I first pedaled the bike in March this year, in a week of record-setting temperatures that set everyone back on their heels. On sun drenched afternoons I pedaled backroads even as snow lay in the low areas, back in the shade where the sun could not reach. I thought, “This will be a year to ride, this is the year that I’ll stack up the miles like I did back when I was younger.” I rode a lot then, back in the day, as they say.
I rode that day with the optimism that spring brings, on those days of dizzying giddiness when the temperature rises and with it your spirits and hopes. It’s easy to feel good those days. How can you not? And it is easy to, perhaps, set your goals higher than is realistic. On those warm days of early spring in air fresh as a blossom with birdsong filling the trees any person that doesn’t feel optimism is a soul that’s lost.
We make great plans on those days, plans to run or to paddle, to fish more or to add on to the garden, to work on our game, should we play it, of golf or tennis or various other sports that revolve around balls as a moon around a planet. And yes, on those early days of spring, who cannot get on a bicycle as they have done since they were kids, get on the bike and turn the pedals and feel the wind in your face and think, yes, this is the year that I will ride. This is the year that I will ride often.
That was in my mind on those few days of false spring come early in March, days when we would normally be on snow. How could one not think those thoughts? How could one not make those plans? How could one not tend toward visions grandiose and ambitious? So I rode, rode as I could on those days of wonder.
Then my knee got balky from pushing the pedals too hard, too early. My knee would hurt in a sharp, dime-sized area when I pedaled, and ache stubbornly when I was not. I grew surly. The bike hung in the garage and motes of dust fell on it and all was not good. Such things did not happen back in the day. Back then the knees never hurt, and I could ride whenever I wanted to, and in those days I wanted to ride a lot.
I was off the bike for a week or two and then back on but cautious, pedaling easy. I was not stacking up the miles like I did when I was younger, and I came to the realization I never will. You can ride away from some things, but you can’t ride away from the years. The years wear on you in the way the long hills do; they never let up, and never let things go any easier. So you put your head down, keep on turning the pedals, make your way as best you can.
I rode through April and the real spring, on days of chill and breeze, wearing long sleeved jerseys and ski underwear beneath. I didn’t ride every day. I did not, in some weeks, ride at all. I rode steady and patiently, and my knee got better as I knew it would. By May I stretched out my rides, added a few miles, felt good enough on those days of true spring when the scent of lilac rode the wind as I passed.
I have a small cycle computer on my handlebars that notes how far I went and how fast, and what my average speed is. The new thing these days is to have a small bracket that holds a smart phone that does all that my cheap little computer does and more; has GPS and downloadable maps and such. I don’t much care to know all that and if I get lost so be it; I’ve got nobody to blame except myself.
For all that I don’t pay a lot of attention to my computer. I go as fast as I feel like going, and if I know how fast that actually is, it doesn’t make my ride any better. I check my average speed sometimes, after the ride is over; it gives me an indication if I’m getting any fitter, or at least faster, and that can be nice. But none of it makes it any more enjoyable.
What makes a ride enjoyable to me is simply riding. In the same way one can’t have a bad day fishing, it is difficult to have a bad day riding. They’re all good, all the days spent doing what we like to do. But some are special.
Sunday a week ago was forecast to be hot; upper 80s, and that’s hot any way you cut it. By afternoon the heat would build, and it would be as if someone draped a heavy blanket on you and it would be uncomfortable. But every hot afternoon has a morning that is cooler, and I learned ages ago that on a hot day, the dawning is the best time of all.
I woke on Sunday to a calm day and moderate temperatures. I sipped coffee, considered options; then I decided I’d ride. I’d ride that morning as I’ve ridden mornings for decades, mornings on days of heat when the few hours after daybreak would be a balm on a day of heat. I’d ride in the comfort of early morning, before the heat built. I don’t ride every morning of hot day, I don’t ride near enough of them; but I know that I never regret the time spent.
I rolled out of town on roads mostly empty of cars and air unmoved by wind. In five minutes I was on a road that ran along the river, under newly greened out trees, past houses that were quiet in the early part of the day. I pedaled easy and paid no attention to my computer, for I did not care how fast I was going or how far, cared only that I was on the bike on a day as precious and pure as a jewel.
I rode on familiar roads, up hills that I know, down the back side of those hills, and felt the cool morning air rush past. I passed lakes, dodged a turtle, saw a solitary sandhill crane and watched the flash of white of a deer’s tail.
In an hour I was back home. The dogs saw me from the window and ran to the back door and I let them out. I leaned the bike against the garage, took off my cycling shoes and walked inside to make coffee. Then the dogs and I sat in the back yard and I drank my coffee, listened to the wrens sing, felt a stirring of breeze and heard the sounds of the neighborhood come awake.
It was as it should be: a good bike, a fine ride, and a day that would never be sweeter than the short hours after the dawning.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander; call (715) 362-5800.