We rode hard the other night, the group of us, in 90° heat, and though we went the usual route to have the usual fun, I suffered. Stomach cramps when we set out should have told me I was on a hiding to nothing, but an inner voice told me just to roll it out, to finish, even if off the back. So that’s what I did.
There is a way of riding that doesn’t feel much like riding. The pedals turn. Your legs pump up and down, and yet you put nothing into the effort except where the road is mean enough to rise. If gravity is a cruel mistress, sometimes inertia is her prettier, more forgiving sister. We strolled together, she and I, until I was at the foot of the mile-long climb that leads to my house, and then she was gone.
The darker sister dogged me to the top, whispering insults in my ear.
When I rolled into the drive way, covered in road filth and dead bugs, I felt close to dead. I stripped off kit and shoes on the cold basement floor and contemplated the long climb to the 2nd floor bathroom. Eventually, I sat in the shower and watched the dirt stream off my legs and down the drain.
I drank some water, and then some more water. I ate. Something sweet. Something salty. A banana.
Then I felt really badly. Light-headed. Exhausted. I went up and lay on the bed in the air conditioner’s blast. And, just as I was drifting off to dizzy sleep, someone down in the engine room called for the full reverse. Eyes shot open. Feet found the floor. I stumbled to the bathroom and emptied myself face first into the commode.
Here I kept control of myself. I felt almost wistful as the spasms wracked my guts, a cyclist’s sense of tragedy. Can you be proud of the way you throw up?
The wife came upstairs to express wifely concern, and I gave her my best sardonic grin. I tried to say, “This is funny, eh?” with my eyes, but they were maybe too watery to make my point. I brushed my teeth.
I had not vomited in more than a decade. What had brought me here? Heat? A stomach bug? Those were my last thoughts as I drifted off to sleep. Spent. Not sure the answers mattered.
There is something in our reptile brains that files away the circumstances of a full system reverse like this one. It’s the mechanism which leads so many to cross tequila off their list of thirst-quenching beverages, or to negatively correlate corn dogs with roller coasters.
But I think I have failed to view this experience through the common prism. I didn’t revel in it, but neither did I regret it. Without romanticizing what happened, I think it was more like some of the foreign films I watched when I was in college. I didn’t enjoy them, because, if I’m honest, I mostly failed to understand them, but there was a part of me that was very glad I’d sat through every minute, that was glad I’d experience them, if only to be able to fit each one into a larger context.
And I think rides are like that. Some are good, and some are bad, and some I just don’t properly understand, but it’s important, possibly, to sit through them, to expand the context of your riding and to understand what is suffering and what is actually just inertia.