Road Cycling

Home Is Where the Bike Is – Chris H. Hadgis Talks Cycling – Bicycling

Home was not a place I wanted to be. My dad had an unpredictable rage that often exploded at my older brother. Anytime he got hit, I felt it, too. I was terrified, never knowing when the grenade might blow. I escaped by exploring the woods and creating imaginary worlds down by the local creek. Inside, I felt treated differently as the only girl, made to clear dishes while my brothers played video games. Outside, I could be anything. Nature is a level playing field.

At 8 years old, I sported a shaggy, uneven bowl-cut, courtesy of my mom. I wore clear, pink-rimmed eyeglasses with little blue Smurfs on the sides, hand-me-down tropical-print board shorts, and a turquoise T-shirt. Always curious to explore, I grabbed my little brother’s hand and we headed down the beach from my grandmother’s house in Brigantine, New Jersey. We clambered up through beach grass into the sand dunes, sifted through discarded, rusty beer cans and collected treasures of seashells, clams, and sea glass in our pockets. I lost sense of time—or rather, time didn’t matter. Exploring mattered. Searching for shells along the water, I noticed a message with my name written in the sand: “Chrissie COME HOME.”

Only then did fear strike. Not a fear of losing my way, or of being alone on the beach, but fear of returning home and facing my father’s wrath. My stomach sank. I hadn’t mentioned my plan to anyone other than my little brother. I later found out that my mom had called the police, and my older brother was searching the beach and writing messages to me in the sand.

Eventually, I had to detach from my father, and from my family. It would have been easy to crumble under the guilt that I felt for not protecting my brother and the disdain I had for the terror my dad’s rage instilled in me. So, I left.

I went away to college on a student-athlete scholarship. I studied abroad, lived and worked in Argentina, Malaysia, and Spain. I moved from coast to coast and worked in Washington, D.C., Maine, California, and New York. All the while, a quiet ache lingered that I couldn’t explain or outrun by crossing the sea or the country. “Chrissie, come home.” To where? Where did I belong? Home was an idea that I longed for.

I fell in love with cycling in New York City. I rode big ol’ “Gordito,” a 1996 Gary Fisher 7-speed aluminum hybrid, as a means of transportation and to dabble in triathlons. But after recovering from a head-on collision with a van in the city that damaged my knee, and with it my ability to run, riding became my go-to escape. I financed the first road bike that fit me: a 2012 Cannondale CAAD10. On my first ride across the George Washington Bridge, a familiarity clicked, like I’d been there before. Gazing up the tree-lined road hugging the river, I was eight again.

Eventually, I was invited to join an elite amateur women’s team in New York. I surpassed my expectations of my physical ability in races. But beyond any podium or category upgrade, the mere act of pedaling a bike gave me roots. Riding grounded me and armed me with assurance, acceptance, and security. Riding quieted the vacant dull longing inside.

Racing or not, on a bike, I’m home.

chris h hadgis riding her indoor bike trainer

Bryan Banducci

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A home is a place we can escape to, a compass we can reference to navigate our lives. We go home for refuge. On my bike, my means of escape and reprieve, I recalibrate, realign. And every time I go out for a ride, I’m eight again.

On a recent ride with a friend, battling an unrelenting onslaught of 23mph winds smacking us from every direction while climbing endless false flats, I could have sworn we were at least 50 miles into our ride.

“Are we getting closer?” I begged. “Closer with every pedal stroke!” my friend hollered. Laughing and suffering, we ducked our heads and pedaled on. We had only gone 20 miles.

Because I belong on my bike, I can push beyond pain. Like a supportive, nurturing home, the bike has helped me develop a will of strength and resolve. In times that I feared I might crack and break and give up, I found assurance to pedal forward. My bike and I have been over tough climbs before.

Even though the wind might nearly push me backward, and even though I’ve fallen and crashed, torn ligaments and broken bones, I always climb back on my bike and think, “Chrissie, come home.” And I go.