I almost didn’t write this because I didn’t want Ed to know I’d caught him like that — in case the awareness ended up making him self-conscious about it and he wouldn’t do it next time he was out with me and felt like it. But, you know, it was a good story.
I was out today, alone, under a sky gone January blue. I was wearing knickers, and a light Merino hat and midweight long-finger gloves and toe covers instead of booties, and I was coasting down a small hill getting just enough pushback from a crossy headwind to make the resistance somehow pleasurable and meaningful, not an annoyance but a reminder that I was burning kinetic energy of my own earning, and that just as my wheels spun over the road the earth spun under my wheels.
I became aware that I was riding in long, gradual curves that stretched nearly from the right shoulder of the road out to and sometimes past the yellow line on the left, then back and out and again the same. I had no idea how long I’d been doing so. The pattern I’d been riding is called a sine curve in math, something to do with amplitude, I think, or else a very simple equation I sort of remember — sine (x) = y, or something close to that. I hope it’s a meaningful equation. I know there can be beauty in all those numbers I ignore.
The sine curve to me is more of an undulation, an expression of the natural beauty of movement, and the beauty of natural movement: a lover’s body in moments of passion beyond thought, for instance.
Or a bicycle rider in one of those rare interludes when the pure sheer pleasure of being a bicycle rider can be expressed only through an extended series of line-to-line swoops. The road sine is one of the most spontaneous and unsophisticated acts of cycling, and it begins and occurs and continues in some kind of complete state of unexamined and unself-conscious motion.
Then, it seems, we catch ourselves. We straighten our line, or sometimes we continue the arcs for a few more seconds, but either way the integrity — the truth — of the moment is gone. It was as if we’d been overwhelmed by something extremely simple and core to who we are, then regained our good senses and become the careful and in control stewards of the bicycle we most often are.
Just last weekend I’d been out with a small group, and on a miles-long stretch of repeating headwind rollers, Ed and I had gone off the front each in torture of the other. At one point I’d uttered a one-word expletive that communicated despair and Ed had sped up, looking back at me as he drove into the climb, tucked deep to slip under as much of the wind as he could, with his mouth set somewhere between a grimace and a smile. And I’d somehow sped up myself, to make sure he’d end up with the grimace. For miles, we manufactured the affable antagonism good riding friends share.
Afterward, with the other riders caught up and the best of the long descent to the valley behind us, I’d noticed Ed riding line to line, lost in the road sine, unaware of us, unaware of himself, and probably, I knew from experience, also of the bike and the road and anything but the feeling of what he was doing in that instant.
I eased off my pedals to do what I could to preserve the moment, to leave him in there as long as he might stay, and I watched him sweep this way and that, and I loved so deeply this thing we do.
Originally published in The Selection, January 6, 2012