Friday afternoon Rugg convinced me to join him for a ride in Rock Creek. Our nation, and especially Rock Creek Park, was just then coming into the grip of a cold weather front so vicious that the New York Times describes it has having "escaped the Arctic fence." Weather had been so balmy for the previous days that Larue and I had foregone our usual squats and deadlifts and had gone out for a ride letting our shins show, almost getting what Ben Franklin called "air baths." It was nice to feel the air on my skin, even if it wasn't the full monty, as is the fashion in Portland.
But by Friday, the temperature had dropped profoundly. As I coasted into the park, I wondered about the wisdom of riding on such a cold night; wondered if I blew a tire if I would be able to fix it, or if I would, like the protagonist of "To Build a Fire," lose my life to cold because of incompetence and fragility. I reassured myself with the thought that I was meeting Rugg, who can start fires with his urine. No one will ever freeze where Rugg is, except those he wills to freeze.
I found Rugg deep in a crevasse, huddled over a heap of burning tires, arms deep in the carcass of a freshly killed caribou: "Climate change really pisses me off."
"Why's that?" I asked, assuming he would refer to the vast loss of habitat, the extinction of thousands of animals, and the loss of billions of income worldwide, especially concentrated in developing countries. Or maybe he'd reveal a bit of his humanity by stating the obvious: cold weather sucks.
"The wild Freds stay in hiding."
Rugg, as everyone knows, is a fanatical hunter of freds, a prey whose sensitivity to the cold leads them to remain indoors on all but the most temperate days.
When the freds dry up, Rugg is driven to hunt his own. On this day I became the hunted.
We were doing repeats up one of the hills in Rock Creek, with Rugg shouting out his power readings, his voice growing fainter and fainter as he left me behind, when it dawned on me that I was about to be devoured.
"I need to be holding 500...no, 600 [watts]...up a hill like this," he admonished himself. While he waited for me at the top, he was urinating on a chunk of raw caribou to unfreeze it before tossing it into his mouth.
As we approached the fifth and last interval up Tilden a panda, escaped from the zoo, attacked him (I assume, since Rugg suddenly was nowhere to be seen).
This was my chance to avoid slaughter! I attacked, ripping into my gear. A plan formed. I'd lure Rugg into chasing, then attack when he neared, like a matador maneuvering a maddened bull. The hunter would become the hunted, the fredder the fred.
As I neared the slight leveling off, 2/3 up, I heard the clatter of his brass balls, clanging, as in limerick, do the balls of every man from Nantucket. I kept seated. Wait for it. I heard the great drops of his saliva slap on the ground. Wait for it. I heard the squeel of his inflated bear gut tubulars as they spun on the frozen tarmac. Almost...
When I finally heard it, the wind whistling through his whiskers, I stood and slammed into my 16. It was to be a dagger through his soul.
Still, he fought on, howling his Rebel Yell, curdling my yankee blood. I could smell his English Leather, reeking like the 1970s.
I saw him approach over my shoulder. My games had not fooled him. There was the slaughtered and skinned panda on Rugg's back, Hu Jintao and 1.5 billion Chinese be damned. The cold air cut my lungs as I felt the strength leave me and the stench of English Leather overpower me.
Even as the finish neared, I knew it was over. Rugg pushed on, first by a wheel, then a bike-length, then the dragging panda carcass, then the length of Rugg's vestigal tail, then it was over.
I bought him some tacos at Super Taco, and, myself, was content with humble pie.