a hell of a long way when people are looking for answers or guidance.

Why am I talking to you about my father? Well, it’s November of 2022. On November 2nd, 2012, at 4:42a.m, Fred Ferrentino finally – after 17 very long and messy months ­– grew weary of arguing the point with his pancreatic cancer and decided to run down the curtain and join the choir invisible, so to speak. Before anyone accuses me of being glib about this, let it be said that Fred Ferrentino would NEVER pass up the opportunity to pull a Monty Python quote into a conversation, regardless of context. So, Fred and the fabled Norwegian Blue (“beautiful plumage”) share a symbiosis that I view with respect and love. And since this month is Fred’s 10th deadiversary, he gets to have his parrot sketch moment.


But, as Fred would attest, getting fitter when old is a whole lot easier than trying to get fit when dead.

I was holding his hand when he passed. The act of being present, unable to change the direction of this arc, helpless but fully committed to being there, remains the most painful thing I have ever experienced but at the same time this was the single most profound lesson he ever handed down to me. It needed no unpacking at all. Pay attention, the lesson said. This is where we all go. The clock is ticking. This, at the relatively late age of 47, was my first fully immersive encounter with mortality. Fred’s last words were “Ahhhh, suck” (he hated to say the word “fuck”, so would supplant “suck” instead when, in those rare instances, his self-assurance didn’t glide him through whatever was going wrong). As I stood there bawling, holding his lifeless hand, he then let out an impressively long and sonorous fart. Because that’s just the kind of guy he was.

Fred was not one to dwell on the past. He wasn’t given too much to speculation about the future, either. Logic driven but incredibly broad minded and curious, he had me read “Be Here Now” by the time I was eight, and supplemented my metaphysical education with a steady diet of junkyard sourced motorcycles during my teens, because “the best bikes are the ones that teach us how to speak to them.” Oddly enough, he absolutely hated “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Much as I would love to prove how different I turned out, how I’m absolutely not a chip off the old block, I can’t stand that book either. But I digress…

Another of Fred’s favorite quotes was: “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.” He was a first rate contrarian who in spite of his extensive education loved nothing more than rolling the dice and seeing what would happen; whether that involved driving fast on wet roads with bald tires or experimenting with Hugelkultur garden beds or building a new steam boiler for polystyrene bead expansion. When things went wrong (sometimes spectacularly), he’d shrug, and say “Suck. Well, back to the drawing board.” When things worked, he’d smile wryly as if he expected that outcome all along, and then with a wink would trot out the clock quote.

For much of my life, I was obsessed with being right. I wanted to be the guy who had the answers, who knew why things were the way they were, who, like my dad, knew how to fix things and make them work better. Not surprisingly, I swallowed a whole lot of my own pride along the way. Fred managed to make being wrong look like an incidental casualty that sometimes occurred as a result of being right almost all the time. Me, I felt like being wrong was the way of the world, and that for all my yearning to be the guy who had the right answer, inevitably, the inexorable gravity of cosmic wrongness would prevail. But I sure took some emphatic stands:

Cell phones with cameras? What a stupid idea.

Turbodiesels? Why bother?

Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that anyone can edit? Give me a break.

Print media is too powerful an intellectual institution to ever fade away. The written world will always be our most valuable form of communication.

Social media is a short-lived fad. It’ll never really have an impact on how we behave.

There’s no way we won’t, as a species, evolve to ensure our own preservation before we overrun the planet and its resources with our own hubris, right?

See what I mean? Let’s not even get into the chapter and verse of how wrong I’ve been about bikes, and how often I’ve been wrong. Besides, I already went there.

IMG_3275

"Mark my words, these things will be your future." Fred Ferrentino, stunting in style, two months before his last farewell. I'd love to call him out in the great beyond and prove him wrong, but, as usual, he was right about this as well. I'm holding firm on my assertion that zipper-convertible pants are an abomination though. You hear me, Fred? AN ABOMINATION!

On November 2nd, 2012, I stopped caring about being right. Mortality had entered the conversation, and suddenly being right just did not seem to matter so much. It took a while to understand this, to relax my grip on the notion that facts and being right are just a couple data points that ultimately lose relevance when set against the incomprehensible infinity of the cosmos and our own incredibly limited time here in these skinbags navigating that enormity. We are all going to die, regardless of how often we are right, regardless of how smart we think we are, regardless of how important that makes us feel. I use “we” here, but really, I have no clue how other people work through this.

