We all talk about this ride every so often, those of us who were there. Who knows why — which is, the “who knows” of it, what I was fumbling for. The answer is no more in here than it was on the ride or is in any of our recollections. But I tried.
In the parking lot I asked Kim what she had planned for the winter, if she was going anywhere to train and race, and as we rolled out onto the road, the two of us leading with Steak behind us, she said, surprisingly, nothing special was going on for her this year.
And we started pedaling harder than I’d thought we would, going faster, something beyond a warm-up speed but just barely — nothing to complain about but something to note. At the stop sign where we were going to turn left, Paul and Tom rode up to us. Without any hitch in pace, one of them slotted in beside Peter and one hung off the back in that nicest, most sheltered, most relaxing spot, centered behind the last two riders, “in the cradle,” we call it around here.
The day was cold, and also the kind of damp that lays on you like a wet layer, which made us colder, and we were definitely going faster than we usually do. We were on the run-up that goes up and over the wrinkle of land that for the general public passes for a mountain around here, and most days we don’t ride hard until we’ve crested the rise and dropped down to the stop sign in Vera Cruz. Kim was pushing the pace.
I didn’t know if she was cold or if I’d asked something that she didn’t want to talk about, but in either case all there was for me to do was ride. To match her pace. She’s one of those who has the respect of our pack, who is granted the privilege of being able to dictate the pace according to some occasional personal calculus. And she doesn’t need to show her work. We might never even know if there’s an answer. We just ride along.
The trash had been recently picked up on the hill, and we passed an empty garbage can, lid lying upside down and a little into the road, that had a dollar sign spray painted on its side. I remarked on this, and said, “What do you suppose that means?”
Kim shrugged, or shook her head or maybe mumbled something at me, a one-word answer, and I said, “Is it a visual depiction of ‘one man’s trash?’ Or maybe a comment on the over-rich refuse of developed countries?”
And I got the answer I deserved: We went a little faster.
We also could have just been trying to warm up. Tom would later tell me he thought that was what’d been going on.
I had a strong and steady snot going by the time we were up the hill and through the stop sign and Kim and I each peeled off to the side to allow the next pair through, Paul and Steak, I think. The ride seemed to get not faster, now, but harder. Steak would later call the whole ride a slog. I sat in the cradle and coasted for long stretches but still felt as if I’d been working, and we rode up hills and through the swoopy sections, and caught the wind no matter what, and we stopped being cold everywhere except our fingertips and toes.
My turns at the front were never easier but never much harder than my respites at the back or when I worked my way up into the single other row, sitting right behind whomever was at the lead. I felt strong but slow, and wished I’d kept my mouth shut without knowing if that would have made any difference except that I would know the difference.
An hour passed. I finished the ride tired but not too tired, and cold but not too cold, somehow perfectly content. Whether from internal or external atmosphere, the pace had been set for us either way, and we’d all fit ourselves into its rhythm, and for some reason that strange ride ended up being one of those I’ll remember for a long time, one of those I’ll still be able to recall the details of in five years or ten. Maybe because I remembered that nothing has to happen on a ride for a lot to have happened.
Originally published in The Selection, November 17, 2011