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: