“I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike. I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where I like…”
The trees outside my window are frosted with a heavy cotton batting of wet snow. A winter weather advisory is on for the day, with three to six inches of snow expected in the mountains. This white nomad comes at the end of a senseless anachronistic thaw which has spent the better part of the past week gnawing away at the snow cover and the livelihood of ski areas throughout the northeast. As of this weekend, there may only be four or five resorts with enough snow to permit operation. We are questionably fortunate to be able to stay open this weekend, as there will be few customers, and those that do arrive will leave with damaged skis and a tarnished image of one of the only destination resorts in Maine. After many days of plodding around in snow that more resembled the fur of a dalmation, I have taken a day off, to relax and collect my thoughts, to pay bills, and ensure that my clothes are clean enough to wear in public.
The morning hours passed over two cups of coffee, an equal number of onion bagels from the freezer, and a book I have already read but feel the need to consume again. The room is big and the lights are small and diffuse, and I feel in my eyes that someone is turning their luminous output up and down, like a child who has discovered the wonderful effect of twirling the volume knob back and forth on the family stereo. The blankets of my bed seek to smother me and drag me back to somnolent silence, as the pages turn and my mind struggles to remain alert and active. On the other side of the room, the antithesis of my slumber leans comfortably against the wall, taunting me quietly, reminding me of the hours spent together in the not too distant past. My bicycle would like to go for a walk. I want to oblige, and I really wish I could, but I really don’t think I can. “It has been too long,” I tell myself, wishing I could believe it. But then it has only been a month. Or maybe it was two? I really can’t remember, and won’t try too hard, as to remember would be a verification of my overwhelming sloth during the past spring and summer, not to mention fall.
But the bicycle tugs at my conscience, prodding my sense of self worth, and drawing me from the mire of my blankets like the winch on a tow truck. Of course I can’t immediately find my shorts, or my cleated shoes. It is not as though I just set them down yesterday. I locate them at last under a pile of clean but disheveled laundry. I pull the water bottle from its cage and fill it under the faucet in the bathroom. Taking a pull off of it, I am reminded that this is the bottle that functions much like a novelty dribble glass; you can’t drink from it without making a mess. So be it, it is only the carpet which shall suffer.
I clip one foot into a pedal, and then the other, moving my feet without thinking, movement which in the past has been repeated too many times to fathom, in all kinds of weather, at all hours of the day, past many town lines in the quest for velocity and a sense of well being. I glance at my watch as I begin, a habit borne of the unquenchable need, to know exactly the parameters of my activity. My palms rest on the stained tape covering the handlebars, making small adjustments to my course, and I feel through them and my sit bones the contact pressure that most readily constitutes the physical memories of a bicycle ride. This acuity will dull with time and work hardening, and I realize that the calluses and toughened skin have been replaced through disuse with tissue sensitive enough to read braille.
The chain hums through jockey wheels, over cog and chainring, filth and grime disguising its age and obvious need of replacement, spokes whirling and humming happily.
The black display on the grey background stuck to my wrist changes slowly, inexorably, as only time has the right to do. Beads of sweat have begun to make their appearance on my forehead and upper lip, and I have noticed the slightly acrid odor which accompanies physical exertion. A trickle forms on the underside of my arm and makes its way towards my elbow, moving slower than the accumulation of the national debt, but faster than the parade of numbers on my watch. Eventually it will reach the end of a finger, drop into space like a lemming off a cliff, and be left behind without a second thought. Like the scout of an ant colony, the trickle of sweat invites more to follow, as time passes and the wheels spin on. I drink periodically from my water bottle, and am unsure whether more water makes it to my mouth or the ground via the leaky cap. Indifferent, my feet keep pace. I can feel my face dampening with the slow, even effort, and notice those muscles in my legs which have been asked to work after a long period of dormancy. They don’t protest, just make their presence known, like the sweat that falls forward in parabolic flight as I exhale and loosen it from its tenuous hold. I see one, feel the other, and know that they are connected and inclusive of each other.
My shirt gets wetter, legs tire, balance becomes precarious, and the pace of recorded time slows noticeably. The last seventy five seconds of a ride of this nature are always, it seems, the worst. The insignificant pains that otherwise register as normal seem to grow to barely tolerable intensity as the preset limit nears its end. At last the final second registers, and the feet are consciously stayed from their unconscious rhythm. The wheels stop spinning, a foot touches down, and the ride is over. I feel, at this point, as though I have ridden for hours and a great many miles.
In truth, I have gone exactly nowhere in thirty minutes. The rollers next to my bike will happily support my story. This is humble beginning of what I hope may be a good season.