Sunday, April 13, 2008

L'Ivresse des Sommets

Imagine yourself trying to keep your heartbeat in check, yet having to keep your pedaling rhythm up an impossible hill. You are dehydrated, your legs are tired from previous climbing, so the effort sends your cardiac muscle in overdrive, your breath gets shorter, you lose your timing. It’s not the hill the enemy, or at least, that’s a static adversary: it does not move under your wheels, it does not strike you when you are not paying attention. The bike, if it’s a good bike, is a good ally, responding appropriately to your every movement.

It’s 96F, and all you hear is the beat of your heart in your ears, the heat coming up from the asphalt almost intolerable. There are people walking their bikes. One stopped in front of a locked gate to lay down in the shade. You ask them if they are OK, then you focus back on your battle. The fight, you realize it by now, it’s with yourself. It’s the purest form of martial art, the ultimate control. If you give up, you lose. If you ask too much of yourself, you lose even more. You count the money in the bank, every calorie, every ounce of strength, every drop of water you have left in your bottles. You count, or sing a song in your head that soon begins to irritate you. A crow caws its welcome. You are not dead yet, you explain, come pick me up after the next turn. There is always a next turn, you have been climbing since the beginning of the century, the past one. But one of those turns, you know, it’s the magical one, the one that turns defeat into victory, or at least so needed temporary relief.

You need to slow down. You tell the crow, you tell the lady walking her bike who thinks already that you are crazy or hallucinating, a sunstroke victim or a fanatic, or both. You need to slow down to go faster. You don’t need speed, not now, you need constant velocity, and fuel. You slow down, not enough to bring the heartbeat down below the threshold. That’s OK, that’s all you can do, keep it as slow as you can, and keep moving, power through the next turn, it gets just a little steeper, but don’t overdo it.

Then the last turn is there, you see the green of the valley beyond, it’s rolling hills to the next stop, just a quick one to fill your bottles, to put your head under the faucet if you’re lucky and there is one. But there is so much more than fresh water in you now. You were dead , and now you are reborn. You were lost and forlorn, and now you are in love with life. You were almost defeated, but you triumphed. It’s Eros and Thanatos the cycle of life and death just within every determined individual’s grasp.

And soon enough you’ll dart towards the bottom of the valley, hugging the turns, the landscape merging into one green blur.

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