Meanwhile, I’m here, writing a column for a mountain biking website, and have just spent somewhere in excess of a thousand words not talking about mountain bikes at all. Except for this: For the entirety of this month, ever since heading to Spain the day after my father’s deadiversary, I’ve been riding a whole lot. And I’ve been thinking about riding, about bikes, and about mortality.

That trip, especially considering the timing of that trip, made me realize that while I am continuing to evolve as a rider, I am not evolving anywhere near as fast as the sport is evolving. And that, really, everything I thought I knew about bikes is potentially just useless arcane trivia. I need to get fitter, but I am getting older and it turns out that getting fitter is not as easy as it is for young people. I need to learn some new skills. But hitting the ground nowadays hurts in ways that it never used to, and takes a whole lot longer to recover from, and lately my friends have been snapping their femurs, or suffering brain traumas, or getting pacemakers installed, and damn, this mortality shit is real.

But, as Fred would attest, getting fitter when old is a whole lot easier than trying to get fit when dead. One of his other favorite sayings was from a magazine ad for OB tampons. He had the ad pinned to the corkboard in our kitchen for years. You can’t make this kind of shit up. The image was a sort of blurry one of an athletic woman stretching. The words accompanying the image read: “Because life is not a dress rehearsal.”

I’m more than willing to be wrong about this as well. But I’ll cautiously edge my old dog self toward learning some new tricks anyway, while I still have time.

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Comments

tanadog
tanadog
2 months, 1 week ago
+45 yardrec Velocipedestrian fartymarty Offrhodes42 Carlos Matutes sverdrup Cy Whitling Nick Maffei Pete Roggeman Merwinn kcy4130 Sandy James Oates bishopsmike shenzhe Mammal whotookit finbarr Jerry Willows taprider Todd Hellinga NealWood trioofchaos mnihiser mrbrett BarryW cornedbeef Metacomet Muesliman Craig Ellis Neil Carnegie ElBrendo Derek Baker dhr999 OneShavedLeg BenZ Spencer Nelson vunugu Raymond Epstein Andy Eunson slimchances57 NewGuy tomis916 gmacbike@gmail.com bushtrucker imnotdanny

nsmb is by far the best thing on the interweb and Mike makes it even better.

Reply

kos
Kos
2 months, 1 week ago
+11 Mike Ferrentino Mammal ZigaK trioofchaos cornedbeef ElBrendo imnotdanny Andrew Major Spencer Nelson Raymond Epstein tomis916

Ya, now, don't go inflating NSMB's heads. Next thing you know, they'll be skulking around looking for Outside kind of money.

I'll show myself out.....

Reply

juanhernandez
juanhernandez
1 month ago
0

what the hell.  since beta ripped me off, i couldn't find this jackass.  looks like someone needs to pay for his next 2M mansion.  

bastard!  can't wait to go jumping with this norcal bag.

Reply

kcy4130
kcy4130
2 months, 1 week ago
+20 Pete Roggeman roil Mike Ferrentino Niels van Kampenhout Mammal Skooks taprider Velocipedestrian Todd Hellinga mrbrett BarryW cornedbeef Metacomet Muesliman ElBrendo Derek Baker OneShavedLeg Spencer Nelson Raymond Epstein tomis916

For an article about death, it sure made me laugh a lot. Superb work.

Reply

andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
2 months, 1 week ago
+19 Sandy James Oates kcy4130 Pete Roggeman Mike Ferrentino Brad Sedola tcayou Mammal Skooks paulc Todd Hellinga trioofchaos Adrian Bostock Muesliman ElBrendo rolly OneShavedLeg capnron tomis916 gmacbike@gmail.com

Yeah. I’m 65 now. Yeah. That injury thing is real. We old guys do not recover the same as young riders. I can’t even to two big rides a week lest I become "overtrained". My friend used to joke about injuries. In our twenties you’d crash and hurt your shoulder. I hope I can ride tomorrow. Drink a bunch of Molsons and ride hard next day. At 30, it was craft beer and the shoulder hurt but we rode. At 40, scotch and we took time off and considered physio. At 50 we’d quit drinking and needed physio for a month and no riding then. Now in my 60s I get injured in my sleep dreaming about riding. What the serious suck is that all about?

