You Know What’s Coming

You know you don’t have to ride it this way, but you know you will for no reason other than that the notion is in your head today and you feel you can. It is hot. The leaky tree cover lets the sun flow down to the steep road whose dirt turns your tires brown. The dirt is moist and packed today, tight around the gray rocks and not loose and sandy and that’s good but your momentum fades anyway as the grade kicks into double digits and your derailleur drags the chain to the biggest cog. You know the hurt will start soon. First your back as the muscles tire of supporting your torso as it flattens out over the bars. It’s hard to breathe bent at the waist like this and what you need is to breathe, but you need to bend like this to find the balance to keep your front wheel on the ground and your back wheel from spinning out otherwise what’s the point to this whole exercise? It hits your arms next, pulling on the bars to anchor your pedaling, each stroke distinct now as you push past top dead center maybe 40 times a minute – That’s the thing, get the pedal past TDC and you’ve done the hard part of that revolution and then you do it again with the other leg. Lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually the legs’ fires burn too hot. The quads first, fed up with driving the cranks around; then your calves. But this your head can still assign a secondary value to, one that’s lower than climbing the hill as well as you can. You push through it with your brain watching in journalistic isolation, but you know that what you can’t push through is coming, you can either dial it back right now or not and that choice becomes who you are and you know you’ve chosen when the burn in your quads suddenly spreads like butter breaking in a warming pan. You try push it away and focus on the breathing and on keeping the bike out of the gutter, trying to ignore what you can no longer avoid and you still try to deny the nausea and the panic-breathing and the vision closing in from the sides like you would try to deny drowning, but it’s coming and it’s coming and you think it’s probably a lot like a heart attack feels, and then you know you’ve timed it right as the wave crests just when you crest the steep and your legs begin to spin again without conscious command. And now your head is somewhere primal, where it goes at no other time, and then it’s flooded with gratitude for it being over and self-loathing for the self-imposed battering and pride because you beat your doubts and then you’re just alone for a while, just alone.


About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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