The balloon was Josh’s idea. It was a birthday gift from the person to whom we were sending the balloon, but had gone unused for a time because one doesn’t often have an occasion to launch a weather balloon. At the service people were encouraged to write a note to Derreck which would be sent up with the balloon into the (literally) the stratosphere. The idea, that each person should write a message on card, which would then be attached to the balloon before it was sent off, was beautiful. One that not even my secular mind could find fault with.
Two days after we launched the balloon I jump to catch the wheel of a Junior National Champ on the track. He attacked in a cross wind a few hundred meters before it became a tailwind. At fourteen he is faster than I can ever hope to be, and as a strong time trialist I know he has the power to stay away for bit.I managed to catch his wheel just before the tail wind took him out of reach of the pack. A few seconds later I’m in my tallest gear and we’re quickly opening a gap. I know we are clear when the quiet comes. We trade pulls for a lap and a half. Each pull takes a bit more out of me. I try to keep my hands in the drops, but then move up to my hoods. I’m trying to make myself as small as I can with what little core strength I seem to have.

A lap later another rider bridges up to us and starts sharing the pace. No words are exchanged between the three of us. We just work. I try to take pulls long enough to show I’m just along for the ride, while keeping the pace high. I can’t push the big gear required to stay away for too long, so I pull off the front once I realize I’m starting to lose it.

Each pull takes me deeper into the type of pain I’ve only day dreamed about. I’ve never ridden a proper break away. Each time I’ve been off the front, alone or with a group, has been a short, half lap affair. A quick fling with what it means to be ahead of the peloton. Now I’m getting everything I’ve been hoping for and it hurts. Life has piled up lately a friend’s death, another’s paralysis, family dramas on the other side of the country, things I can’t help with. The fact that one of the things I’m really good at is making my life more difficult. All of these things add up. Tonight though I’ve let all that go. I’m just riding, grasping to hang on. At this moment racing mirrors my life. I’m also racing the way I want to live, which means that I have the power to live the way I’m racing right now.

Samuel Johnson wrote that the prospect of death concentrates the mind. That’s a truism, meaning that everyone experiences it. Just like everyone experiences the life’s more difficult aspects. The emotions that come up around death always seem to center around the way we are currently living our lives. Most of the time, at least for me, those revelations soon fall back as we re-enter the routine of our lives. But right now, at the end of the break the junior track champ attacks again, and though I don’t want to, I follow, because that’s how I want to live, that’s how I’m trying to honor my friends and family. It’s how I’m honoring myself.I looked over at Josh as the balloon carrying messages to our friend. His hand was cupped over his brow to block the sun. It was the only time he seemed at peace that day. When I look back up at the balloon I’m thinking about the messages people wrote. I want to know what they say. Did people simply write “we miss you”, or were there memories written there. “Remember that time we….”. Maybe there was even a “see you when I see you”. Of course I’m ignorant to all the messages save for one, which is the message Signe sent — which was a Neiman Marcus cookie, about three inches across. They were Dereck’s favorite.


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