Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Ride

It’s been threatening storms all day. Most of it is off to the east now, scrunched up against the Boise front, where the watercolors are shades of black, random ribbons of cloud hugging the foothills like a dark garter gathered up against their rising crests.

He’s suited up. The clipless shoes make a grinding click sound against the concrete with each step as he walks to the bike. He does the usual checks: wheel bearing tightness, cranks, headset. Those are all good. Chain: clean and not too dry. Brakes: within tolerance. It’s good. Spoke tension and wheel trueness can be checked next time the bike’s in the stand. For now, it’s time to ride.

He loves colder weather for some reason. It makes him feel alive. It’s a great time to ride because most people won’t be out now. They’ll be huddled home by the fire, oddly enough for a June day that topped out at about 56 degrees. It’s actually blustery. Crazy cool.

He swings a leg over, clipping the right shoe into the pedal. Chock. He pulls the right side crank up to about ten o’clock with that foot and then pushes off. The left foot glides up to its pedal. Chock. He’s clipped in, and cycles, pushing down with the right and pulling up with the left, up and over, then pushing with the left and pulling with the right, making the rear tire dig, and he can hear the chain twang-grinding against the cogs; a sound he loves.

A stop sign. In Idaho, cyclists can treat them like yield signs if it’s clear, and it is, so he carries on. Now he’s at the main road and there’s light traffic. Two people, a man and his little girl, are walking along on the sidewalk across his path and he pauses on the pedals, smiling at them as they go by. He doesn’t want to unclip, so he creeps until there’s a break in the cars coming from the right.

Clear. He gets on it gently, scooting out across two lanes and onto the opposite shoulder, turning left onto the main road. He concentrates on his form, keeping the knees in, straight up and down, smoothness, not pushing it, just getting his body warm. He shifts up through the gears. Snick. Snick. He finds a good ratio for the road’s resistance, the wind, and the mild incline—all things people in cars never notice—and in about five blocks he feels good enough to push a little more.

He gives it a little more welly, as the Brits might say, and snicks up through one more ratio. Very little wind today, in spite of the stormy skies, but at this speed it’s noticeable, like a rubber wall that pushes and gives, then pushes again. This will be the cruising gear until he turns up ahead, and God knows what the wind will be doing then.

Another stop sign after a while, and a construction zone to boot. He stands up on the pedals, leading with his left, and lets the blood flow more freely to his legs as he coasts up to it. The stop sign is the Great Equalizer of traffic, and he finds he’s caught up to a few of the cars that passed him not long ago. Once he’s matched speed, he merges into the lane full-on; he’d rather not risk getting run over by someone who either didn’t see him or chose to be a bastard. He will have his own turn at the four way, by God.

Right turn, and now that he’s warm, he digs deep, sprinting in the saddle, letting his legs churn through the power pulses, push-left pull-right, push-right pull-left, and then do it again, feeling the chain worming around the chainring, pulling it forward powerfully from the cogset, listening to that glorious biomechanical synergy, a real modern symphony of sound, of well-oiled rollers meshing perfectly into and out of the teeth of the simple machine. The tires hum and grind against the asphalt, the spokes prang inaudibly over the imperfections and whistle through the wind soundlessly, but he thinks he can hear them as he gains speed—the wind is more at his back now as he snicks through the gears.

At length he finds himself out past the edge of the storm. The clouds are at his back, crashing like breakers against the mountains and he’s out in the flats, the fields of beans and corn starts and onions and wheat, still green and swaying in bursts of breeze out across the flat expanse. He thinks of his boyhood, of the vast Illinois floodplain where he spent so many years. But out in the distance he can see the Owyhees and their still-snowcapped peaks—their north sides naturally getting less sun—and that’s nothing like Illinois. He revels in the magnificence of the brilliant acrylic blue sky, high cannonshots of pure white cloud scattered randomly across it. Out here there are about one point five farmhouses per square mile, and he loves that too. He makes the pedals turn, wing wing wing the chain sings.

It’s all about cadence and heartbeats and consistency and form—keep the knees in—and standing up or giving his legs a little breathing space every now and then, letting the blood course freely.

Before he knows it, he’s back home. The ride is done. Some stretching, some calisthenics, a snack and shower. And then, a chair, a book, a cup of tea, and a short time to bask in the afterglow.

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