Still, I have never climbed Tenth Street in the dark again. I like the last two sentences of this best of any in here. They seem to me to be most what I was trying to say.
I already had on my white Castelli shorts, and had fixed the remote so it would talk to the television again, and had a bottle ready to go when I decided there had to be at least an hour of sunlight left.
I stripped the shorts off — they’re basement-appropriate only—and pulled on some old Nalini tights I was happy to find out still fit. I put on my brightest jacket, and on my way out to my bike shop grabbed a blinkie to supplement the one I leave on my seatpost this time of year, which had gone a little feeble last time I’d gotten caught out after dusk.
By the time got to the end of my driveway, I knew I’d estimated all wrong. The light on this Christmas Day was already failing. I dropped down my hill and turned right, then in a few more turns was in the Triangle, the center of Emmaus. The lights on the big tree were lit, more glowing than shining. The BMX kids were on the corner, ruining the curb with their pegs as surely as water carves canyons. I gave them a nod and they, I like to imagine, recognizing the apartness which was our only significant similarity, shot some fingerpoints and tipped-up chins at me. There was no traffic. I could hear my tires on the road.
At Second Street I turned right, to go back up the hill I’d just descended three blocks to the west, and it was only then that I knew I’d knock out a loop of 2-5-10, the ride that crosses South Mountain on Second, Fifth and Tenth streets. It’s a 10-mile loop that takes about 50 minutes at a patient pace. I’d never be more than a few miles from home, and could cut the ride short anytime I wanted.
In the first turn on Second, I stood up, and bobbed and climbed, and scooped at the pedals on my downstroke. After awhile, I looked over my shoulder and the sunset at the farthest mountain was pink and red and purple and yellow. It hurt something in me to see. It was that kind of beautiful. I ticked my feet and took the bar right and left in an opposition that seemed, anyway, not a resistance but a yielding. The physicists would tell me I’m wrong, the philosophers maybe not. There was no sunset when I looked back again.
There was no traffic, either. But I clicked both blinkies on, and dropped down the twisting backside of Second Street. All year I’d been hoping to see the albino stag that had begun haunting this side of the mountain. Now I figured, as these things go, it would run out onto the road in the dark and kill me into a local legend.
I lived. I climbed Fifth Street. For a few years of my life, no one had been faster up this hill than me. I was in the twenty-five today. My blinkies pulsed. So did my legs. There was a sputter in my blinkies, then in my legs. At the hard, steep half-switchback I took the wide line. I could still see the road markings, make out the branches of the trees beside the road. The failing blinkie died as I crested. I shifted to the big ring and gave the descent a few pedal strokes before tucking and leveling my feet, and in darkness I dropped with no need for brakes.
At the base of the hill on Broad Street there were streetlights again, and also traffic, and stop signs. I felt like I’d come a long way, ridden from some wild region back into civilization. The bar down there was open for Christmas Day, and in the lit windows I could see people who had another kind of apartness that, still, was maybe not so different from mine. I pedaled toward Tenth Street. I’d never ridden it at night, I realized. It was the toughest climb of the three, the steepest, and it would be the darkest. When I got there, I was going to reach back and click off my remaining blinkie. I wanted to be barely there. I wanted to be as much a part of the night as of the road.
Originally published in The Selection, December 27, 2011