By Mitch Mode.
The fly is keeping up with me. Horse fly, deer fly: I can’t tell the difference. Can you? I just lump them together; big biting fly. I don’t have any use for them by any name. Suspect that horses and deer don’t either.
Anyway, about the fly. I’m on a bike and I’m working hard and I’m going nowhere fast. I’ve gone from pavement to gravel and now I’m struggling up a hill and the tires are slipping and the little cycle computer on my handlebar is mocking me; the speed keeps dropping. I started in the mid teens MPH on this section and watched the numbers drop lower and lower; the one on the screen now is in the single digits.
Sweat is in my eyes, my legs hurt and I’m not feeling real good. Then I glance down at the handlebars and I see the fly. It’s flying just above my hand and the fly is keeping up with me.
The gravel road is rutted and rough; what else did I expect? I need to be looking at the road, trying to find the line where a car has passed and packed it a bit firmer, a bit easier to ride. But I’m mesmerized by the sight of the stupid fly.
I have no idea how fast a fly can, well, fly. They seem mostly to circle like tiny vultures or dart about in haphazard loops as if they have no true directional control. Straight line travel seems beyond their ability if it can be said that a fly has true ability. Thinking on that question one would guess not.
This fly is an inch above my hand and flying at my pace. It does not seem a strain to the fly. I think to myself: Well, this is adding insult to injury.
I started the ride at home. Out the city streets to country roads; it doesn’t take long to do that. I pedaled the paved roads for a dozen miles then the blacktop gave it up to gravel; the pavement simply stopped and the gravel started as if the town ran out of funds and had to quit laying the blacktop right then and there.
Gravel for a few miles; blacktop; more gravel. I’d ride some hours on this day, and some miles by the time I’d get home, 60 miles, maybe 65. I like the gravel roads, the old fire lanes that wind through this country. The trees arch over the road and the world in the backwoods lanes is green and lush. It’s a beautiful way to cover ground even if one has to focus on the road and not the forest.
I’d come upon a small buck earlier, spikes in velvet that watched me coast up to him, not sure what I was, hazard or not. Stood like a statue until he knew he’d best clear out and then he turned and bounded and was lost in the thick greenery.
I’d had a small sparrow fly next to me; 16 miles an hour on the computer. I’d seen a group of young turkeys, big enough to fly but not fly well; watched them flutter out of the tall grass along the road like over-sized bumblebees.
And on a gravel road a bear cub dashed across the road in front of me and I grabbed the brakes and swerved the bike to a stop, gravel and dust rising as the tire skidded. I looked to the woods to see if I could see the cub and in the instant I stood there I thought to myself, If the sow is behind me this is probably not the smartest thing to do or the best place to be. I got back on the bike pretty quick and did not look back.
That’s all part of why we ride; deer and bears and birds and small treasures unexpected, here and then gone; now you see them, now you don’t. Gone into memory and in memory the images remain as photographs remain and remind us, the good ones, of good times and tiny wonders.
I wasn’t riding very well. My legs were heavy and I was tired when I started and it just wasn’t happening the way I’d hoped. It was hot and I was carrying 3 bottles of water and would need them all. I’d watched some of the Tour de France on TV and when you get the image of those racers in your mind you think you can ride fast and easy because that’s what your mind remembers. Then you get on the bike and fast and easy doesn’t happen. Discouragement settles like a cloud over your head. Then you look down and see the damn fly and it’s keeping up with you. So it goes. You have good days and days that are not so good, no matter what you do. You do that at work and away from work, do it in your recreation, do it in your life; good days and bad. If I have a bad day on the bike it’s never so bad that I don’t want to ride again. If I have a bad day off the bike it’s never so bad that I don’t want to get up the next day.
I don’t know how old I was when I first rode a two-wheeler but it was a real long time ago and I never got tired of it, good days or not. The bad days fade and drift away, unless you hang onto them and if you do that they work deep into your soul and drag you down on all days.
The fly keeps pace with me as I grind my way up the hill. Then I get to the top and look ahead and the road drops away in a long slope and I pedal harder, find a higher gear, then another and I race down that hill and swing into the corner. The wind is in my face and my legs feel smooth and strong and the fly is long gone. And I take some small satisfaction: I beat the fly!
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