Saturday, 2 September, 2006

Yellow Diamonds

Posted in Biking at 2:53 pm by glpease

Up the hill, just rounding the corner, I saw it – a reflective yellow diamond-shaped warning sign, with “40” painted on in thick, black numerals. I instantly had new appreciation for my Volkswagen. Its four little cylinders could move its weight, and mine, around this bend effortlessly at the sign’s recommendation of 40 miles per hour, or 50, even 60, but here I was, barely making 5.

I’d come off a long downhill, one of those joy filled, third-ring, top-gear, high cadence, wind at the back sweepers that keeps your attention, all of it, focused on the road; at thirty-plus, it doesn’t take much to propel bike and rider quickly into the spook zone. For some reason, I’m a little more reluctant to go completely gonzoid than I used to be, at least on those days when I manage to remember that I’m not quite a kid anymore.

I was too soon forced out of the intense reverie, and faced with one of the inevitabilities of riding the winding roads of the local hills; what comes down must go up, at least until the final leg of the journey back to Flatland. As I navigated the corner at the bottom of the hill, the wind and I each changed direction just enough to find ourselves face-to-face, just as the road began to approach another make-me-sweat-in-low-gears grade. I was driving it, feeling it in every muscle of my legs, my back, even my arms, shifting between gears to keep the cadence up, testing my perseverance to stay in the saddle, to avoid the temptation to stand, grip the bar-ends, and push it with everything I had.

The road constantly teased me, tormented me with hints that I was reaching the hill’s crest, which seemed endlessly to be “Just around the next bend.” A brief, almost flat segment would be followed by a steeper grade than the last. I was on my way home, though, and I’d made it up the other side, after all; surely, I could make it back. I neglected to consider that the ride down this particular hill an hour ago was a conspicuously zippier than any of the descents had been in this direction; the two sides of a mountain are not necessarily created equal. Ogden Nash might have written:

The mountain baffles the cyclist’s pace;
One side’s gentle;
The other, face.

I was barely pushing 5mph, according to the little Vetta cyclometer on the handlebars. Damn that thing, it’s blinking numbers there to remind my of the struggle of my ascent. I was at the limit of my strength. If I’d pushed any harder, I’d need a two-day nap before I could finish the ride home; any slower, I’d collapse from the boredom of watching the terrain move by only slightly faster than I comfortably walk.

Suddenly, buried somewhere deep in my unconscious, I found the zone, reaching that place, that state of mind, where getting there is of no concern, and being is all that matters. It didn’t matter what the Vetta said, or how long it would take. I was riding, and that was enough. A distant vulture drew circles on the variegated sky. The rhythmic thrumming of the tarmac under the rubber changed instantly to a more regular, almost melodious hum. Then, in moments, I’d reached the crest, and made the gentle turn to the left, nearly running into the ironic yellow diamond.

That’s what it’s all about. It goes beyond the technology of tires, the intricate interplay of mechanics, rider and frame geometry, the thrust to the top of the hill, and rapid glide down the other side. It’s more than finding the pace, or choosing the perfect line on a technical section, or how fast we can go before our hearts attempt to escape past the bars of our rib prison. It’s really about the pure, unbridled bliss of riding. Little kids know this instinctively, revealed in the face of pure joy they wear when they first find their balance and take that shiny new bike for a spin; sometimes, we big kids need to be reminded.

Briefly, on the way down the other side, I thought I’d found nirvana. Maybe next time, I’ll remember to look for it sooner.


1 Comment »

  1. George Dibos said,

    Seems like the next step in your evolution as a blender AND a cyclist, is to develop some sort of headset pipe holder/goggle combo thingie, so you can smoke while riding. Get on it, OK? I’m eager to see the pictures.

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