Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Passing One

#7 Cairo, NY

I imagine I'm a streak of rain slicker yellow as I pass the cyclist. It's good to be at speed in this hear, and although less efficient, the wind makes the humidity just a little more bearable. After being on a wheel for a while you start to desire other scenery. That was then, now you're winding through a dense forest with no traffic except your own wheels humming along the blacktop. I glance back and catch a glimpse of a solo rider disappearing behind a curve in the road, turn and pedal on.
When was the last time you applied sunblock?
The voice in my head is persistent and finally I pull the stick from the handlebar bag and hastily streak it across my face in 4 places, then one more across the back of my neck. I put the top back on the stick and the stick back in the bag. I glance behind me, no one. Using my hand I rub the streaks of sunblock into my skin trying to smear it for maximum coverage and minimum obtrusively.

I glance behind me again. This whole process of applying sunblock has slowed me down. I look at the queue sheet. Next road Ski Bowl Road, did I miss it? I slow a bit more and glance back again at an empty road. I stop. I wasn't going that fast. Did I miss a turn? I pull my phone out and look at a map with my GPS location on it. I scroll for the road. A black and red streak zip by me. I hurry to throw my phone into my handlebar bag and give chase.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Archives

#3 Westfield (outside)
"You are each on an individual tour..."
I'm going over a mental checklist, while he goes over the rules. I gaze off at the crowd around me looking into middle distance. My thoughts are consumed by the mental picture of the contents of my handlebar bag. The sun is just peaking up to our left. The pavement beneath our feet slowly becomes awash with shadows and the reflections of windows. The streetlights, second by second, lose the battle to illuminate and soon will give up entirely.
"The weather report says there will be lightning storms all day..."
He is mustachioed and gray with bushy eyebrows. Without lycra, he seems an old man with an old man's body. In lycra he does too: Shortish, hunched and pear-shaped.
"If you see a deep wide puddle, ride around it..."
There is no industry of reporting on these rides There is a magazine, there are personal blogs: these contain written first-person accounts. No third party spectates. Nowhere is it written the incredible fears of this shortish, hunched pear-shaped body.

---

She is fifteen years old, walking through a dusty old house. Upstairs there's bumping, grunting and thumping while a group of men maneuver a mattress down stairs and out the front door. My grand daughter wanders from the living room, through a dark dining room, towards the lights in the kitchen. A man and a woman are putting pots, pans, glasses and flatware into boxes.
"I'm just trying to understand why you don't think it's important"
"I think they just got busy and forgot, the same as with my social security card when I was three years old"
"They forgot. Over and over again, for fifty years. The just forgot"
The girl turns away from the kitchen and notices another door. She opens it. Inside there is a filing cabinet knocked over, with a drawer open and spilling papers on the floor. Medical bills, mortgage statements and car payments. As the girl sifts through she sees a file folder with stacks and stacks of colorful, folded card stock. The language on the cover of each card is French, inside there are lists of places, or checkpoints.

Next to each checkpoint is a time scrawled with initials next to them. On the back of each card, there is a name; her grandfather, an address; a P.O. Box in the town she is standing in, and a member number; 8851. She counts the cards. Over 50 of them. There is a movement by the door back to the dining room.
---
"It's just about 6am, have a great ride"
I mount my bike and go left out of the parking lot, looking between the queue sheet and the street signs, trying to predict how long I have till the next change in direction I'll make.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Too Far

#? Noone, NW (inside)

My eyes flutter open. I don't move, wanting to remember waking up in this position. The sun is just coming up. I roll to my right, on the ground is my bicycle, on its side.  From my prostrate pose on the side of the road, I can see that the bike is fine. I crane my neck and lift my head to see over the blacktop and find my handlebar bag has the main compartment flap open and is sitting in front of the front wheel of my bike. I roll to my back and pat my thighs, hips stomach, chest and head.
Everything looks in order.
Slowly, I bend at the hips and sit up. Falling from my bicycle, in the past, has resulted in some kind of injury. Was I so tired that I didn't have time to pull my bike from the road before passing out in the dirt on the side of the road? I stand and reflexively wiping off twigs and branches from my jersey and shorts, I realize that the stain on the inner thigh of the orange gripper is gone. Upon second glance, my jersey seems immaculate as well: all the tire marks and chain grease have disappeared as if the purple sport wool jersey was brand new.

