Fans, friends, family, ohana

The Hawaiians have a word, ohana, which describes a person’s network of blood relatives, extended family, close friends and other communities. On Saturday night I was reunited with the cycling branch of my ohana, and it was like we had never been apart.

This story starts 11 years ago, when an optimist’s madcap idea became a reality.

My cycling family

In early 2012, a group of four cycling fans launched a blog, Velovoices, that aimed to provide coverage of pro cycling for fans by fans. None of us had ever met in person before, but we had connected through social media and shared a passion for the sport.

Over time, the team expanded to include writers from England, Jersey, France and the US. We launched a podcast. As editor-in-chief, I planned our content calendar, managed individual assignments, and I wrote and did much of the editing. During the Tour de France, I could spend upwards of 20 hours a week working on the blog and podcast, staying up past 2am four or five nights a week on top of a demanding day job. It was all unpaid work. It was the same for the entire team. We did it because it was fun and our community of blog, podcast and Twitter followers shared our enthusiasm precisely because we were fans doing it out of love and not professional journalists doing a job.

Of course, nothing was permanent. After four years, with work, family and a separate paid writing gig to juggle, something had to give. So I stepped back from Velovoices. It was a wrench. But I was burned out. Both physically and mentally, I had nothing left to give.

Velovoices continued fine without me. Other team members left; new ones joined in their place. I stayed vaguely in the loop, making a guest appearance on the 100th podcast episode. I maintained arm’s length contact via social media. But I wasn’t in the inner circle any more. I was a whisper from the distant past to the more recent recruits; a footnote in the history book.

Family reunion

But, despite the passage of time, ohana prevails.

So when our US-based team members announced they were making a rare visit to the UK, the team mobilised from all corners of the country. We descended on London to meet up for dinner. There was never any shadow of doubt. It was always going to happen.

I had only seen Chris (and his wife Audrey) in person once before – Utah is not exactly on our doorstep. We realised, with no small measure of shock, that was nearly eight years ago. I had never met Luke (Chicago) or Issie (Exeter) before, but I’m familiar with both their voices and personality from the podcast. And I’ve known Midge (Jersey), edited her writing and shared dozens of podcast recordings with her dating back a decade, yet we’d never been in the same room together.

I’m quiet and socially awkward at the best of times, but it immediately felt like we had never been apart or never met before. And while it was cycling that first brought us together, it’s friendship that kept us together. Yes, of course at times the conversation rotated back towards cycling. How could it not? But it was noticeable how it was never a crutch we relied on. We filled in the gaps in each other’s lives and shared long-forgotten stories. We talked about the parlous state of both UK and US politics. We jumped from topic to topic without any sense of awkwardness or pause for breath.

These folks – both the original team and the ones who joined since I left – are united by more than just a common interest. They are more than colleagues, more than simple friends. And as much as I wouldn’t trade my actual family in for anything, life is a better place with ohana.