50 years seeking balance

Today is my 50th birthday. Looking back on half a century, the course of my life has wandered and weaved like a child on a bike learning to keep balance and stay upright. As I have grown older, I have managed to find a bit of balance in life and finally hold a reasonably straight course. The wild life swings of my younger days have matured into regular but minor adjustments interspersed with an occasional quick turn to dodge one of life’s pot holes.

As I have grown better able to hold my line, I can see there have been constants in my life that have helped right me when I veered off course. My parents were there to pick me up and brush me off when I took that ride down the hill on my first two wheeler and ended up in the neighbor’s hedge. Mom and Dad have been there ever since.

Yes, I would marry her again.

My beautiful daughter riding home from a guitar lesson.

My wife and I have been together for 30 years. During that time she has held the same job since she got out of college while I changed careers three times. Although she likes to keep me on my toes by reminding me that she did break up with me for a day once, having her unwavering support has given me the luxury of finding my path. While my path from globe trotting photojournalist to bicycle advocate has had quite a few detours and rough spots, she has been my stalwart supporter and best friend.

Without my wife I would not have been able to become the person I am today or produce my greatest success in life, my daughter. Now on the edge of 16, she is no longer that little doll with the fountain hairdo I can dress in whatever cute outfit I choose.  She is bugging me to get her driver’s license, wears inappropriate footwear for the weather, and offers teenage challenges to most things I do. But everyday she tells me she loves me, and that helps me strive to live by values I can defend and work to leave the world a better place.

My support team has also included more friends than I deserve. Many of those friends have allowed me to draft off them and managed to hold my wheel by me for decades, despite my poor group riding skills.

Throughout most of my life, the bicycle has had a profound influence. At a young age, I used it to learn balance, experience freedom and independence, to explore my neighborhood and fall in love with my city.

Film and fingers stained by dektol and nicotine, all things of the past for me.

I lost my way for a while after I turned 16 and stopped riding. I got a car and left the bike to gather dust. I turned 18 and started drinking and smoking cigarettes. I graduated college as a globe trotting photojournalist and figured I would be lucky to live past 30.  But I did, and as that age passed, I eventually found myself on a bike again. I bought a Trek 820 Antelope to go out at night so I wouldn’t hurt anyone coming home from the bar. Eventually I started using it to get to the stadium to shoot Brewers games and to the Bradley Center to shoot basketball.  I soon found myself taking the long way home after the post game ritual of a few beers and pool with the other photographers. Once again I was exploring the back streets and alleys of my city on a bike.

Then one day a couple of my real friends put my Trek in their car and dragged me kicking and screaming to go mountain biking at the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit. And I loved it.  Before I knew it I was out there three or four times a week and, not long after that, I was racing WORS. I quit smoking cigarettes so I could ride faster and longer. While some people smoke and live to be 90, I wonder if that entry-level Trek mountain bike might not be one of the reasons I am around to write this post today.

While the cycling metaphor for life may be getting a bit contrived at this point, it is no lie to say I sincerely believe the bicycle is a simple solution to many of our world’s complicated problems. That is why I do what I do. I have turned my mode of transportation into my avocation thanks to the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. So “to all my friends” (as Mickey Rourke said in Bar Fly), my relatives and family, thanks for sticking by me while I learned to find my balance.


On the path and holding my line.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

18 thoughts on “50 years seeking balance

  1. What a fantastic post today, and to use a 50 tooth chainwheel to image 50 years… awesome. Thanks for the time to blog but for sure for posting for so many of us that tried to catch you as we tried to keep our balance and couldn’t.

    pm-r 🙂

    PS. It’s 70F here in Knoxville today, sunny, and I came to work on two wheels but with a big motor between my legs… I’ll get there someday Dave 😉

    • Thanks Pat, you bore witness to some of my early wobbles on life’s path. Enjoy that Tennessee sun now and come back to Wisconsin when it gets too hot or you just need some Real Chili 😉

  2. Happy birthday Dave! And thanks for all you do for bicycling in Wisconsin. It was great to hear from you in person at the Bike Summit in Madison last week.

  3. Wonderfully written and a joy to read this afternoon. I past that 50 mark 2 years ago last thursday, and some of what you had written remind me of thoughts I had when penning the “Mountain Bike Friends” post….where and who biking has lead me to. Happy Birthday Dave.

  4. A happy/splendid 50th Day-of-Birth posting Dave. I’m thinking your on a family bike ride this evening to a favorite restaurant in Wauwatosa. Keep the balance & enjoy.

    • A sick kid meant help with homework and then an early dinner of chicken soup tonight Gary. You will likely see my bike parked in front of J61 soon enough though.

  5. Dave,

    Beautiful and honest narrative! We’re proud of you and are so glad you’ve been part of our life journey! Lots of love . . .

  6. What a lovely birthday message, you offer balance to many. Now I really feel like I know you. Jessica speaks of you often, nice to meet you Dave and Happy Birthday!
    Jessica’s mom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *