Theo is one of post work commute crew. Which means I ride with him more than I ride with anyone else. As such I asked him (kind of at the last minute) to fill in for me. Theo like to ride for slightly absurd distances and here he takes us into The Mind of a Randonneur
I looked back over my left shoulder and saw him gaining on me. I leaned forward, hands on the hoods, head into the wind, and attacked the hill. The river fell rapidly down to my right, but the upper edges of Ellensburg Canyon, green and undulating, patched with clay-red dirt, stayed just out of reach, touched the wind-swept sky.
Keeping low, trying to crawl beneath the air, I rose slightly from my saddle and rocked the bike side-to-side in rhythm with my cadence. The distance behind increased; the figure fell away. And a hungry smile cracked my face. I unhinged my jaw and consumed the asphalt, mile after mile of it. A predatory fantasy, born in the roots of my eye-teeth, plays out whilst riding beyond my means.
For 140 miles, I kept them all behind me. A one-man breakaway – pursued, uncaught. I pushed harder into each pedal stroke, alone in a wind which changed direction to meet me at every turn. I put my head down.
Steve came alongside me, turning an impossible gear, impossibly slowly. If I were a sweeping second hand on a stopwatch gaining 30 seconds each minute, he counted only hours.
“Mind if I ride the rest of the way with you?” he asked, “I don’t like riding alone at night.”Sure,” I managed, trying to hide my bitter, competitive demons. Randonneurs, after all, aren’t racing. We don’t have breakaways and winners. We have long miles, paperwork, and cut-off times.
Still, it took time to accept Steve and his maddeningly slow cadence. A cadence which held a steady 24-26 miles per hour, which I could barely keep with my thin, empty legs. My ankles ached. My Achilles hot lines of pain. Rubber bands stretched to strands of brittle latex.
A hollow space grew inside me. Hunger. Fatigue. At a gas station, I inhaled a poppy-seed muffin, a chewy cube of name-brand energy gunk, a bottle of another brand of salty sugar water. I spent longer looking for a bottle without high-fructose corn syrup than I spent drinking.
As the sun set behind a grey barn, we paused to gaze at a broad mountain and the endless Eastern Washington wind carried the day’s last warmth away from us. We rode on in the narrow beams of our headlights beneath the countless pinprick stars.
In the darkness, miles stretch unmeasured, unknown. Every rise is an endless climb. Every flat an infernal steppe. I heard Steve shift gears, knew he was maintaining that Earth-turning cadence even as he slowed. I stopped falling away behind him and took solace in his chatting. Hours of guessing my gap, converting miles to kilometers and back in my head, incorrectly, melted away. Stopped. My fantasies of racing died off and I spun my pedals towards Richland.
Nearing our destination, Steve looked at his left wrist in the dark with unexpected clarity; I couldn’t even see the watch he was reading.
“What have you got left in the tank, Theo?”
We attacked the dark road, birds of prey playing in the wind. After a few moments, I turned to him and said, “That’s it, Steve. That’s all I’ve got…” Across the darkness, he looked sad as he began to slow. “…we can’t go any faster than this.” Smiling, he matched my speed and we danced into the night on our pedals. Laughing.