My Need to Listen

The intersection of NW Skyline and NW Saltzman is not the most scenic spot to take a break. But that is where justin and I sat on a small patch of grass to the right of the stop sign where the gravel of NW Saltzman becomes the pavement of NW Skyline.

Skyline is a popular riding spot in Portland and on this beautiful day we were passed by more cyclist than I cared to count. We sat talking with our backs to the road drinking from our bottles and eating the savory scones we picked up at the coffee shop near my house. We turned and looked over our shoulders each time another cyclist, solo or in a group rode by with the subtlety of a teenage boy checking out a beautiful woman. Our conversation continued unabated except for those moments when we were asked if we were okay, or if we had everything we needed.

I had put the screws to Justin after he had set a fast pace on the first half of the climb. Justin was trying to catch will, who while not with us, did start up the gravel part of the climb on his twenty – niner but had gone up the road ahead of us.

I came around Justin before the picnic table, which I always think of as the halfway point, which is a little before we catch Will, or when Will sat up. However one chooses to see it.

The climb flattens out for a short bit two turns after the picnic table. Yesterday Justin told me he needed a ride to work some stuff out, which I took as “I need to ride hard”. Justin’s need to ride hard is why I put the screws to him, by going Sur la Plaque — into the big ring — and opened a big gap on Justin.

I tried a similar move two weeks ago when I was riding with another friend. They didn’t ask for a hard ride, they just wanted to ride. They were also on their single speed cross bike while I was on my geared road bike. I was the one who needed the hard ride that week. It didn’t start that way, but I fell into my habit of having imagined conversations with the people I’m actually with. The content being all the things I want to say, but won’t say for whatever reason. I got away, then gave up dropped a handful of gears and began to spin, instead of grinding gears. I don’t want to be on this gravel road alone. I could have done that if it was what I really wanted. I want to be…

This time I keep on pushing big gear up the gravel climb. Justin hangs on, his high cadence playing counterpoint to the grinding tempo I’ve set. It takes a while, or it at least feels that way, for Justin to fall off the pace.

When he gets up to me at the intersection of NW Skyline and NW Saltzman we talk about the how fast we’d climbed.Then I suggest we sit in that small piece of yellowing grass. He agrees and the two of us take a break we haven’t earned. We sit taking in the summer sun, drink water from our bottles and eat parts of the savory scones we bought before the ride started.

The conversations that take place on a ride should be held in as high a regard as those with one’s Therapist or Priest, and perhaps given the protections provided by those two relationships. But I can say that as I sat there listening I realized that the two of us have found ourselves at turning point, though the circumstances are different. I wouldn’t have learned that if I hadn’t stopped thinking about my own life, stopped living in my own head for a moment and listened beyond “I need a hard ride today”. These are some of the things that make cycling special. I need more of this. (…continued next week)

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