I turn towards the solid yellow center line of the road that my bike sits atop. It's shadow flies away across the ground to my left. The front wheel points to my right. I turn my head that way. Sun. East... I start towards my bike and stop. The conifers that line the road on both sides are only a few meters tall and set close together. They stand still. I breath the cool air deeply and watch my breath upon exhalation. The wisps of air, swirl out of my nose and mouth, becoming inert shortly after. I watch the wisps in their complete stillness, hanging there, just inches from my face. The small white clouds hover, begin to flow and spin in slow motion. I stop holding my breath and exhale again after what seems like an eternity. This time the wisps exit in short bursts from my mouth only. With each burst the wisps accumulate and swirl a little faster. I take a step back. From this new vantage point, I see some wisps have stopped moving while others continue to search for there place in the small dervish my breath has created. As I take another step back, the newest wisps of my breath become to thin to travel the distance to the swirling mass and disappear.
Have the trees gotten taller in the last few moments?
The dervish takes on a form. I can read it:
"Can you find yourself?"
The wisp-words float for a second and drift down to my bike, sinking beneath the blacktop. The sun is even brighter now. Each breath I take is deeper but less productive.

I walk over to my handlebar bag, light ripples across the plastic sleeve distorting the map beyond visibility. I pull the map out to get a better look at the image on the paper. it distorts and the topographic contour lines ripple, swirl and wave in three-dimensions. I look up from the map, shield my eyes and look in the direction of the sun. I look back at the map. It is blank. Except for the graticules bordering the map, the legend, the scale and the orientation lines, it is blank. I fold the map and return it to the handlebar bag. Righting my bike, I straddle the top tube, install the handlebar bag on the rack in front of me. The light has softened and now seems to come from every direction. I begin to pedal. Only now do I notice that I'm on an incline and down shift to spin quickly up the steep grade. I climb for miles. The air is thin around me. I put a water bottle to my lips and pull water into my mouth as I spin. The taste is sour. Ahead, I can see where the road levels out. The trees seem to disappear completely to either side of the road one hundred yards up near the crest of the hill. From this distance, I can't quite read the words on the sign next to the road.  I pick up speed and shift, while rising out of the saddle. I speed up the hill faster and faster, closer and closer to the top. Straining in the last few meters, sweat pouring off me despite the cold air, I push harder as the road levels.
The text on the sign becomes legible.

My eyes go wide, my pupils get small, and I clutch my brakes, grit my teeth and throw my hips behind my saddle to stop from going over.
Below me the road ends. 
The yellow line and blacktop turn into a craggy cliff with nothing but air and clouds beneath me. I look again at the sign to my right. It reads:
"NOT HERE"

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Navigation

#7 Ashfield (inside/outside)
"The Checkpoint is AFTER Buckland Rd."
Riding a bike makes conversation hard. If he could see my face, he would see it was puzzled. The next queue was the checkpoint, and although I didn't know how far I had gone since the last queue, I was confident that it was very soon. The queue after the checkpoint was Buckland Rd. Here's how it's how it looked on the queue sheet :


Checkpoint first, Buckland Rd. second. How could Buckland Rd. come first? It clearly comes second.
"Where do you see THAT on the queue sheet"
 We approach what looks like the checkpoint. The sign on the general store on the left says "Elmer's Store". I slow and check to see if it matches the name on the queue sheet. My navigational assistant passes me without hesitation.
"Neighbor's Store"
I say it out loud and pick up speed. Slowly I overtake my momentary riding companion. Light laces the faceted divots of his fenders with a golden hue I'm close enough to his rear wheel that I can see my reflection and it's one of frustration. Two deep vertical lines are drawn from my forehead to the tips of each eyebrow, my mouth is agape slightly with the corners pulled in. Crows feet stretch from the corners of the squinting, concentrating eyes. As my face passes along the polished surface, the sun flares so loudly that my sunglasses are unable to filter it. For an instant my ears ring, the world becomes muffled and my reflection in the fender winks at me, raises a thumb in the air and then smiles. I pass the rider, and then I pass Buckland Rd. and then I turn into Neigbor's Store on the left.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Race

#32 Hartford (inside)

The sky is textured with peaks and valleys, gradients of gray billow across the sky. Still as mountains. No wind, no drama, or rather, stillness as drama. The backdrop for the crowd of sixty astride bikes on the grass. Most look at the ground, some stare straight ahead, everyone tries not to think of the off-camber road ahead, now is a time to think of the fallen of the past. Glancing at the still gray cliffs in the sky  I duck my head and pull my shoulders up to my ears, reflexively trying to avoid a cranial collision with the low hanging weather.
Patience is really hard
The zipper sound of something sliding through wet grass. I glance up from the grass through lashes to catch the tail end of a smile on the face of the rider in front of me. Another zipper and he shifts weight and turns to face the people in matching blue jackets at the front.

