Death is discovered on every ride. Unfortunate reminders of our ultimate fate lay strewn across the roadways in the sprawling entrails of opossums, the splatter of squirrels, and the rancid smell of a decaying deer. An unexpected bump to the hulking steel machines with whom we share the pavement becomes a visceral example of our limited mortality.
We commune with death on every ride. We all know a story or know someone whose ride didn’t end by unclipping at their intended destination, be that the relief of home, the back of a minivan during a race, or the hotel between here and there. We don’t dwell, else we wouldn’t turn a pedal, but we know.
Though everyone on the road shares in the inherent danger of moving faster than our bodies were ever designed to move, the cyclist is uniquely exposed and aware. Little separates us from our environment — skinny tires, skinny arms, a layer of lycra, and a chunk of Styrofoam intended to rupture on contact — while drivers sit in a cage of steel and even motorcyclists (smart ones at least) travel armored in leather. Every one of us cyclists has felt the surprisingly sharp tug of wind as a semi blows by a little too close, those massive wheels looming as our bikes veer, leer, to their embrace. I have forced myself off the road and onto the shoulder on occasion, when the approach of something large from behind felt nefarious — deadly.
Careening down a mountain pass at over 50mph, we can too easily cross into that realm of calamity, where a rock or pothole or scattered gravel or an exploding, overheated tire can fling us into a situation where the best case is skimming and scraping away clothes and skin and a sudden stop will be our last.
Why then wander from our confines? Why not just go and run along the sidewalk or wander off down a trail in the mountains? Because life is discovered on the bike. The longer you spend, the more you must confront yourself as you wander alone through the countryside legs conducting a symphony. Within the fatigue, the exhaustion, the suffering, and — worst — the despair is hidden a vitality found only in the rushing wind, the thumping heart, and the ability to overcome.
I find nearly ineffable the need to ride long, even amongst strong cyclists of similar dedication. I cannot describe the sensation that pervades my body and my mind when I pedal through the night, such things can only be felt. The concoction of emotions that occurs when my legs announce their retirement from riding for the day and I’m three or four hours from home is a precious mix.
I wish I could adequately tell you why I ride. Instead, I can only tell you that I must ride.