Afterward, I never even made it into the bike shop. I staggered to one of the rickety wooden chairs out front and sat and took the Saturday-afternoon sun like a tonic. Chris had gone and bought a six-pack from the pizza place, and Josh opened the bottles for us using a tire lever. Keith brought over a bag of chili dogs with everything. When he told us he’d gotten them that way, I looked at my bike over in the rack, and at my friends sitting around on other chairs or on the stoop or on the top tubes of their bikes with their legs stretched out, and I listened to them talking about all that we’d done, and I thought that we really did have everything.
We had ridden down Captain Wolfe Road and stopped to walk around the little iron pyramid built up on the bank and to read the plaque that told its story. We had climbed all the way to Huff’s then plunged to the bottom of the valley, the deepest and greenest around, and from there we had taken the most gradual ascent to the chapel that’s been standing in one form or another since the 1700s, the one that long ago had the wonderful name of Corn Church. You can get water sometimes from an outside faucet by the cemetery. Sometimes not, for no good reason anyone can tell. The capricious flow of that spigot has on occasion seemed to me a divination more mystical—and pertinent—than whatever judgments of good and evil might be declared upon us from the pulpit inside. We refilled on this day. Just as we did, noon struck and the church bells sounded from the steeple, so loud we could not hear each other’s exclamations of how cool a moment it was. We shook our heads and smiled at each other, drank our fresh cold water and refilled again. We’d ridden to Keim then, and as we climbed it we remembered the first time we’d done so all those years ago, in our different lives, married, unmarried, fitter, fatter, some of us not around then and some from that time now gone.
We would remember this ride, too. There at the shop, that’s what was happening. This ride was becoming the time the bells rang for us. The time Liz hung in there so hard and with such guts all the way with us up Kriebel. The time Chris kept saying what bloody hell I looked like, what bloody hell I must have gone through on the ride.
We remembered the time Erica got stung by the bee, right after we started down the road that Kulp’s turns into. The time Andy was tacking across the road most of the way up Kulp’s. The hilarious first time Paul had been up it, when he didn’t know it has three endings and kept attacking. The time Keith was so mad at Pryor for turning onto Wassergas he wouldn’t talk at the top, and just lay down in someone’s yard, and the guy came over to see if we needed an ambulance or something. Like the time Peter bonked on the way back from French Creek, and the Coke machine I’d been promising him for 50 miles had vanished from the Oley Valley so we rode up out of there slower than anyone ever has, and even after we got to where all that remained was a mostly downhill run back home, I had to stop at that antique store and knock on the door until the owner came out and gave us some water.
We remembered how the wind blew on inconsequential and unimportant rides, and who led through a turn, or wore some jersey, or flatted twice. We remembered rides we had not been on. We had heard the stories so many times we knew how that poor doomed dog ran out to chase Dave and got hit by a car, or how the squirrel ran through Penny’s spokes. We have retold our stories on so many rides like the one we just did, and on so many days like the one we were just then living that, by now, almost all of us can remember the time the giant snapping turtle was crossing Forgedale and we tried to pick it up, though only a few of us were there.
No one who is not a part of this storytelling can bear to listen to it for more than a few minutes. We are like a 25-year high-school reunion that meets every day. Occasionally someone will come into the shop and overhear us, and for a few minutes they are entertained. Then nothing happens in stories that fill us with immense delight or dip us into thoughtful silence. We know what Grant means, the awful straight false flat of it, and how it has shattered so many of us so many times, that all we have to say to drench the end of a ride story with suffering is the name of the street. We know that simply remarking that we came down Dogwood reminds everyone of the time Christine wrecked in that awful corner and for years afterward stopped descending fast, and the time in the same corner when Ken slid out and got run over by a truck that was coming up the hill and stopped riding at all.
We remember the time we were riding from Alaric’s funeral to his burial, a hundred of us or more, just a few miles through town, and on the only little hill there was, we looked back and saw that we’d somehow dropped a bunch of people, split the group, and we laughed, we had to laugh. Alaric would have. We must get this right. We must tell it. We were there. We will remember the time there was all the cool water we wanted and music from the sky, and the time we were able to laugh at death, and all the times we went through hell then sat around in the sun with our friends.
XX Easy Does It XXII It All Becomes Us
Originally published in Bicycling magazine, July 2013