I’ve been asked to clarify a paragraph I wrote in a Motivation Monday post, describing why I left BikeForums.net after seven years and 16, 000 posts:
“There were some costs involved. The world hates success from someone it brands a failure, and Chris was so branded. I received messages from friends and strangers that I wasted my time with Chris, riding with him would hurt my training. I was attacked online at BikeForums.net and on Facebook for helping him. I was even cyberstalked. After seven years at BikeForums.net I had to close my account. When I launched A Taste For The Woods in June 2013 I received hate mail and threats and crank calls. I still occasionally receive such ‘encouragement.’”
I can’t speak for Chris, and I don’t know if he still posts to Bike Forums, or reads the message boards. However, everything I stated in the above paragraph is true. The cyberstalking I mentioned was very real – I had friends advise me they received emails with attachments detailing online arguments I’d had the decade before. The cyberstalker was stopped by Bike Forums moderators from sharing comments about me from some Marlovian blog, for instance. He later threatened to “filter” through my Bike Forums posts to repost material embarrassing to me. While I could live with embarrassment, who knows how much further it might have gone? I’ve had online friends at Dartmouth and the University of Alabama who both had to deal with online nutters contacting their department heads about Usenet posts. One of them had to explain to his elderly mother why someone was crank calling her. I didn’t want to have the same conversation with MY elderly mother.
Speaking of embarrassment, while the above was going on, comments from Facebook private messages were also summarized and posted to Bike Forums by a former friend who wanted to shame me into riding more often. Shame doesn’t work as a motivation tool – if it did we’d never have super obese people – and it didn’t now. And as anyone who read my postings on Bike Forums and here know, I struggle with both my physical condition and my confidence. I was recovering from a difficult surgery the year before and a blood clot that nearly killed me. I was no longer physically able to ride even as mild a trip as Oaks to Philadelphia and back – I had to be picked up after 28 miles and according to someone who saw me I looked like “death warmed over.” For a person who used to regularly turn in 60 mile days on defective knees this was a major comedown. And regardless should my private correspondence be published?
Add in the public and private comments I received about riding with Chris – concern-trolling about “hurting my training”, etc – and I felt it was time. Also, all the negativity towards a person trying to change his life was demoralizing. (Yes, Chris acted a fool at times, but do people ALWAYS have to get agitated that someone is wrong on the Internet?) As a precaution against further cyberstalking I deleted numerous threads I’d started over the years on Bike Forums, and deleted about two thousand posts total. I asked Bike Forums moderators to use what I called “the nuclear option” on my account – basically sandblasting all record of my existence from the forums. (If this sounds extreme, recall I named a bike after the protagonist of The Fountainhead, and just as Howard Roark blew up a building that misused his intellectual property, I was doing the same. ) Bike Forums couldn’t remove all traces of me, but they deactivated my account, and in May 2013 I was gone. I monitored the forums for the first couple of months, and as I didn’t notice any cyberstalking, I stopped visiting until last month, when someone noticed A Taste For The Woods and posted a link.
I launched the first version of this website in June 2013, and on the whole I’m far happier than I ever could be on Bike Forums. I have the entire outdoors to write about, not just cycling. Also, I can help more people than I ever could posting on a message board. I still get some criticism and hate mail from people – one Philadelphia area Bike Forums poster seems obsessed with letting people know he’s a better rider than me, for instance. I don’t think that’s ever been in dispute. I guess I just don’t know my place. Then again this website is about helping people to move past “their place”, so I can understand his fear.
I don’t want to end this post on a sour note. I’m grateful for the many friends I made posting at Bike Forums, and I have many good memories from there. Let’s end with one. In 2009 the forum for Clydesdale and Athena bicyclists (over 200 pounds or six feet tall for men, 150 pounds for women) voted me the Poster of the Year. This wasn’t because of the number of miles I rode or the type of rides I did, but that I worked to overcome challenges and helped others overcome THEIR challenges. I value this praise more than my awards from the Chess Journalists of America for historical writing. I always knew I was a writer and historian. Bike Forums taught me I was a cyclist, and reminded me I was a good man. I remain both those descriptions at my new online home.