|All Points West: Sharing my bicycle addiction|
|August 05, 2016 Frank Marquez|
I didnít know what to expect riding south through Gering. There were few cars on the road. Good news. But there were swirling winds, patches of warm and cold air pockets, a feeling of stickiness, like you would have right before a tornado. Bad news. Dark clouds overhead spit out lightning strikes northwest of the North Platte River in the midst of plotting its course, warning the little humans to stay out of the way. The sky felt like it was mere feet from the ground, and humidity weighed heavy.
Our leader Matt checked his weather App at the YMCA, the meeting place for the West Nebraska Cycling Club, a small band of merry makers that gathers in the parking lot every Tuesday at 6 p.m., sharp. He said, ďI donít mind a little rain, doesnít bother me. I can ride in most weather.Ē
Checking later, the riders sitting in a nearby pickup truck were worried about getting electrocuted, and worse, pelted by hailstones, fearfully and possibly as big as golf balls.
The group waited. Travis, the driver, countered that young guys like Matt, who are under 30, donít care about being charred by thunderbolts.
Another bike club member, Lisa remained unobtrusive, the only girl among the host of guys with the banter of guys. The storm veered north. She pulled her thick-wheeled off-road bike from the flatbed of the truck. We stood out of harmís way, for now.
Rod, a grey bearded 60-something said he started cycling about four years ago. He once made fun of guys who wore the spandex riding shorts and loud jerseys, maybe as wannabees. He didnít think heíd be doing this himself. Rod has had dreams of long journeys; he said he might try to ride to his 40-year class reunion in South Dakota next summer.
Another rider, Darryl, encouraged me to ride the Bike Ride Across Nebraska next June, though the common complaint is that itís not a true race across the state because it leaves out the Panhandle. Thatís alright. Weíre used to it. Most of Husker nation forgets weíre alive, though most of us outlanders know someone back east.
Once at the foot of the bluffs, after riding the narrow path carved through the prairie grass east of the 800-foot tall wall of sandstone, we rested a bit, until the Park Ranger came out about 15 minutes later to tell us the last of the tourists in their car was heading down. We nearly ran into that car as we zig-zagged through the gates; his headlights were on, and he was waving as we passed by, one of the benefits of living in a friendly heartland. Riding up is always the hard part. I played my gears like the local folk music, smoothly and steadily, with a friendly harmonica, mandolin and six string. My breathing was threaded together, songs in my head. I could hear the other riders gasping and grunting going into the tunnels. At each winding turn, I thought the end was near. Funny. I thought, either my heart or my legs would give up or give in. Knock on wood, though. Too many of my peers are dropping like flies.
Rod had joked earlier about an older man he knew, who starts every new day with: ďGood news: I didnít see myself in the obituaries this morning.Ē
The sun was setting on my left shoulder. The wind crashed into the bluff, leaving behind a swirling breeze. I savored the coolness on the burning muscles of my legs, which churned like the wheels of a locomotive, steady and sure. I hugged the corners, finding the right angles, steering my front wheel in the direction of meaningless success. Getting to the summit, I discovered three of the experienced riders had arrived not too long before me. They congratulated me on the climb, saying, ďGood job Frank.Ē A bit puzzled, maybe fatigued, I pondered for a moment whether this ride was more than a ride.
Their compliments signaled acceptance, and brought back the same feeling I had as a 20-something dashing around the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California during my college days. Rod admitted reading my first piece on cycling, a short autobiographical themed column on discovering and rediscovering the joy of two spoked wheels. I thanked Rod, who most likely related to his experience as a hobbyist, and racking up a string of finishes in the long gravel races that have cropped up around the Midwest, like the black-eyed Susans along the dusty rural roadsides.
Lisa, proud of her time, said she beat her performance from two weeks ago at the Oregon Trail Days Hill Climb, 13:09, adding minor adjustments for the delay in stopping the clock.
We all had to be in the 10 to 12-minute range, not bad for a bunch of middle aged, supposed past the prime group of riders. We flew back down the bluff in less than half the time, about 45 mph or more, but I kept the brake close in hand. God didnít grant me wings if I went flying off a turn, though, for a brief moment, I thought, what a way to go. A colorful red splat on one of the boulders below. That kind of news becomes legend in a small town.
Matt, expressing his ruggedness after careening down Summit Road at the Monument, said, I donít drink water; donít need a full bottle. If I need it, Iíll sip some at the drinking fountain.Ē Yet, he was barely breathing hard. I had to admire that kind of independence and bravado.
Thanks to Sonnyís Bike Shop Iím no longer driving. Iím even more thankful that getting more time on two wheels has convinced my wife Lisa of the activityís benefits. She professes that it evokes a free spiritedness, and is now adamant about peddling into work.
Have I created a monster?