I still do this. I still think it’s foolish. And worthwhile.
I rode up the hill from work on Tuesday and there were our two empty trash cans tossed on their sides at the base of our driveway. Instead of ascending the drive, which is even steeper than the road, I pedaled straight across its old graying blackness onto the grassy slope and put a foot down. My messenger bag slid across my back a little, and I bumped it into place with my right elbow. I was about to do something stupid.
Five days after that, I rode the Derby in the kind of headwind that makes you draw your eyes into slits, though that part I guessed from experience, from memory of doing it long ago, because I all I did that day was hide in the pack as long as I could. Iggy Silva was going to end up winning the sprint. There had been 70 or 80 of us when the fast part started, and the pack just kept blowing long, thin clouds of us out the back like exhaust. I was the last of the exhausted: When I came off in the S-turns a few miles before the sprint, and shifted into my easiest gear and started going about 12 mph, I kept waiting for other stragglers to come up on me so we could ride in together. No one ever came, and I thought that it was as if all the dropped riders actually had turned into exhaust, dissipated in the wind and vanished forever. And, in the way that a spent cyclist will, I for a second entertained the idea that I might come apart myself, which a little farther down the road became a self-consciously silly worry but in a few pedal strokes farther had picked up a tinge of unreasonable but authentic fear then finally grew into the belief that unless I rode as hard as I could I would simply disappear forever. I was going 14 mph.
On Tuesdays, I like to nest our big, red plastic trash cans together, one inside the other, with the two lids also nested and dropped at a diagonal inside the top can then, grabbing them by the big handle and tipping them down so only their little wheels touch the pavement, I drag them up the drive as I pedal. We have a long drive, somewhere under a tenth of a mile, and before it crests midway, the gradient hits around 14 percent. It often feels like the hardest part of a long ride, and when I am fit this ending topography feels like a bonus and when I am weak it feels like a curse. Starting from a standstill at the bottom, while holding two garbage cans, is nothing more than showmanship. And the theater is empty. I am the sole performer and spectator.
One of those days in there right after the Derby, when my legs were nothing but fuses that would be lit by the first hard pedal stroke I took, everyone said we were going to do the lunch ride easy then Brad said, “Hollyberry.” That’s our gravel-climb loop. Whoever says the name of a ride first is the one who picks the day’s route, and we all, more or less, will do it because that’s the way we do it. But a couple people in as desperate shape as me said that, no, they really had to go easy, had to recover, and were going to do something flat, Sauerkraut maybe, and that was just what my legs needed to keep from exploding. So I did Hollyberry. When we got to the first real kick and in the loose gravel it seemed like the lead guys had accelerated but really had only just not slowed down, my wasted legs blew clean off my body and at the top I had a fresh pair.
The drive dips from its crest before rising back up to the garage, and the cans and I get enough speed that they start to get their own idea of where they want to go. We shake and wobble and bump against each other and by some principle that feels as if it existed before this whole thing started I cannot brake. There is no question that one day I am going to crash in a spectacular miasma of blood and whatever those fetid, bottom-of-the-can liquids are.
Taylor raced six cyclocross races last season, buying a $10 one-day license every time instead of paying for a $60 yearly license, and says he’ll do the same thing this year even though he wants to race more. Jasen rides a mountain bike on the lunch ride and starts sprints too soon and wins sometimes anyway. Killer had to abandon a ride once because his kneewarmers were too tight and we still call him Killer. Ray pretty much only rides when he races. We let Bart ride among us with an aerobar. The little plastic wheels of the trash can sound like thunder, and like an idiot I drop my chin to the bar, tucking to see if we can go any faster, if I can make the sound louder, bring the thunder closer.
Originally published in the June 26, 2009 Sitting In