Reply

sandy-james-oates
Sandy James Oates
2 months, 1 week ago
0

That sounds familiar.

Reply

Mic
Mic
2 months, 1 week ago
+13 Pete Roggeman Mike Ferrentino Mammal Skooks Todd Hellinga mrbrett BarryW Muesliman Craig Ellis Derek Baker Andy Eunson Spencer Nelson tomis916

Oh, Mike and the long-cherished team of NSMB.....thank you for this gem of an article. Nothing more to add, except....that it is oh so true. 

My own mortality and the fact that I am turning 50 next year has brought me to not only buying my kid a DJ but getting myself a BMX for an indoor park and a foam pit. 

Long live having the balls of having the ability to be wrong and ok with it, and not having to prove anything to anybody, except they are wrong, of course.

Reply

Hawkinsdad
Hawkinsdad
2 months ago
+8 Mike Ferrentino Skooks Pete Roggeman trioofchaos cornedbeef kcy4130 Muesliman capnron

Thanks Mike, for your hard-earned and humble words of wisdom. December is a tough month for me, remembering my younger brother and mother who both died in the same month, eleven months of each other. What a gift your words are to NSMB.com and to the mountain biking community. As an old, arthritic codger with ADHD who did two degrees in my late forties and mid-fifties, I don't doubt at all that you will continue to learn new tricks. Keep your chin up.

Reply

monsieurgage
Gage Wright
2 months, 1 week ago
+6 Mike Ferrentino cornedbeef Muesliman BarryW Andy Eunson capnron

I like this.  It is a breath of fresh air in a sea of "look at the latest..." articles.  Sorry guys, sometimes I could give a poop about O-Chain or whatever the industry is selling.  

Mike, I would not be too harsh with any self criticism for the hubris of being wrong.  Admitting you may have been wrong is suggestive that you are open to being fallible.  If you agree with this then the concept of "little t" and "big T" truths becomes part of one's acceptable guiding philosophy.  We each see through our own lenses and those lenses are changes and shaped with experience.  

The end of the article is interesting.  My answer to the problem of old dogs with new tricks is to focus on the most fundamental skills of our sport, cornering.  So much can be learned from chasing the perfect technique with just the right amount of personal style and flare.  Bike body separation, balance, line of sight, weighting the pedals and bars correctly will help keep everyone, including the old and infirm, upright.  Preventing the dreaded OTB and riding safe into retirement is a huge benefit but the fun comes from maintaining speed and steeze while doing it.

I am 32 years old and have a fairly risk adverse tone to my self assessments.  I see fundamentals as a way to constantly improve without getting hurt.  I agree, corning with cones and performing drills on trail is boring.  Physiotherapy is boring too.  So is staying hydrated and eating healthy.  Maintenance is not exciting but at least I can do it until I kick the bucket...reach the end of my rope...buy the farm...take my last dirt nap.

Until the retort, I'll be here, trying to corner like Bryn Atkinson.

P.S. 

I could be wrong.  Maybe I need to huck my meat more often and face mortality with less caution and more viking fatalism.

Reply

DogVet
Hugo Williamson
2 months, 1 week ago
+6 Mike Ferrentino bishopsmike Mammal taprider Muesliman capnron

Yep, as you get older the pitfalls of even minor errors ( mine clipping a tree with the bars, at point of launching a drop) results can be serious, proximal fracture of humerus. Given that orthopaedic injuries take up to 2 years to maximise the recovery, that will put me just shy of 70…….what then?!!

Go steady out there contemporary oldies!!

Reply

krisrayner
Kris Rayner
2 months, 1 week ago
+6 Mike Ferrentino Skooks Pete Roggeman Muesliman capnron Grant Blankenship

It's been 12 years since my old man passed, a mechanic who loved building things and his turbo diesel Rabbit pickup. A non-smoker who died of lung cancer and sounds a lot like your old man. Full of similar sayings.  When, as kids, we complained "that's not fair" his usual retort was "Well, life's not fair"  It sure isn't.

