The Big Grapple: The New Yorker and Bicycling duel over gravel’s true story

About a month ago, I read this piece about Colin Strickland in the New Yorker. And I got my shorts in a twist. The story unpacked Strickland’s indirect role in Moriah Wilson’s murder, then spent the bulk of 8,000 words tying his hostility, dishonesty and narcissism to professional gravel racing as a whole.

I wrote a grumpy reaction straight away. But I didn’t publish it. For two reasons.

  • It felt thin skinned. (And I have a thin skin about gravel’s reputation for thin skins.) So some guy in New York thinks pro gravel’s full of conceited pricks. (Pot, have you met kettle?) Why let slights like this bend me out of shape?
  • Enough has already been said about Strickland. We’re free to judge him. But he’s committed no crime. And he’s left the sport. What more do we want?

Then Bicycling published this dramatically different piece on the same tragedy. It’s so much richer than the New Yorker piece, simply for choosing to focus its lens where our eyes belong.

Rowan Moore Gerety’s piece in Bicycling keeps its focus fixed on Mo Wilson and her impact. (Photo, Dominique Powers)

It helps us know Mo better. It introduces us to her mom, Karen. Her brother, Matt. And to Caitlin Cash, the friend she’d been staying with in Austin when she died.

Rowan Moore Gerety’s story is about loss. But I can’t help but feel gain for the story he gives us. Cash was the first to reach Wilson after the attack. She called for help and attempted CPR. She wants us to know, “I did not give up.” And I am fuller knowing that.

Caitlin Cash’s friendship with Wilson lasted just six months, but ran miles deep. (Photo, Joanna Kulesza)

I’m fuller also for understanding a portion of the trauma, confusion and grief she experienced. At first, Cash wondered: Were the shots fired in her apartment meant for her? (No, I tell my open magazine. They weren’t.)

Another question follows her: Could she have made a difference had she been there sooner? (You’re making a difference now, I tell the page.)

I’m linking you to both stories, because I believe their differences matter. What do we want from the stories we read (and most importantly, from the stories we lead)? These contrasts help us know our answers better.

As the New Yorker contends pro gravel is dominated by narcissists, pay special attention to the quiet humility and maturity of the pros quoted there, including Amy Charity (above), Amity Rockwell and Peter Stetina. (Photo, slowguyonthefastride.com)

I believe the ways we read, ride and write are as similar as their sounds. I throw myself at each one with the same searching panic. We have these big sugar beets for hearts pounding away in our chests. And we’re all given one opportunity to figure out what to do with them. We pedal like mad to understand how our stories go.

(Could this be why gravel cyclists have these thin skins? Why our shorts twist so easy? We ride with such earnestness. And when somebody says we’re doing it wrong, or that we look silly, or that it’s all conceit—the only tissue available to skin is our big, fat hearts.)

If you’re happy, you’re doing it right. (Photo, Snowy Mountain Photography)

It’s cold out now. And you have some time off. Go ahead and read both stories—Ian Parker’s in the New Yorker and Rowan Moore Gerety’s in Bicycling. Then ask yourself: What do you want your stories to do?

Count me in with the storyteller who says: “We proclaim our love as boldly as we can.”


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