Lunch Ride

For lunch it’s the bar and a stool by the taps. It’s a sandwich with fries, because it’s Wednesday. It’s July, and the air sticks to itself. The wind heaves at my hair before I go in, but all the fight has gone out of it for now.

Last night I rode south between fields, corn and beans, with the sun sailing away to the west. The fields were straight and true and the corn was as tall as it should be, and the beans. Stray stalks of the former jutted up out of fields of the latter, stubborn holdovers from the fall harvest. I imagined, knowing as little about it as I do, some farmer somewhere. Telling his boy to grow the crops tall when he goes out on his own, so last year’s upshot won’t show.

They don’t need to be knowing you by what you done, he maybe told the boy. Let’s just say, for example, that he added, keep your rows straight and true and each as tall as the other, as much as you can. Pray for it every spring and thank God if it turns out by fall. Let’s say the boy nods, and when the boy is suddenly a man he keeps his rows straight and true and prays when he should and thanks his God when he should. When the beans replace the corn, he watches for stray stalks of the latter, growing as tall as they should one year too late, and cuts them down when he needs to, or when he can.

But I say grow your crops short, charming boy. Darling boy, show me what holds over in you.

A bead of condensation runs down the tap line–racing me with the patience that gravity affords its subjects–and for now I wait to heave downward, to match it, to run slick with friction to whatever end the heat might muster.

Bike Rides 131, or The Wild Rumpus that Could.

A great friend of mine, Dan Urlick, offered up the November slot of his newspaper column. For whatever reason, I was convinced someone at the Herald would see right through me and cut the whole thing. But it showed up in the Sunday paper today, and although my opening was cut, it was pretty neat to see it in black and white, on real paper and everything. Thanks to Dan at Bike Rides for the opportunity, and for being a super cool guy. Read his past columns and grab a copy or two of his books here. Below is my piece in full, complete with opening. I’ve also written a brandshinynew, grammatically correct closing line to replace the original, which included a poorly placed modifier. Woo.

Read on, you.

Wild Rumpus

On the way up, there is falling. Somewhere ahead of and above me are fellow wrenches Chad and Rainier. Levis Mound punishes me and my bike with switchback after switchback of tight, sandy singletrack. It’s day two of our Labor Day Rydjor Rendezvous in Wisconsin, and my stubborn bliss falters amid the lung-burning and white-knuckling.

Just over the apex of a climb called “Cliffhanger,” a bead of sweat sinks into my eye, stinging it shut. A branch snags my handlebar and I am catapulted over the front wheel. I gingerly pick myself up and slam my bike upright just as Jens, another mechanic, stops behind me and asks in an uncharacteristically serious voice, “Ya good?”

“Fine,” I mutter, wanting to be more fine than I am.

The one drawback of working at Rydjor is watching customers pedal away on the bike you’ve lovingly brought back to life and knowing it’s only a matter of time before your work is reversed by miles of tar seams, potholes, and the occasional garage door. The mechanic must realize that a corollary of “all good things must come to an end” is that all good things fall into disrepair.

Maybe this sentiment had sunk into our bones more than was healthy. Maybe it was that we’d all come to know a little less that summer, and the unknowns had not yet lost their sting despite having become familiar. Whatever the reason, the idea of absconding to a bikeable wilderness was too alluring for us to wait up.

If you’d asked me at the top of “Cliffhanger,” I’d have said it was a siren call; this hill was eating me and my comically inadequate singlespeed alive. Still, there was the descent to finish, and this was the last chance to finish our wild rumpus in style before heading home, and I just plain wanted a piece of this hill. I swung a leg over the top tube and clipped in, jaw clenched, ears hot.

“Get it, G,” said Jens.

It must have been the rare flow I found myself in on the way down that put me in a philosophical mood. I realized rather suddenly that in knowing little, there is comfort; you can’t go backwards. And after awhile, you get used to working with a lack of experience and information. You learn to wing it. So what if this trail had me out of my depth? So what if I hadn’t gotten the hang of weight distribution or picking lines or how to take that high berm that was oh lord right ahead of me? Jens, who’d crept in front a mile or so earlier, floated up and down the loopy ramp without hesitation. Before I had the chance to think twice, I followed suit, whipping my rear tire around behind me as I cornered, throwing my weight back, and releasing a yawp.

“Did you get it, G?” Jens called back.

“You know it,” I said as we flew around another bend, riding at the edge of control but familiar with the feeling.

Months later, I remember that easy flow that was so difficult to find, and what the Levis Mound sirens gave me, which is this: Some things were made to be thought twice about. Riding bike is not one of them.

Traffic Tip: While some physicists argue over what makes a bicycle so stable, this is what I believe: Because it has two wheels, the bicycle is made to fall over and over, in one continuous tumble. Riding a bike involves nothing more than falling in the right direction.