I left the office with the same sort of anticipation that I do every Wednesday. It matters not that it is the middle of Winter. The ritual doesn’t vary much and the day accelerates as 5 p.m. draws closer. Tonight I was greeted by calm air and a warmish 39 degrees. A setting sun forced long shadows from the fir trees lining the parking lot as I trotted to my car. I was dressed and wired for lights in no time, clipped in and descending through the golf course anticipating the ride. It was colder than I thought as I picked up speed on the descent. My teeth hurt from the wind chill and my eyes watered. I blinked hard to clear them. I was hoping for some companions but was bracing for a solo effort tonight as I traversed lower Cascades.
I had some time to think as I warmed up and decompressed from the work day. I remember thinking how lucky I was and how much I have to be thankful for. My family and friends, good health, fulfilling employment. A chance to make a difference. A lot of things I sometimes, selfishly take for granted. I was grateful to have the capacity to endure a ride like this.
At 5:45 I turned one last time at the Southern end of Cascades and headed out on my own. Through the light, up Audubon and North on Old 37. It was dark now as came up to Bethel Lane. I could turn here and stay close to home – the smart thing to do-or, I could continue North, every pedal stroke taking me further from my origin. I thought of the early explorers and how they must have felt as they lost sight of land for the first time. I put my head down, shifted in the large chain ring and descended toward the forest. A waxing moon was off my right shoulder just a couple of clicks and rising as it followed me on this familiar course.
I turned down Anderson and headed for Bean blossom. It was completely dark now save for a red tinge in the Western sky and my light traced the rhythmic sway of my bike on the road ahead of me as I turned a gear slightly larger than I should be in December. I was in the drops and my head was down, but I was looking forward with my head nearly motionless. I remember sub-consciously counting pedal strokes and focusing on my breathing, three revolutions to one breath. It became trance-like through the flat farmland. I couldn’t see my speed readout but I reckoned I was doing about 27 mph. And then it happened. The perfect ride. That moment where power and speed and cadence and breath and life all intersect for one brief, magical moment. I wasn’t riding any longer. I was flying. The small banks of snow illuminated on the shoulder passing like a picket fence, the curve of the road smoothed out before me, the farmland a blur in the shadows. I felt the goosebumps raise down the back of my neck. Maybe it was the darkness all around or the tunnel-vision, or lack of oxygen and food that brought this on. Nothing mattered at that moment. At the turn I paused, never stopping but listening to the intense quiet all around. I took a deep breath and headed for home. I couldn’t recapture the feeling on the way back, but I kept trying anyway.