The buttoned up blue sport coat is well pressed. Deep lines etch across his broad angular face. His bushy eyebrows and ears distract from his bald head. His pupils are dilated and his deep blue cornea lock onto mine, then flicker about my bike. He nods. I nod as well, another reflex. Behind his head, amongst the low ceiling of the clouds, the stillness is disturbed. A flurry of movement above his bald crown, whirls up the side of the cirrus mountain in the sky. I lose track of the whirling cloud dervish as it disappears behind a billowing outcropping. Cowbells erupt and the crowd of bikes in the field surge forward with great haste. I hurry to mount my bike as I'm swept up in the stampede.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Rising

#21 Calicoon (outside)

The woman in the bed is half awake. Maybe half asleep. It's hard to tell. I come to her side of the bed while I pull bib short bracers over my shoulders. I lean over, kiss her cheek and put my hand on her thigh in a hurried half-carress/rub. Across the room at my dresser, I pull out a wool jersey and slide it over my goose-pimpled torso. Through the open pocket doors and left at the top of the stairs, I lean in close to the mirror over the bathroom sink. Holding my eyelids open with both middle fingers, I use my right forefinger to place the tiny lenses carefully in my eyes. Finding it where I left it the night before, I take the heart rate monitor from the dresser top to the bathroom and run it under water. I pull my jersey up to the top of my rib cage and thread the strap between the bib bracers and my body.
She's still half asleep. Or half awake, or whatever.
My phone begins to vibrate and play a repetitive series of tones, a repeat performance from ten minutes before when I was still in bed, this time for her benefit. I walk around the bed, silence it and turn to the sleeping form, blankets up to her ears. My eyes drift to the small shape laying on my side of the bed. Her eyes are open. She rolls over, turns and arches her back to see her mother is still asleep. Whispering mischievously to the large sleeping form next to her, she drapes her whole body over the side of it's hip.  Twisting and craning her neck from it's place on the pillow, lifts her right arm and peers through her armpit passed her elbow, looking at our daughter through one sleep encrusted eye. The child looks up through my wife's armpit making eye contact and squeals in delight holding on tighter to her hip and waist. I laugh too as I reach for each of their armpits. They retreat from the bed quickly.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Flats

#8 Readsboro (inside)

The cyclist slows just a bit before passing me. I don't look up from the wheel I have in my hand. I just make a fist with my thumb up in the air.
"Have everything you need?"
I wave him on and continue to unscrew the knurled nut from the valve stem of my new tube. I retrieve my two foot long silver hand pump from where it sits in my frame's seat stay and, after threading one end of the flex hose into the end of the pump and the other onto the presta valve, I retract and compress the pump handle 10 times. The tube fills out a bit. I remove the pump from the valve and toss the tube aside.

Rummaging in my handlebar bag I bring out my tire levers and shove first one, between the tan sidewall of the tire and the inside wall of the rim, then the other. Working with one lever to move aside the tire and prying with the other under the tire bead, I apply pressure till a section of the bead is pealed out from under the hooked edge and pulled to the outside of the rim. I hook the back end of the lever to a spoke and work the other lever under the bead next to the hooked tire lever. I run the lever along the entire bead till one side is off the rim.

The two levers slip and fall to the ground. Streaks of moisture, grease and road grime show up on my bib shorts where I wipe my hands.  I undo the knurled nut on the presta valve stem and pulling aside the tire near it, press the stem back through it's hole into the rim. I pull the useless thing out and toss it in the opposite direction of the inflated tube. I bend at the waist with the tire and rim in my hand and between my legs, turning the wheel in place probing my fingers inside the tire, going centimeter by centimeter. I smooth as much of the tire between my thumb, fore and middle fingers as I can with each swipe, checking for imperfections. The herring bone tread on the sides is missing in some places, the ribbing on the center strip has completely disappeared, some threads of the tires casing are broken and frayed. In some places, there are cuts in the tread that look vulnerable at first, but, upon closer inspection are nothing to worry about.

I pull the piece of glass from the tire. No bigger than a rice grain, you can barely tell what it is until the light catches it. For an instant, against a tar-black hand, it becomes a tiny ball of fire, that catches on the small lines of a palm that identifies you and no one else. It sears a mark that runs up the veins of a sweat stained wrist, along your ulnar nerve in your forearm, through your olecranon, around the back of your tricep, under your scapula, up your spine, jumping from vertebrae to vertebrae and colliding at the base of your skull. Your jaw clenches. I look at you standing there, your jaw clenched. I put a hand on your shoulder. I ask you who we should blame. We both shrug. I let go and pick up the tube I had inflated minutes before. Alone on the side of the road.
It isn't inflated anymore.