the consolations of velocity


(This is not me…it just felt like this.)

(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)

I suppose my accounts in this space of getting out and doing stuff can sometimes seem a little too cheerful, just a bit too rainbows-and-unicorns. If that’s true, then today’s version is for you.

On one of our recent mid-winter whiplash days — it’s cold! No, it’s sunny! Wait, that breeze is kinda stiff, isn’t it? — my energy level was dragging a little by mid-afternoon but I decided to ride Spot, my trusty single-speed mountain bike, anyway. The bright sun fooled me into walking outside with too few layers; even after I went back in and returned with tights over my shorts, I suspected that I should have grabbed my warmer, earflapped under-helmet hat as well.

I rode up University Avenue into a crushing wind that almost brought me to a standstill and made cold tears stream down my cheeks. The crisp downhill at the Fowler Center felt okay, but by the time I hit Brakefield Road, I knew that my legs were dead.

I turned left at the old milk barn and headed around Lake Cheston, but once inside the Wiggins Creek subdivision, I decided that this was not a day to try the steepest climbs on my ususal loop. Instead, I rode on the street over to the main gravel road by the Equestrian Center.

Turning onto the fire lane, I continued to battle with my sluggish legs, laboring up rises that typically offer little resistance. Once or twice, on the flat sections, things felt okay, and as I swooped around the bend in the trail by the right-hand turn to Cedar Hollow Lake, it actually seemed as though I might be just getting over an unusually slow start.

I decided to pull up at the Forestry Cabin, have a drink, and see how things were. I rolled to the picnic bench, unclipped my right shoe, prepared to stop…and suddenly the bike tilted leftward, my left shoe still clipped in, almost falling over, until at the last second the left shoe wrenched free, and I banged the inside of my leg painfullly against the seat.

Well, *%#$.

Irritated, my left thigh stinging, I clipped in and rolled across the dam. Now my left knee was twingeing painfully when I tried to stand on the pedals. Great. I got myself up the semi-steep rise on the way out to the main road, and when I went around the locked gate, there was no hesitation in me. I turned left, heading back out. I was done.

There would be no artistically-framed photos taken with my phone, to share on Facebook, today. No attempts to climb Brakefield Grinder, that half-mile of soul-crushing gravel that seems neverending on a good day. No reveling in the down-and-ups of the Parallel Trail.

Perhaps the act of calling it a day relaxed me, by taking the pressure of expectations for the ride from my shoulders. At any rate, I was a little surprised to find that my main emotion as I rolled onto the paved road toward home was…gratitude. No, I didn’t feel great today; yes, I managed to bang myself up a little; yes, I only rode seven of my usual 11-mile route.

But you know what? The sun shone, the daytime moon hovered hugely over the chicken coop of the University Farm and the baseball field, and I was outside, moving, living.

It was (a whole lot) better than nothing.