Two weeks after I bought my first road bike, I went up to Connecticut and rode a century with my brother in probably the most perfect cycling weather I've ever experienced. We finished off the day with a couple of New Haven Modern pizzas (just cheese and tomato sauce, please) and a pitcher or two, a celebration of gluten fare.
Cycling, I discovered, was like Viagra for the appetite--I'd never before looked at living things and thought, "ethics shmethics, I want you in my belly," but that's what cycling did to me, especially after the 80-mile mark. While I rode I thought about things to deep-fry, things to dip in batter, things to cover with cream, things to blend, things to kill, grill, and eat no-frills. To be a cyclist is to keep dry kindling on the fires of metabolism, to ache, to crave.
And maybe the soul is not separate from this ferocity. Riding pulls our minds from the world of glowing communicators and into moving air, moving through real space, us choosing and making the panorama to change, not, as on a screen, the panorama changing while we munch Cheetos and mouth-breathe. This gives us time to think, and maybe to distill our longings to their essences.
To distill our thoughts is to make them less vaporous, more solid. When we ride, we know ourselves, or, at least, we know ourselves more than if we'd spent the same amount of time watching, say, Three and a Half Men.
That first year I rode, I didn't have a TV. I rode the paths of DC and I swam (and hated it). I went to Hains and did the Thursday night pack ride, and I wore a sleeveless jersey, and I remember riding the wheel of a tall, smooth Artemis cyclist of an entirely different category. I was told his name was Dave Osbourne, but I was smart enough to figure out on my own that he was pretty much who the Lord God Above had in mind when he sent us the bicycle.
I watched Dave take a drink from his bottle and pop the top shut on his thigh, smooth as can be, cadence unchanged, and I saw the effect of years of elegant burning on Dave's body and in his ease. It was like that of a bodybuilder, in that his were the kind of sinews only seen at the end of decades of constant conflagration, but unlike a bodybuilder's encased meat flesh, Dave's frame was not the end result, just what you were left with.
When I went to the Tour of California and watched the pros, I saw more of this. Guys with bodies like ashes but still burning. I saw Tony Martin, just a 24-year old kid, already a waif, every vein and rib sticking through his skin. They keep talking about him like he's a tank, the Panzer, but in real life he's a dry leaf. You want to help him to his bike. Of course, no one wants to be frail as ash. It's nice being able to carry your own luggage.
But the fire...that's the shit, isn't it?