The quads, the calves, the region below the chamois, but not excluding the chamois area, and including the feet, ache. Nearly a thousand feet of elevation in a little over a mile are sitting like boat anchors in my lungs. The crest of the ridge, old spine of Appalachia that it is, stretches on for tens of as-the-hawk-flies miles north and south of here.
But me, I’m dialed in to the trail awaiting me: three miles of classic east coast cross-country before the proverbial pie-in-the-sky—dropping off the ridge.
Immediately upon entering the xc trail, shark fins and turtle shells in the form of billion years’ old rock try to knock me off my rhythm, but they are having little success. Rubber rolling over gnarled, twisted roots and terrapin boulders, fueled by my visions of dreamy descent, wins the battle against slimy octopus arms and derailleur-destroyers.
Up and over the forest road saddle, back up another hundred feet or so, and I am at the peak. Only way forward is down. Suck some electrolytes from the bladder, stand up to stretch the legs, shake out the tightness in the glutious maximus, and flip into the big ring.
Tao Quian really likes to let it all hang out
and was born mad about wine,
yet from the day he quit his official post
his family has been dead poor
and he can’t even cough up a coin for a drink.
What has he got at the Double Nine Festival?
His hands are empty,
holding nothing but gold flowers.
Back, way back, arms fully taut, stomach occasionally gracing the seat, legs burning again, butt a few inches over rear knobs.
Bombing the forest road before ducking back into the forest. Quick left into the grassy singletrack. Momentum carries me through the rain-fed rivulet crossing, over the sandy, rocky section before the hard right turn.
Tight. Trees. Windy. Front tire pointing down. Slicing the line through the rocks. Over the downed trees that lie waiting to halt forward motion. Twisting right, and then left, back to right again. Over the slight drop. Sitting back. Knuckles white under black gloves.
The poor man is daydreaming for a savior to bring him booze.
Suddenly an old man appears with a pitcher and goblets.
The poet downs bowl after bowl. Why count?
Clear. Pedal down hard, into the next turn, through the turkey habitat rehabilitation area.
Around the bend, and down again. Long, slightly curving trail. Leaves are a blur in the periphery. Pedaling harder. A few mounds in the trail. Hit ‘em. Pullin’up. Air.
Like a quivering bird he shakes out his cape
and wanders to an empty field,
and roars (to no one at all),
“I’ve nothing left, but I’m free!”
Still spinning. Pedaling. Into the berms. Right. Down, and banking left. Weight on the outside leg. Banking right. Heavy left leg.
Finally, back around to the left before bottoming out at the wooden foot bridge passing over the clear mountain stream.
His knees wobble. He doesn’t know where he is
and drops his palm-bark hat and rain cape into the mud,
staggers, pushes on,
singing wildly all the way to Five Willows.
Does Tao Quian make a living? Face his life?
It is improper to ask. He is free.
–“A Drunken Poet,” by Wang Wei, 8th Century Chinese poet
All of it, near a thousand feet, the twists and turns, a mere couple of minutes of life wrapped and packaged in a downhill fix by way of uphill.
To climb is to descend. A karma of sorts exists, the yin and the yang of mountain biking is found in the heavy-breathing of the uphill followed by the losing-oneself-in-the-present tense of the downhill.
What goes around comes around. The tires spin slowly pointing upwards, and the tires spin quickly when faced downwards. They are one in the same. They both go ‘round and ‘round.