A firm stomp on the pedal and I am part of the bike. I hop on and drift down the driveway, while the other foot flips the pedal and clicks in. I am now committed to both speed and balance. Circular rhythm, head down gaining speed, I surge toward the short hill ahead. I consider what it might be like to clip into wings, suspecting that those too would not be effortless.
This morning it is windy. Wind from the NE means that for one leg of my favorite route, I will feel stronger than I am. A splendid illusion.
It’s a nine-mile loop. Slowing for a cross road, I remember a story about two men racing to the South Pole. The margin between winning and losing, life and death, was what the survivor (Robert Falcon Scott) called the 20 mile march. Good weather or bad, extreme or lovely, 20 miles. Only twenty miles. Always the same. Twenty miles of ambition and twenty miles of self-control.
Do not be deceived into thinking you can beat this plan, I tell myself. Nine-mile loop. Niner.
Rolling curves, slightly downhill the first 2 miles, gusts buffet at a 45-degree angle. I hunker down to the lower curve of the handlebars and tighten my grip. I weave erratically and go slow. Is it unbecoming to use the word panting?
To distract myself from the work of it all, I think of danger:
· Weaving in front of a passing car that I haven’t heard coming because of wind noise, BAM.
· Having a gust deposit me into unstable gravel and loose dirt. CAN’T GET FEET OUT >>> BPLOOOSH.
· I thank God the fence by the cemetery I’m passing is chain link not barbed wire, in case I get hit from behind or bumped by a side view mirror or random trailer that is wider than the driver thought. KaUFFFF aaaAAAAAHHH oooooHHHhhh.
Stop sign. Slow. Unclip. Stand in the calm. Drink. Watch for traffic. Breathe. Heat radiating. Breathe deep. OK. Stomp pedal. Hop on. Flip pedal, stomp in and onward. Nine miles of WIND.
Drafts buffet & jerk bike & brain beating me with the thing I failed to consider: one leg of easy balances three legs of hard. I blow it off with NINE. NINE. NINE.
All things equal nine. Nine miles. I take to counting breaths in nines…
… and turning a corner gales stop their assault and I SAIL for two miles. Another turn and I grind it toward home giving myself helpful advice:
Look where you want to go; you go where you look.
Don’t rest heavily on the other hand, when you raise an arm to signal.
Lean and the bike turns itself.
Another corner and it’s housing construction, dirt on the road, trucks, both parked and moving, a car barreling this way, don’t look at that rock on the road! Don’t look at that side view mirror! She does not see me, I thread the needle zipping close to the parked truck, look where you want to go …
A shift in sunlight or the sprite of a sprinkler, what is it that signals us to glance or listen, could it be danger itself flying unseen right toward us?
I consider this moment what I would do if a bee, just now, flew in the vent of my helmet…could I hold it together to not fall in front of the oncoming car, to not turn too quickly and skid on the gravel, could I not react to stinging my scalp over and over, ignore needles of pain, keep it steady …
… and there it was,
a single line of rebar slumping four feet off the back of the truck
right toward my belly.
Sometimes doing hard things is setting a goal amidst the good, the bad, wind and calm, or the satisfaction of nine miles. Sometimes it is paying attention to danger.
And once and a while doing hard things is a moment of clarity, just in the nick of time.