Yellow Jacket

At first I reach for the button behind the lever, before remembering that I’m on a different bike and that I need to do this with my thumb. Justin and I have an hour before he has to open the shop, I’m only in town for a day so this is our only chance to ride together. I knew we wouldn’t have enough time to make it to Saltzman, which is the spot where we spent a few consecutive weeks attacking each other and formed the bedrock of our friendship. So it was the cemetery.

With my thumb on the right button now I clicked up a gear, rose from the saddle and started rocking the bars. Justin followed my move as we passed a guy pushing an over geared mountain bike through the first steep section of the two kilometer climb.

I rock the bike, hands on the hoods with two fingers wrapped around the front of the lever, the way I was taught. I have no fitness right now. I’ve been “resting” for the last week and a half, unable to get excited about training on city roads. Unable to find my bearings.

I have no fitness, but I haven’t been on this bike since September and I need to know what it feels like to ride hard again. I need to tell myself that I will be fast again, and that the sense of control I felt last year will return to me, with a little bit of time.

I check over my left shoulder for Justin and see nothing but road. Not believing it I check over right shoulder. Again nothing. When I look up the road again I see a spot of hi-viz yellow. Catch him.

I check for Justin one more time, and keep on the gas. Pushing down on the bars as I pull back on the pedals. At this time last year I started my morning with this climb. In the early hours, my light reflecting on the tombstones, I built a bit of confidence and a lot of quiet. “You seem happy” a friend of mine said.

I want to catch the guy ahead of me because I want to feel fast, and because I don’t want to get beaten to the top of one my favorite climbs by a guy in a billowy yellow jacket wearing shots in thirty-five degree weather. That desire, to beat the guy because I don’t like how he’s dressed is wrong of me. I’m judging someone I don’t know and working to catch and pass them because I lack a feeling of control in my life. Because I’m not riding enough.

The steep section flattens out a bit and I settle into the saddle. The sound of breath consumes my ears. All I can hear is my lungs struggling to get air in. All I feel is the cold air burning my lungs with each inhale.

I’m close to the yellow jacket when the road goes steep. Again I rise from the pedals and try to rock the bike like I’m fit, like I’m someone who knows how to climb, like this isn’t pushing me over the red line. I pass him trying to look like I don’t need to pass him to feel good about myself. Maybe that part is more about me trying to tell myself that I don’t need to pass him.

I do pass him as the road flattens out, but I’ve learned I can’t just stop at the top.

Once again I look over my shoulder for Justin. He’s back there, just below the yellow jacket. I keep on the gas through the gate and down the road. But now my legs are trashed and I stop to wait for Justin.

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