Reply

OtherGrant
Grant Blankenship
2 months ago
0

"Who ever said life is fair?" my Dad would say.

Reply

Offrhodes42
Offrhodes42
2 months, 1 week ago
+5 Pete Roggeman Muesliman Sandy James Oates trioofchaos capnron

This has become the first cycling related site I visit every morning. The reason being articles like this. Keep up the great work.

Reply

lamar454
Peter Appleton
2 months, 1 week ago
+4 Todd Hellinga Pete Roggeman Muesliman capnron

sounds very cathartic indeed, i've been in the exact same situation, thanks for your vulnerability. i'm still struggling with being "right"

Reply

stinhambo
Steven Hambleton
2 months ago
+4 cornedbeef Muesliman Andy Eunson capnron

This article is so beautifully written, your father was clearly a great teacher.

Reply

mnihiser
mnihiser
2 months ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino Muesliman capnron

Yesterday was 10 years since my mom passed. Looking back I gotta say she was pretty amazing. I fought back tears all day . Today I'm following what she told me when I had horrible nightmares at age 5. "Think pleasant thoughts."

Reply

flattire2
Brian Tuulos
2 months ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino capnron

Life is too short to make-do with a too-short reach 26er clunker.   Buy that carbon wunderbike!

One of my last memories of my old man on his deathbed was letting our some ripper farts too, lol.

Reply

Joe_Dick
Adrian Bostock
2 months ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino capnron

I read this yesterday morning. Then today I was flipping through my contact list, and the number of people in my contacts who are no longer contactable is startlingly big!. getting older is a trip man. don’t take this for granted.

Reply

brij
Brij Lunine
2 months ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino capnron

So grateful to have stumbled across this.  One of your best pieces Mike!  And timely too--one of my dearest friends, who I started riding with in the mid-80s, lost his father last night.  A former Merchant Marine with a tough exterior, he was such a genuinely sweet guy who related well to all of us kids.  Having lost my dad two and half years ago I certainly can empathize. 

And being about the same age as you I certainly relate to evolving (and devolving) as a cyclist and not wanting to pile in (with road rash and bruises taking forever to heal from a week ago--nothing like an idiotic crash on Rail-to-Trail bike path in Santa Cruz, riding my CX bike up a banked curb like I was a 16-year-old skateboarder).  I also appreciate the sentiment from the OB ad--a definite problem I've had--time to get after it!  Last CX race of the year for me tomorrow and it's wet and cold.  Thanks.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
2 months ago
0

Brij, fancy seeing you here! Tomorrow is gonna be proper 'cross weather. Light it up, and jump all the barriers. It's what Scott Davis woulda done.

Reply

geraldooka
Michael
2 months ago
+1 capnron

Mike, I am really glad you're writing for NSMB. I dig your stuff.

Reply

slimchances57
slimchances57
2 months ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Well written and poignant Mike. I remember stroking my {adopted] father's head and telling him it was "okay to go" as he was breathing his last. That was a surreal and profound moment watching someone I knew and loved go from being my dad to an inanimate object before my eyes. That event has led to a different view and appreciation for this thing we call being alive and mortality. And with that as a preamble, age is no excuse for living less than fully - I started and finished the first of my six consecutive Cascade Creampuff's [100 miles/18,000 ft of climbing] @ age 50. You're still young at 47, suck it up buttercup and spend the time you have as the most precious commodity you'll ever be given.

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
2 months ago
+1 slimchances57

47 was a decade ago, but I hear ya. And kudos on the cream puff, one of the most intentionally and ironically misnamed events ever. I raced a few of them in their early years. Now, at 57, i's painful to contemplate. Guess I better quit making excuses and just ride more!

Reply

slimchances57
slimchances57
1 month, 3 weeks ago
0

Why choose one? Make more excuses to ride? ; D

Reply

JPR
JPR
2 months ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

I just turned 55 and set a goal for next year of getting comfortable on terrain steeper and gnarlier than I’ve ridden in the past. I needed this article. Thank you.

Reply

DaveSmith
Dave Smith
2 months, 1 week ago
0

Well played.

Reply

mamutensm
mamutensm
2 months ago
0

Learning from mistakes and having the maturity to evolve is a sign of wisdom. Thanks for the reflective article Mike =)

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