Thursday, March 30, 2006

Work too hard

Date: March 30
Mileage: 22.6
March mileage: 366.9
Temperature upon departure: 34
On the iPod: "King's Crossing" ~ Elliot Smith

Squinting against radial gusts of wind, I waver a little at the intersection. Which way to go - left or right? One way is West Hill, the short way, the traffic-clogged highway spewing mud and melted snow. The other is East Hill, the long hill, the beast, the lung-searing climb that chews up my studs. The wind goes both directions. I go east.

The hill sets in fast, pulling hard at legs that sat unmoving, atrophied, dead weights for nearly eight hours prior. Wind grit builds up on my teeth and I clamp my mouth shut, squint downward, watch the odometer. 5.8 mph ... 5.9 ... I'm already sick of being out here. It's gray with little flecks of snow blowing around. And around and around. Wind hits from new directions. I tilt again. Studs grind into the pavement. I stand. 6.4 mph .... 6.7.

How high does your heart rate have to be to go to find that place where frustrating thoughts dissipate? I ask myself this question but don't really think about the alternative. 6.8 mph ... 7.0. I round another switchback. More wind. More snow. I think about April in the desert. I think about winter in Alaska. 7.2 mph ... 7.4.

Mouth wide open, I swallow bits of musty grit and road goo. I no longer have a choice. The tunnel closes in. First pavement. Then tires, patches of rubber tread, handlebars. Then only the odometer, encircled in blackness. 7.6 mph. 7.7 ... The iPod speaks to me in gasps and whimpers... 7.8 mph ... 7.9. Involuntary thoughts tear through. Thoughts that long for anything but the present, long for random times, times of after-school jobs and riding the banana seat Huffy to work, greeting the dead morning hours with the time-worn smells of yeast and bleach, of baking bagels at Einstein's with Sam.

Sam and I were equals in our dead-end job. We worked the 4 a.m. shift on Saturday mornings, baking bagels for the blurry-eyed people who no longer cared. We were brothers in arms, hiding in the walk-in refrigerator, eating frozen cookie dough, recounting our adventures in snowboarding and caving and sluffing school. We both went on to become cyclists. He became a racing roadie. I became a cycle tourist. I quit the bagel shop and went to college. He stayed and worked his way up to general manager. He made many thousands in savings. I made many camping trips to southern Utah. Now he manages a large hotel in Argentina. I pull in migrant worker wages at a small-town rag in rural Alaska.

The world seems black and white at 8 mph.

Tinted by choices.