Today, for the first time in ten months I got back on the road bike in earnest.
The place where I currently live is not that friendly to cycling on pavement. Cars, pick up trucks, and semi-trailers hurtle down the narrow roads at incredible speeds carving the air they encounter into a chaos of vortexes that raise swirling dust and stones from the gravel verges. This is no place for a cyclist without a death wish.
Ever since the snows cleared, I have been on the mountain bike pushing through tree lined trails. There is much to be enjoyed in such a time: the feel of dappled springtime sunshine filtering through the budding canopies above, the tingle of leaves brushing hands and arms as trails narrow, the wafting scents of flowers coming to life to greet the world, to name a few. But the pavement is different.
Yesterday, our family of four headed out together on an exploration of the area in which we live. We have three mountain bikes and one road bike and, now that the warming weather has firmed up the trails softened by the springtime thaw, I could take the road bike out beyond the pavement, as tricky as this may get.
We headed down the main trail, walked our cycles down a flurry of steps and onto a gently sloping side trail that led into the blossom encrusted grass trail of the river valley below. The sun was smiling, the breeze was cool, the sounds of the river filled the air and this took my mind away from distraction of the bump, bump, bump that jumped through the cycle and into my body as we rode.
As things turned, after a short while we separated and our daughter and I continued on alone to see where the day would take us. Soon enough, we emerged from the valley onto a road that offered a little bit of space from the traffic that it held. A road cyclist’s refuge; a white-line splitting the road, marking a two or three-foot alley of relative safety to the side.
“Shall we?” I asked.
“Why not?” she replied.
And with this, I clicked into the smooth, rhythmical, almost carefree motion of riding a bike on the road. I had missed this, I had missed the feeling of tranquility that this brought. Soon enough, we entered a climb up one of the few hills in the area. The breath deepened, the legs strained, and the body’s pulse awoke in a rich, deep harmony of purpose.
As I eased into the final stage of the climb, wrapped in joy of the now abating swollen lub-dub, lub-dub tattoo that was my heart, I looked back over my right shoulder. I noticed that I did this. I noticed. And I smiled, for this took me back to the last time I had ridden a bike on the road with a companion. Are you still there, my friend?
The rest of the ride took us to some wonderful places, the melody of “Which way would you like to go?” gracing the air we breathed as we moved. Such ease, such freedom, such peace.
Down untopped undulating, rarely traveled side roads, easy cruising on the freedom of long flat expanses of blacktop, and into nooks and crannies of tiny forest tracks.
“Is that poison ivy?’
We eased our bikes across tiny one board makeshift bridges, carried them in our hands as our feet sank into the earth of sodden creek bed banks, and we pushed our machines up those forested hill paths that were far too steep to cycle. This will to play took us into treasures that we otherwise would not have found
As we rested in a grassy glade not too far away from our starting point, I looked across. Greeted by a smile that lit up the world, I asked: “Would you like to do that again?”
“Mhm!” sang in my ears.
It was a glorious time, beautiful in every way. And yet, if there was one moment that stood out, it was that moment at the top of the hill. At that moment, I was back on the road bike, and all that this meant.