Sweet Suffering

The Tour de France is going skyward this week, into the Pyrenees. The mountain stages are my favorites in the big stage (multi-day) races because I get it all right there: beautiful scenery, graceful forms, the lovely minimalist structure of the perfect machine known as the bicycle…and the brute-force misery of human beings slogging defiantly up switchbacks, some with gritted teeth and steely determination, many with salt rings around their mouths from dehydration, probably more than one or two who would like nothing more than to pull over to the side, vomit down the side of the mountain, and stuff their distended, tortured lungs back down their throats where they belong. What’s not to love?

I ride a bicycle nearly every working day. It’s roughly five or six miles (depending on the route I travel) from my apartment to my place of disjoyment, and when I opt to use the MUP (Multi-Use Path; in this case the Springwater trail) I try to open it up and go as fast as I can safely manage. This translates as “not that fast” really, because I ride a bike outfitted for cummuting (aka heavy as all Hell) and I myself am outfitted in a physique better made for power-lifting (if I weren’t so goddamned lazy) or blog-writing (bingo!). Still, I pass about as many people as pass me so I should be content with that because I’m a straight “B” personality. Let the world go by at it’s own pace, y’know?

Well, y’know? No. Because although when I was a kid I could’nt care less about sports – hated any and all in fact, and it wasn’t the sports themselves I detested but the mindset of the ignoramuses that played them – I have now found in my middle age, when it certainly feels too late and stupid to care, that I get really aggressive when on my bike. The Lycra-clad insects on their twenty-pound Litespeeds pass me arrogantly and without a word, and all I want to do is pedal like a fooken windmill, catch up to them, and try to fit my right elbow in their left ears (always pass on the left; simple courtesy). I’m outraged by their rudeness and want to shove my frame pump through their spokes. Why?

Well, I know why of course. I hate discourtesy and always have. Discourtesy makes me want to snap bones and suck marrow. I admit it freely. But that’s not really it. It’s competitive desire that feels like violence. If an emotion can camoflage itself as another, then this is proof of it. This is what bothers me. Nearly a whole life-time of sedentary living and bad habits has left me with the idea that it’s best not to strive, and here I am at forty-eight years old getting angry about not being able (or more to the point, having to work so hard to be able) to keep pace with a twenty-something on a bike that weighs about the same as my shoes. It feels pretty pathetic. And yet. And yet

It feels good to be competitive, to feel rage at others for their (perceived) arrogance and impatience with my own weakness, and feel the frustration mash the pedals down and around. It feels like a truth, the ache in my legs and the breath sawing in and out of my chest. It hurts and it feels more than a little futile, but as long as Mr. Carrot prances on his pedals in front of me, I keep on trying to latch onto his wheel just for the satisfaction of seeing him glance back and find me there. I’ve seen the double-take on more than a couple of occasions, and friends, it felt like those first twinges of an incipient erection. It’s grand. Usually fleeting (it has taken me the entire length of the trail to catch up sometimes), but grand nonetheless.

These are the days when I walk through the door smiling, when I’m most effusive in the greeting of work-mates. If the fates don’t conspire to immediately extinguish my chipper mood (“Dude…have you seen this?”), I can ride the glow all the way to lunch.

If I’m “lucky”, the ride home will be a chase as well.

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