My friend Brian is a mountain climber. On a sunny day he sees the world as an incredible expanse of rock, ice, snow, green valleys, seas of clouds, and even seas of sea. The horizon’s curve suggests that the world is enormous, almost beyond comprehension, except that now we can get pics of our part of the world (any part actually) from space.
At 4:30 in the morning on a bike the world contracts to a 3 foot circle of light 10 feet ahead, moving along at 11 miles an hour. My peripheral vision shrinks, I can see just past the handle bars, and moving slowly along Gate Road the larger world is lost to me. I’ll guide myself by the fog line or the occasional center line and when those don’t exist, I can keep the gravel should just in the periphery. My heavy breathing and the hum of the chain on the gears is the backbeat to the morning symphony(?) Now and then a dog barks in the distance, closer by there may be the occasional rustle in the brush beside the road as some creature is started into retreat. In the dark, alone on the road I talk to myself. I’m going deaf so I usually talk out loud, rarely do I get an argument. In the middle of the day this can lead to moments of embarrassment as someone unknowingly overtakes me on a bike. At this hour, between night and day there is little chance of that. Not that I’m secretly fast at oh-dark-thirty, there just aren’t many other fools out on these roads at this hour,
Rolling along in that inner state of consciousness I get pulled back into the 3 foot universe as I hear the engine and pick up the first glint of headlights approaching. The bike drifts right and I scan the road and shoulder (or ditch as the case may be) ahead. I’m not planning a bailout move but when the ship’s going down is no time to be looking for the life preservers.
For the most part people here at this hour are like me, rural dwellers commuting to their urban daily grind. They are alert, aware, and generally courteous. The occasional loaded log truck rolls past. They almost always give a wide berth and I reciprocate by getting out of their way as much a possible and offering a wave of thanks. It’s light by the time I hit the junction of Waddell and 128th. The log truck that passed me 5 minutes earlier has pulled over and is tightening his binders and cleaning his load before entering the stream of cars that is I-5. It’s big logs, maybe six or eight on the truck and fewer but bigger on the short log trailer. What used to be an everyday load is now a ‘parade load’ “Nice load!” I call out as I peddle past, the bearded driver says “Thanks!” He’s headed right, off to the freeway, I go straight into the Capital Forest, one of the great parts of my commute, the little climb up Waddell notwithstanding.
The closer I get to town, and the lighter it gets, and the more the auto commuters stack up, the more frequently I encounter drivers who seem bent on ‘making a statement’ wit the close pass. I understand that everyone can’t cross the center line all the time, but there is room enough on most roads for a car to pass a bike comfortably. The difference between comfortably and uncomfortably is often a matter of inches, almost always less than two feet. But even assholes can be artists and show their skill by threading the eye of the needle with an iron camel.
“Here, let me help you with that.” I shifted off along Black Lake, the new (last fall) compact double needs a little adjustment. I was bent over, threading the chain back on the chain ring when another bike commuter stopped to steady the bike. Nice, brothers in arms. It is a flat, straight, and smooth stretch of road so I‘m sure he must have wondered what my problem was.
I’m pitiably slow. As the gray dawn beats back the night this becomes painfully obvious now that I can see the bike computer. Not what I‘d like but it’s OK; a slow ride is no reason not to ride, and string together enough miles, slow or otherwise and the speed will pick up.
26 miles, and two plus hours later I’m tucking the big horse into the warehouse and headed for the showers.
If the ride in was a Zen transit from sleep to mindfulness, the ride home was a debate session with Glenn Beck. The weather man said to expect rain, which came as it does in spring in many forms. It sprinkled, it dumped, it misted. My Showers Pass rain coat bit the dust this winter, I did all I could to revive it but it was all in vain. So I refinanced the house and got an equity line of credit to finance another. Not really, but even though these things cost more than front pocket money it’s the thing to have in a rain storm.
No sense crying about the rain in early May, at least it was a warm rain. More brutal was the headwind. The first half of my ride home is pretty sheltered, the second half could stand in for the Boeing wind tunnel in a pinch. This afternoon was no exception. To use a euro-pro cycling term, I was ‘knackered’ by the time I finally rolled into the garage. 52 plus miles round trip: I’m glad I did it but tomorrow is a rest day. Weatherman is predicting sunny on Wednesday though.