Exactly Nowhere

This is how it goes. You think too much about the ride, so you forget something you thought you needed, a CO2 cartridge or some extra food, even though you staged it all on the kitchen counter the night before, or maybe on the basement stairs. It happens this way because it’s early and for no good reason you’re in a rush to get out the door.

Riding away from home, those first few blocks feel completely alien, a familiar place plucked out of time and all the lights on dimmers. Your legs feel heavy, but you know they’ll come around.

Soon enough the heat comes up into your torso and you begin to sweat, rolling along. You become aware of all the little things that are wrong with the bike. The lever throw is different left-to-right, front-to-back, or there is every so slightly too much slack in the rear derailleur cable. You should stop to roll the barrel adjuster over half-a-turn, but you don’t. Your left knee hurts and then doesn’t.

Everything is covered in dew. The cicadas and crickets work feverishly at whatever it is they do before the noise of humanity rises to drown them out.

After an hour, the sun is burning off the last vestiges of the dawn, and the world has awoken all around you. The solitary cars that slipped by just moments ago give way to streams of morning drivers. Their presence draws your attention away from all the quiet things of the first hour. The bike has disappeared beneath you.

This is where miles happen. The slow roll of the dawn-patrol succumbs to the hum of the morning proper. The whole world is speeding up. You make time almost unconsciously. You are not yet at the day’s first fatigue point, that magical moment when your hasty breakfast and failure to hit the water bottle early enough combine to challenge your easy progress.

You swallow two globs of ready, simple carbohydrate. You take long pulls off the end of your first bottle. You begin to feel capable again. Mental notes get made. Goals get reassessed. Your wheels never stop rolling. This is what makes wheels just about the best thing in the whole world. Bodies in motion.

Either you are working a well-worn route or spinning out the disparate points of a map pondered in the last-night flush of preparation. You turn here. You climb there. You come into towns and roll out again. Eventually, you are heading home. What was a pocket full of compact nutrition is now a pocket full of plastic wrappers or zip lock bags. There is a splash of liquid left in one of your bottles, always just a splash.

And then you’re on those roads most familiar to you, almost depressingly familiar for having to be gone over and over and over, the departure and arrival lounge of your personal airport. Once you reach them, you want to be home.

And then you arrive. The ride is over, the sense of accomplishment bumping up against the strangeness of being off the bike, on your two feet, in shoes not meant to be walked in. Endorphins churn their way through your brain to temper the fatigue. You renegotiate your relationship with gravity, come to terms with your sweatiness, reintegrate yourself into the normal human day. You are back.

What happened?

We almost never stop to acknowledge the absurdity of what we do. Snug in our beds on a weekend morning, we eschew comfort for that opening hour of discomfort when all the parts are finding their place in the motion of the work. We want to cover some distance, the miles a sort of trophy to hold aloft. But the alarm clock and the sweat and distance covered invariably lead back home. We’ve prepared all the details, worked very hard and gone as far as we dared or had time for, all to get exactly nowhere.

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Photo: © Matt O’Keefe

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  1. Caesar

    I read this 3 times and it just kept getting better. Words transcending mere descriptions. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Les Borean

    years ago I was following a band called “The Ditty Bops” in their heyday. And I followed their daily blog when they did their cross-country band tour — on bicycle. Their bass player Ian Walker had his own blog of the trip. On one particular day which he described as his epic day on a bicycle, he rode 140 miles on a rainy day. For some reason that seemed so very cool to me, and that was the beginning of the beginning of my becoming a cyclist.

  3. Kent Magyarits

    Great…really just so well done. After a morning ride I love to sit completely still for
    a while. My ears ring loudly. I have an out of body
    sensation. It’s euphoric. It lasts about 10 minutes.
    Anybody else.

  4. TomC

    Great post, not sure how you manage to distil a ride down to the details you do. I particularly recognised the description of ‘first fatigue’. I guess ‘last fatigue’ is when your nearly home, out of food and nearly out of water and you can feel your body is running on fumes with every small climb and effort getting marginally more difficult and uncomfortable, but also satisfying, as the last few miles roll on.

  5. Eto

    Robot, great piece.

    Even though those last miles over the most familiar of roads can be the toughest, for me they can also be the most savored. These days my once or maybe twice a week ride is long anticipated and remembered during my week.

  6. branddw

    When I go for an early morning ride (still dark out) my world is only as big as my headlight shines and I think about all the fish in eternal darkness at the bottom of the ocean. I am on the same roads as in the day but things feel so different I may as well be riding in another country. An early morning ride leaves me with a sore neck because I look up at the stars. The toughest part of the ride is not the uphills but the homes you pass where breakfast being prepared and you can smell it. When I am done I lay down in the driveway stretcing and watch the stars fade as the sun rises and the day then begins. When I ride in the morning, I feel like I started my day instead of my day starting me.

  7. PocketRocket

    This is epic! My son Rob sent this to me. I love this visuals this elicits. Dude you have the gift of the pen. Use it wisely… And hopefully often … So we can all enjoy your talent. Well done

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