I wrote much of this as an introduction for a collection of essays someone was putting together, but it just . . . wasn’t anything. I kept the file on my desktop and punched it open every few weeks and read through it, then one day I just went in and wrote and deleted and tapped at the keyboard and I had something.
Someone said they never wanted the ride to end and I thought, I do. I always do. Even when rides are the kind that should never end I hope for the end.
I have ended rides happy and whatever lies beyond that—ecstatic, I guess. And I have ended rides sad, and I have ended them miserable, which is different, and also I have ended them in misery, which maybe is not different in a dictionary but sure was in my life. And shattered. And empty. Ebullient. Disappointed. Sated. I have ended them dreading to do so, because my life off the bike was not something I wished to return to.
I have ended rides after relishing the thought of doing so for miles, hours, once even days. (It was a long stretch of saddle time.) I have ended them hungry and ended them famished, and ended them thirsty and ended them parched, and those are not subtle distinctions. I have ended them simultaneously hungry and thirsty, and so hungry and thirsty I could do nothing about either state for some time after the ride. I have ended rides by lying down in the grassy shade of an aromatic leafy tree to take a nap. I have ended rides looking up at the sky from my back and wondering what happened, and sometimes the answer is I fell asleep, and sometimes the answer is that I fell. I have ended them wincing, whining, whimpering, crying in anguish. I have ended them, twice, unable to lift my arm above my shoulder or remove my jersey by myself, knowing by the second time that meant the end of that ride was an end that would last for weeks.
I have ended rides throwing my arms into the air, every time in jest or play, to make someone laugh or to make myself laugh, even when I meant it.
I have ended rides at home. I have ended rides lost, with no idea where I was. I have ended rides drunk, and also looking forward to getting that way as quick as I could. I have ended rides eager to do stretches or core work or to upload my data and puzzle over how I might improve my fitness. I have ended rides determined not to eat, to keep carving weight off my body. I have ended rides in gluttony, in sloth, in wrath, lust, envy, and pride, missing out, I think, only on greed. Maybe someday. I have ended rides a few seconds ahead of the thunderstorm, and I have ended them drenched, and air-dried after a long drenching, and in all sorts of repeats and remixes of that process, and with frozen fingertips and feet, and sunburned, and bee-stung, and with some insect or other still in my eye after miles (though reduced to liquidity by whatever protective optical chemicals come to our rescue.) I have ended rides beside Tour de France champions, and heroes of the Classics, and legends of the road and some convicts of the road, and with first-time riders, and millionaires and multi-millionaires, and a guy who travels with his bike fully loaded so he can camp wherever he happens to stop. I have ended rides with the people who built the bikes I was on. I have ended rides by waving goodbye to a single friend, and trading goodbyes and thanks with dozens of them, and I have ended many, many—probably most—of my rides alone. Sometimes lonely, sometimes not. I have ended rides pushing a friend up a hill. Pulling my daughter down our driveway. Skidding. Popping a wheelie. With a trackstand. By riding my front wheel neatly into the tire space of a waiting rack. By riding through an open doorway. Down steps. By sliding backward off the saddle to let the bike ghost ride itself to the ground. I have ended rides because of darkness, because it is time to get back to work, because I didn’t want to miss my daughter’s soccer game, because I had to sell my bike afterward to pay my way through school, because a restaurant smelled good, because my shoe came apart, because my chain broke, because my tire flatted for the third time.
So many endings. But they all happen for one reason, and that is the reason I always hope for an end to every ride, and that reason is this: They begin.
Originally published in The Selection, October 4, 2013