Mitty

Being the last gasps of my dying competitive spirit

Twenty-five miles in and there’s a rabbit up ahead. Some young guy with baggy shorts and a bike he got for Christmas. Look at him adjusting his ear buds. He has no idea what he has. Time for him is eternal and energy is always there for the taking. I coast briefly while I decide if I’m going to take him. I keep my eyes on him while I take a squirt of water. You don’t want to pass someone and then die a mile beyond him. If you go by him you just bought yourself whatever pace it takes to stay ahead. And he’s moving along at a decent speed. I’m averaging 17mph, which for a ride of this distance means I’m pushing a little. I’m not settling for what my bike and legs will give me.

Fuck it. I’m taking him. One last time for who I used to be. One more time to take the pain and love the hurt of it. My will against the ancient gods. My middle finger raised against the sunset. I will reel him in. And I will drop him.

I reach down the tube and gear up one click. My thighs feel the immediate increase in resistance. I push and pull harder until that resistance fades and I’m in equilibrium again with my bike. But I’m paying more now with every stroke. Before it gets hard to breath and harder to speak, I say out loud:

“Be vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits.”

Some people say you see more of the world when you ride a bike. I don’t. I see the road. I see my knees pumping in and out of view. And I see that guy ahead I’m about to take down. The hell with seeing the world. I’ve seen plenty. What I want is to feel alive. And there is a particular kind of living that comes from pitting your body against someone else’s body. When I was young I was an athlete and competed daily. Every day. I couldn’t get enough of it. That young man is mostly gone, and I crave other things. The sun is setting and my competitive spirit is slipping below the horizon.

Except sometimes when I’m on my bike. These moments when the right guy is up ahead and something old and familiar in me awakens. Soon I will sit on the sidelines and cheer the young men on. But my 50s are the years of my last resistance. I will not go gently into that night. Not in this decade.

I pull in behind him. He glances back and sees me. I know this route well. Ahead we will turn left, then right and across Salado Creek. Just over the creek the road rises into a climb that bends left and disappears into the trees. It’s not a hard climb but for some reason it feels hard, and not seeing the end of it adds to that feeling.

That’s where I’ll take him. On the climb. And when I rise from the saddle and drive my legs up that hill, I will do so with such a display of power that the thought of trying to follow me will not even enter his mind.

  • Ronald Baldwin

    Oh Gordon I love you. You have a bike as old as mine! “I reach down the tube and gear up one click.” means shift levers on the down tube, not integrated into the brake levers on the bars. I am 75 and had to down size my home eight years ago so now I only have three bikes (none with click shifters). I know exactly what you are describing. I still live it, even though my work out speed is now 14 mph.

    • http://tertiumsquid.com Gordon Atkinson

      Yep. Trek 400. Original gears and equipment. My brother bought this bike in the mid 1980s. It’s the original blue color, in good shape, and does just fine. All the fancy equipment in the world can’t make up for good legs and lungs, right?

  • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

    Ride on, Gordon. Ride on.