There is a place that we will know only once we have arrived there. It defies definition by latitude and longitude, lies at an indistinct distance from the starting point, and access may be denied if we are alone, or sometimes if we are not alone.
We know we’re there when the pedaling seems effortless or the weather seems perfect, even possibly when it’s snowing, or when we realize that a broad, stupid grin has appeared below our noses while we rolled along, wholly unaware.
Some days I can arrive there simply by rolling up the garage door, my left hand on my top tube, my right adjusting the cant of my helmet. Other times, I can ride and ride and ride, sweat pouring through my brows, stinging my eyes, straining at the pedals to achieve the correct velocity or find the right rhythm, only to find that place unreachable in the time I have allotted, or more accurately, in the time life has allotted me.
At some point, a prison break feels a drop in the pit of his stomach, a visceral sense that the chasing guards and their dogs have stopped chasing. We disappear into the pages of a novel. Jules Verne has taken us 20,000 leagues deep. H.G. Wells has us off in his time machine. For a few minutes, maybe more, it all goes non-linear.
I leave my house and ride an ugly, meandering loop, a child’s scrawl on a map, and I return home, and I haven’t been anywhere near this place, never arrived there but simply rode around in the ultimately nonsensical way of the cyclist, leaving home, traveling for hours, only to arrive where I started. Solipsistic. Self-referential.
With friends, I can ride along with my hands on top of the bars, my head swiveled to one side, riffing on the same joke we’ve been telling since the 20th century put us on a two-wheeled machine in the first place, or else digging deep in the mine of shared human experience, exhuming what diamonds we might, and again time disappears and miles burn like so many calories flying invisibly off our back tires like road spray.
When I dream of this holy place, when I see it in my mind, I am climbing up a narrow, heavily wooded road by myself. My heart is in my throat. I can almost hear it pulsing in one of my ears. I am close to my limit, but at that pace, that rhythm that suggests I can hold and hover there until the crest passes, my head sawing back and forth over the top tube like a metronome. Click. Click. Click.
And there’s nothing else, just me and the work, time slowed down and dripping like molasses, every other thought crowded out like children in a game of musical chairs.
Every time I set out, every time I agree to meet someone for a ride, I am hoping to get to that place, if only I knew just where it was.
Image: Matt O’Keefe