Saturday, September 22, 2012
we had been driving that way for a while: her, restless, me, uneasy, the children, relatively oblivious and on the lookout for grazing bovines. as i am wont to do on these long drags between our parents' houses and our own home, i had asked some kind of stupid question. sometimes it's to spark conversation. sometimes it's to cause shit. sometimes it's because i really want to know and don't know any other way of discerning and i also want her to know and i can't bear to tell her outright.
so i asked a question.
"what do you think about when you're riding?"
of course, there was too much to say, and her knee-jerk response was, "nothing."
also of course, i had hoped for much in her response, and to be part of that much, and to be much a part of what she thinks about, ever, maybe even while she's doing what she loves most. instead, i was part of nothing, or of all the things that would be cleanly removed from her thoughts while she went out there and tore the legs off of men twice her size.
the car tires hummed along. i switched my thoughts to some rare traffic movement ahead of us. the children yawned. i was glad to be wearing sunglasses that reflected back the world and would not bely the truth of panic in my eyes. nothing? eventually, she collected enough of something to revisit the subject and started a litany of her typical on-bike thoughts. i don't really remember the list; i was just glad to hear that she had one, that she could tell me what it was, that i wasn't on it. i know, i wanted to be on it, but the more she listed the less i wanted to be part of it. i wanted to be an annexed idea, something saved for full attention, for dreaming, for something less mundane than cadence and nutrition in gel format.
in turn, she eventually asked me what i thought about on the ride. my inevitable answer, the one in the question i posed to her, was, "you." and it was true. i had spent six and a half hours in the saddle two days before the drive, and most of what i thought about was trying to make her proud. i wanted to live up to her, to meet or exceed some kind of expectations she might have for me. i wanted to ride hard, like she always told me to before i left. somewhere after a flat and four substantial gravel sections and about twenty-five kilometers of cracked pavement, i started riding for me, or all of us, and it hurt more and went better.
i am not a great rider. in fact, much of my recent time on a road bicycle has been spent figuring that out, learning it acutely, and finding every possible glaring or insidious flaw, one chain link, shift, or pedal stroke at a time. you would not believe how tedious this can be, grinding against the inevitability of physics, on a broken road covered with sand, somewhere west of the highest elevation point in southern ontario. there was no greatness there.
and there was no greatness on the flat land stretching from ottawa to the saint lawrence seaway. there were long miles and deep cracks. there was gravel and smushed sandwiches. there was sweat and streaks of salt and remnants of energy-promising gel. so i thought about things that were great. i thought about the fact that i was riding. i may not be good at it, but i can do it. i thought about my children, whom i missed, who would be spoiled rotten by their grandparents, who would know that riding is important and suffering is too. i thought about my lady, how far ahead she would have been on the ride, if i could have caught her in the gravel sections, whether i'll ever ride well enough to live up to her. i decided that i would likely not, but i could love riding well enough, love her and our children well enough, to exceed any expectations. so i smiled to myself and pushed on, looking forward to that snickers melting in my back pocket, wondering what was after this broken stretch of road.