I was trying to find out if writing to capture mood without worrying about beginning/middle/end could end up having some kind of narrative structure anyway.
We spin, 87 of us, tight down to the elbows and handlebars, clicking up and down gears more to hear the sound than to find the right cadence. We spin around the course, one-mile long, 23-feet-8-inches wide, black going gray, and at the back we talk about books, and other races, training plans, Tom Boonen, the weather. Sunlight is flowing down thick over us like syrup from the open circle of a bottle high up in the sky, adding an extra and unexpected sweetness to this early spring night — a peculiar sense of slowness that is not in any way negative but somehow delicious, perhaps because we are not at all going slow; we are spinning around and around in the twenties, nudging up into the thirties. Pretty soon we stop talking.
I’m sitting my front wheel between a rider from Colavita and one from Rite Aid, and they are spinning and I am spinning and the pack sways left and we sway left and the people behind us sway left, around and around and Colavita and Rite Aid stay at the back so I do, too. When you have the wheel of someone who does not pay for his jersey, you do not have to think.
I don’t even think about not thinking. It is that kind of evening.
Outside of the Thursday Night Crit, life is waiting for us. My lawn mower is waiting for me; it won’t start again. Our state’s presidential primary is a few days away. The puppy needs a haircut tomorrow. I have three deadlines. I haven’t called my mother in two weeks. I keep forgetting to accomplish the monumental task of transporting an expense check from the top of my desk to my home. The weather is about to turn. The car needs gas.
We spin around the loop doing twenty-five, then we spin around it at thirty-one, and we spin and spin and spin, becoming ourselves the amulet that encircles us for this single hour-and-seven minutes of the week. Life is not allowed in here. Only we are.
There are attacks but they come back to the pack. There are bells for sprints and there are sprints, and there is sweat and snot and shouts when two people touch for too long, and there is wheezing, too, and hacking and coughing, and some of us start to regret how little of the life outside this loop we devoted to preparing for what would happen inside the loop. But no one regrets, at least not right now, not at twenty-seven miles per hour, how we have once again pilfered too much time from our lives for riding.
We cross over the finish line but it is not the finish. It feels under this sun and in this pack and on this course like there will never be a finish, but the number on the lap counter has flipped down to single digits. Our hour-and-seven is almost gone. We speed toward its end as happily as we sped away from its beginning, happy for the chance to speed no matter where it leads us. I told you we are not thinking. In two more laps a bell will ring. We will go faster, some of us as fast as we can, others — the good ones — just fast enough, but all of us rushing away from the race that exists only because of the rushing. In six laps, life will be thing that is rushing. In five laps. In four.
The finish line flits under my front wheel, under my back wheel, is gone – which means only that we are spinning toward it once again, whirring and whining and splitting apart the air in front of us faster and faster, lining up and setting up and holding wheels and snorting and swooping like a pack that knows what it’s doing, though we have no idea what we are really doing by sprinting toward the end. We have no idea, because we have been so long out of time, that we are almost out of time.
Originally published in the April 18, 2008 Sitting In