I remember being excited as I wrote that second to last paragraph. I felt like I had it, that elusive it, in my hands, and I knew it would squirm out and vanish, and I also knew I might not like the paragraph as much as I liked writing it, but I didn’t care, not at all. I was just having fun writing.
Just past the door when I came in from the garage there was a small paper bag, and I picked it up and looked inside then pulled out a shirt and a note. I saw first that Andy had stolen one of my good worn tees and in roman numerals he had somehow printed a 2, 5 and 10 on the sleeve. Then I read the lines he’d scribbled on the paper, congratulating me on the ride.
Every year, on the second rest day of the Tour de France—the mountain rest day—we do this thing in Emmaus we call 2-5-10. The ride is named for the three streets that cross the ridge south of town. Starting from our bike shop, one loop is ten miles with somewhere around 1,400 feet of elevation gain. We do ten laps. Someone figured out that this year would be the tenth edition, and without much thought I suggested a way to commemorate it: The Ten Days of 2-5-10. Day One would be one lap. Day Two would be two, and on like that all the way to Day Ten (which would be the traditional ride). The total of 55 laps seemed a little heavy but not impossible, especially when I considered that it was 550 miles in ten days, or an average of just 55 miles a day. I decided to just not think much about the 80,000 feet or so of elevation gain, which, even averaged, worked out to 8,000 feet a day, or that I wouldn’t be halfway done—in laps, miles, or climbing—until the end of Day Seven, or also that the last three days held 270 miles with nearly 40,000 feet of up.
A lot happened out there. I’ve tried to write a story about it, make some sense of the ride itself, and I got a few sentences out, about people I saw outside their homes every day, or gnats following me all the way up Second Street, or stuff like how on the eighth morning when I woke up I couldn’t see—everything was doubled and blurred—but I know my home, and I walked to the kitchen and sat and blinked, and in a while I could see and when I could I closed my eyes for a long time and I still am not sure what that meant. I was the only one to go the distance, but the ride is no more mine than the darkness of a cavern I might have fallen into. I thought there would be more to say, then I knew there would be almost nothing.
Then I got that sack, that shirt and note. The last time I had friends like this I was eleven or maybe twelve, and we saved the world every day of our summers—usually by lunch, but sometimes if the peril was especially astonishing we would have to skip a ballgame or not throw rocks in the river and, instead, work as hard as we could at our play deep into the evening light. We would afterward lie on the grass and know we had accomplished something important, and enormous, and the world might never know but we didn’t care at all, we had each other’s respect. We knew. We knew what we had done. Our mothers would call for us then from where they stood in the open doors of our homes, all across the neighborhood their voices rising and falling in the special song of each of our names and we had saved the world and so heralded could go, and so could sleep knowing there would be a tomorrow to wake to.
My friends—my riding friends—they all always have some mission, some dream, some ride that for them is crazy and maybe impossible and which the world will never care about. Some aim to do a single loop of 2-5-10 without walking. Some want to ride across the country, win national titles, world championships, just keep up for once dammit, or figure out a good route to work. And we all understand it all. We know as fully and purely as we did back in those summer days that something vital to life and truth is at stake every day. We have each other’s respect—though not, anymore, because we saved the world but, I think, because we’re still at play.
Originally published in The Selection, August 2, 2013