Saturday, July 6, 2013

Better Than Nothing

Where South Harpeth ends at Pinewood, I saw it again: A patch of blue.

It first tempted me about 1 pm, when I noticed a shift in the bleary muddle which we had come to know as The World during the previous three days. A movement in the window caught my eye, and I noticed that the ceaseless drone of rain on the roof had, miraculously, ceased its droning.

"It's stopped," I said to RandoGirl, my voice flat with wonder. "I see blue sky."

"Go ride," she said, glancing over from her book.

"Want to come?"

"No," she said, returning to her book. "I'm not feeling well."

Ten minutes later I was coasting down the driveway, pressing the button for the gate. But the gate wouldn't open. It was then that I noticed it had somehow gotten stuck, and it seemed that the motor had finally burned out.

"Dang," I said ... or would have said had I not chosen a more florid four-letter word. I went back inside, changed into regular clothing, and spent the next half hour trying to fix the gate. Although I failed, I was at least able to get the motor arm off and leave the gate open -- thus making it a "gate" again, rather than another immutable section of fence.

Inside again, I called our gate guy and left a message. It was now almost 2 pm.

"Aren't you going to ride?" RandoGirl asked.

"I'm not sure that the universe wants me to," I replied dejectedly. When I got up just after dawn that morning to try to get the dog to go out into the rain for a walk, I had abandoned hope of any kind of ride. Why fight it now?

"There's nothing more you can do about the gate," she said. "Go."

Maybe it's love. Maybe it's because she knows how cranky I get when forced to spend more than a few days off the bike -- and I was now on day six. Whatever the reason, her argument was sound, so I went.

The roads were almost dry, with enough wet spots and debris to make me slow down in the sketchier corners. I hammered my way up the climb on Parker's Branch, then surfed along Backbone Ridge before gingerly easing down to that tight left off-camber turn on the descent. Then came the long gentle climb back up on South Harpeth, smiling at the simple joy that comes from shifting up on a rolling hill and beginning to spin at just the right tempo and power that you float unhindered over the crest of the next rise. As if it was the way it always was and always would be ... as if it was the way that things just worked.

That patch of blue at the end of South Harpeth teased me, and I skipped the left turn on Pewitt. I knew where it went -- I had been there already today and the options it left me were limited. With rain clouds all around, I wanted to keep sticking my hand in the lion's mouth and stretch out what I had thought, certainly, was not to be this day.

So it was right on Walker Hill, the steep climb up North Lick Creek, down Greenbriar to Bending Chestnut. When I came to the stop where Natchez Trace hits Leiper's Creek, I searched the skies again. A left turn and five miles would take me home, I thought. And, yes, yes, those clouds there could rain again any minute now ... but isn't that some blue sky over there? Or at least a lighter shade of gray?

I went straight instead and up on top of the ridge on Mobley's Cut, where a doe and her freckled fawn jumped out of the brush about a hundred yards up, scampering into nude hayfield on the far side. On Johnson Hollow, one of those ridiculously bright yellow birds appeared from nowhere and bounce-skimmed along the top of blackberry bushes like a stone skipped across a quiet lake by your older more athletic brother. Climbing up Sycamore, two families with houses side-by-side were hosting a huge party and a mob of testosterone-addled teenage boys boiled out of the screen doors to apparently play some form of mud hockey on the crabgrass-choked lawn.

We were all beasts searching sustenance in this brief break in the storm. Or maybe we were just thumbing our noses at Mother Nature, hollering, "You didn't drown me this time either, bitch!"

Coming down Bear Creek, I started to see other cyclists -- all riding solo, like myself, just happy to have fallen into this one brief shining moment. We grinned and waved sheepishly, trying to train a bit, but also afraid that letting our pleasure show might tempt the weather gods to snatch our toy away. Even the cars behaved, passing with plenty of space, many drivers smiling and waving to me. Maybe it was because I was smiling and waving at them like some addled fool, but I like to think that we were all just reveling in the moment and happy to be alive.

It never did rain on me, and the blue patches had staged a fierce counterattack against the gray by the time I got home. It was only 50 miles, but they were 50 miles that I had no reason to expect that day, and probably 50 miles that I didn't really deserve.

They were a gift. I'll take it.

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