I spend a lot of my life looking at pavement. Even when I’m in the car, I am staring at the asphalt ahead of me, the rises and descents, and I am thinking about riding that stretch of road. I can feel my wheels on the tarmac, the air around me and the beat of my heart competing with gasps and exhales as I am carried over steep pitches and along flat, smooth stretches. The feeling of weightlessness that accompanies speed holds me in a relentless grip, even when I know that the ride will be hard or painful.
The bike is an intoxicating blend of liberty and doom. The paved road is the closest we will ever come to flying. Dust and mud kick up around us, covering our tongue and teeth. I’ve taken more than a few sips from the lip of a water bottle, only to be left with the grittiness of earth mingled alongside a gulp of liquid. It’s as if we taste the road on which we are traveling.This week represents my transition to what is sometimes known as the “off-season,” but is really more about the collision between shorter days and cooler temperatures. In Colorado, it means the hypnotic dripping of rain, the warmth of early afternoon rides giving way to arms and legs dotted with goosebumps and flesh cold to the touch by dusk, the smell of dried pine needles and the end of ambition. It’s when I ride my bike for the simple sake of sensations, and not to be better or faster or stronger. This is the time of year when I grateful to simply ride at all as opposed to being resentful and disappointed if I failed to sneak in an effort.
This is the time I remind myself of the simple pleasure of riding a bike.
Before long, I will be back to worrying about the pains of intense efforts, the strength in my legs, the weight I carry uphill. I actually look forward to that shift toward fitness, too, with the palpable rewards of progress, measurable improvements, and the momentum of incremental advances toward my goals. That process is as much about attaining objectives as it is about the evolution of the rider. But in the science of cycling and the work of getting ready to race, there is the opportunity cost of true hedonism.
So, for the next couple of months, I will take a break from clawing my way forward. Instead, I’ll plan mid-day rides with good friends, take a few moments to smell damp earth and feel the flushes of wind and sun alternating through time, and enjoy the ride.