Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Mountain Bike Racer (Fiction -- sort of...)

           The "A" line was a risk, but he took it. It led straight down the nasty incline and was laced with hazards: cracks that could trap a front wheel, ledges that might stall forward movement, and drop-offs that might buck a rider forward into space. It was the path of broken bones but also of speed.
         As he approached, the path appeared above the lip of the outcrop of granite. Too late to bail he thought to himself, stretching his arms to full length and dropping his butt off the back end of the saddle.
         The line was steep and let the bike drop into a descent along the primitive, harshly sharp granite wall. From this point of entry there could be no retreat. As the front wheel fell away over the lip, he could feel the rear un-weight and threaten to rise forward, potentially throwing man and machine into a cartwheel down an unforgiving slope of naked rock. He feathered the brakes so the front would not lock up and pitch him forward. He sat further back and dropped his butt down lower, almost scraping on the rear tire as his abdomen rested on the seat. This was it, the balance point, beyond which any steeper angle of descent would toss him into space.
            The bike rolled forward, the front fork absorbing the impacts of ledges, and he steered clear of the wide fissures running down the ramp; he kept the bike and rider from stalling.
            Now he could see the line around the steepest section and took it, nailing the curve perfectly as the rock leveled out onto the packed dirt of the trail. He could hear others behind him clicking out of their pedals, shouldering the bikes and making their way down the drop on foot, sliding when their cleats caused them to lose purchase on the exposed edges of stone.
            He caught his breath and settled back into his rhythm, cutting through the tight curves of the fast, rolling, packed trail. He cut the corners close, just missing the overhanging cholla that, if touched, could attach itself to his shoulder or knee and burn there with its spines that pulled the skin in a tug-of-war, stretching it too many directions to easily dislodge.
           Finally, it was just the trail, the line of the trail, and his breathing as he hunted for the zone, the zone that would heighten the dangers and his reflexes, would let him breathe through the pain rising and falling in his neck, his triceps, the burning in his legs. He had to move fast, that much was a given, but better, he had to move as fluidly and gracefully as water running through a gauntlet of boulders.
            Yes, it was here that he was at home, oddly and paradoxically, moving, at speed, dizzy with exhaustion and endorphins. He could see nothing but the trail in front of him, hear nothing but his breath and the pounding of his blood in his ears, feel nothing but the desert terrain traveling through the aluminum of the bike frame in the form of shocks to his hands, wrists, feet, and butt. His body shook as it absorbed the vibrations, muscle flapping slightly in spite of being tensed to control the trajectory of ground flight along the desert crust.
            He thought of nothing in particular, but scraps of love, longing, and loss drifted in and out of his awareness. Sometimes the world faded behind the insistent drone of necessity and became a kind of harmony. He could see his life in perspective. It made more sense. This was the moment, the ongoing moment of utter focus and presence. The here-and-now communed with the passion of pushing hard against the terrain, the wind, and gravity. He almost caught something so elusive as to be ineffable, but there it was, just out of reach, the fulfillment of a contract written sometime before birth, signed in his DNA.

            He chewed away at the miles and lost track of time. The angry gnawing in his belly told him that he had been out for a while – an hour? Two? It didn’t matter. As he progressed he noticed spectators along the edge of the trail. He was approaching the finish. Cowbells clanged and women leaned in toward the trail, eyes behind him, looking through him for their lovers. He pushed hard and nobly. The chute grew large as he closed in on it and then it was done.
            He wheeled the bike out of the lane of finishers and bent over the bars to breathe. The air came hard. He was more tired now than on the bike. He knew he had not won and no one was waiting for him at the finish, so he walked his bike away from the flags, banners, and time clocks back into the solitude of the road where his ancient Subaru wagon waited.
            Spiffy SUVs with expensive racks, windows and bumpers covered with the exotic, splashy, mountain bike decals, lined the road leading up to the staging area. The long line vehicles stretched over a rise in the road and reappeared where the road rose again, further toward the vanishing point, beads on an undulating wire, shrinking into the distance. He ruminated on the how the numbers of people had grown over the last few years, at how the races were more professional, high-end, increasingly exclusive, with higher entry fees and more corporate sponsors.
He reveled in the euphoria that followed any hard ride, the glow of muscles that have worked hard but now got to rest. Hey old paint he said to the sway-backed wagon as he unlocked the door and threw his helmet onto the passenger seat.
            Then it was business. He flipped open the skewer of his front wheel, popped it off and lifted the frame onto the fork mount on his roof. He could do this in his sleep and he liked the mechanical efficiency of his task. The front wheel joined the helmet in the cockpit of the wagon before he lifted open the hatch to extract some clean clothes for the trip home. He sponged off with some camp soap and rinsed with cold water from a jug he placed on the bumper. The cotton shirt and cargo shorts felt good as he re-entered the anonymity of everyday costume: he was now just another guy on the road, heading home, back to life.

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