I got the first taste of whiskey just a little after 7:30 that morning. I’d told Jimmy about it when we’d been out riding a few days before, how when the temperature was below 32 we all would put one shot in each bottle to keep the water from freezing solid, and he had laughed and asked if I was serious. Later, after we’d come off the high point of Huff’s Church and all the way down Smoketown and were in the bitter crosswind that is always there, he’d held his bottle up and it was solid and he’d said, “You weren’t joking,” and I’d shaken mine and it was slushy but you could get a sip out of it.

This morning was worse, unseasonably and unreasonably so. Someone had dropped a Popsicle partway up the first climb, and for awhile at least the salt spread there had melted it but now the trickle of red and white and blue was frozen brilliant onto the rutted­ dark road like some kind of cartoon contrail in a troubled sky. This is how you ride through such cold when you’re alone, you look at things you otherwise might not, and you think about things you otherwise might not, and you drink from your bottle and after a little while your fingers stop stinging.

I had no cause to be out in this, except for the want to be out in this. The good spring weather was coming. I could wait for it if I wanted. I had no goals looming, no big ride headed right for me, nothing far down the schedule but so scary it would get me out of bed when all I wanted was to stay there. I didn’t need the miles. I didn’t need the time.

Down Schoolhouse Road, what water was left to run in the unnamed creek wound whorls in the standing ice and cut other patterns symmetric and not, shapes based on some bedrock principle of nature unknown to me, circles and crescents and tentacles and dark jagged miniature cavern mouths. Steam rose through the holes like ghosts and angels and souls, or maybe just steam. I braked and unclipped and put a foot down and watched. My breath performed the same trick as the water. Or was it a miracle? Or was this all just the whiskey?

I clipped in and rode on, feeling like there was something I could have understood if I had stayed, but I’d been getting cold and there was a nice gravel climb around the bend. Sometimes riding is more important than understanding. I was out so early no traffic was on the busiest street of the route, but I went across it anyway and paralleled it until I was past the spot where I’d have ridden across its metal-grate bridge, which I figured to be slick. I turned back onto the big road to quicker get to Schulz Bridge Road and hide from the headwind. The unknown creek fed into a named one, and here, too, what water was left to run wound whorls in the standing ice and cut other patterns symmetric and not, but I rode right past it. I took a drink and thought about what water was left to run in my bottle. And I thought again that this cathedral of a morning might be instead a whiskey bottle. But the whole logic of just one shot per bottle is that you drink one bottle per hour, and one shot per hour will keep the water fluid without getting you drunk—though I was starting to have some trouble with the math.

Schulz Bridge crossed the iced creek again, and steam rose through the holes like ghosts and angels and souls, and as the bike and I crossed over and passed through them I knew I was not inebriated but intoxicated. I had no reason to be out here except for the love of being here. I was riding for no reason except the most important one, the same reason I had dropped to my knees right in the street in front of my teenaged friends and bawled like an infant the day my dog Prince got hit, which is the same reason I had once hidden in some bushes across the street from Beth’s house to see for myself that she still loved me and not Bob O’Bannon, which is the same reason I sometimes accidentally stare at my daughter doing nothing until she tells me I’m weird and gets mad and leaves the room, which is the same reason I ever had all those past goals that got me out on mornings like this, which is the same reason I am out on a morning like this with no goals at all. I am crazy in love.

We can go on sometimes for years being so without really feeling it, or acknowledging it, or appreciating it. I drank a rolling toast to all the angels and ghosts and souls and steam and breath I have loved, then I was at the far point of the loop where I caught the tailwind and I put my head down and I rode as hard as I could as long as I could because there was, I knew, no end to this at all.



XVIII Rooted   XX Easy Does It
Originally published in Bicycling magazine, May 2013