April 1, 2002

"I'll be back in an hour," David says, wiping a tear off my sunburned nose. "Then we'll go out to lunch to celebrate, OK?"

Frankly, I'm not sure what we have to 'celebrate' ... me being the world's biggest, crankiest, most ridiculously hormonal bad sport, maybe? ...  but I nod in wordless agreement. 

He digs a handful of crumpled dollar bills out of the bike bag and puts them in my hand. "This is in case you want to ride around town and get a coffee or something while I'm gone," he says.

"I'm not going anywhere," I sniff. And to prove my point, I plop myself down on the park bench and fold my arms across my chest, like a reprimanded eight-year-old. My bike is laying on the grass at my feet: I've had enough riding for one afternoon, thankyouverymuch. 

David kisses the top of my head -- "OK," he says, "I'll pick you up right here" -- and then he shoots off down Main Street and disappears around the corner. As I watch him riding off, I'm struggling to swallow a lump in my throat the size of a spiral-cut Easter ham.

For the first time in my year-long riding *career,* I am crapping out on a ride.

Or I'm crapping out on HALF the ride, anyway. I made it through the first half: an arduous seven-and-a-half mile endurance test, from Crockett to Martinez, riding along the Carquinez Trail. The Carquinez Trail is a long, winding section of road running parallel to the Carquinez Straits. The road was washed out by a landslide in 1982, but is still accessible to cyclists, joggers, ground squirrels (and from the looks of things the occasional teen beer party). David has been talking about this ride for weeks. He hadn't ridden the Carquinez Trail in nearly fifteen years, but he remembers it fondly. 

"You'll love it!" he said last week, pointing it out for me on the map. "The views are incredible." 

Warning bells went off in my head when I heard that. In order to enjoy an 'incredible view,' one generally must first climb a HILL. But he guaranteed me that these hills weren't anything insurmountable.

"I think you're ready for it," he said encouragingly.

And at first everything was fine. Everything was great, as a matter of fact. It was a gorgeous spring morning: the sun was shining, the birds were singing, the wildflowers were in full bloom. I was wearing my Spandex riding pants and my spiffy new cycling jersey (special-ordered directly off the Team Estrogen website). For the first time ever, I felt like I actually looked like a cyclist. I had a groovy new bike, the world's greatest riding partner/coach/husband, and a full tank of emotional gas. I was rested. I was relaxed. I was rarin' to go.

And then I got on my bike.

I don't know whether David had underestimated the difficulty of the trail or whether he had OVER-estimated my technical ability. (Or whether his memory is simply beginning to fray a little around the edges, like his hairline.) But I knew immediately that I was in trouble. The "not insurmountable" uphills he'd described so offhandedly weren't mere hills. These were MOUNTAINS.  These were Ascents From Hell, one right after another after another after another.  

These were the fudking CALIFORNIA ALPS.

"I hate this," I gasped. As a matter of fact, I probably gasped it more than once. By the time I'd pushed my bike to the top of the 43,897,621st 'vertical challenge' in a row, I was exhausted, sunburned, sticky with sweat, mad as hell ... 

...  and spoiling for a fight.

Jaunty/Show-Offy Cyclist Guy Whizzing Past Us Uphill At 800 mph: "Good morning!"
David: "Good morning."
Secra: "Fudk you."

The downhills were just as bad, in their own way, as the uphills. I'm not comfortable enough yet with the new bike to just open it up and let 'er rip: the combination of skittish tires/mottled road surface/tentative rider had me clutching the brakes for dear life, all the way down. It made for a nerve-wracking ride. Plus every time we hit another long steep downhill, I found myself thinking When we come back, this one is gonna be UPHILL. I started counting the descents, trying to figure out just how bad the return trip would be. By the time I'd counted eleven potential return-trip ascents-from-hell, I knew that I was going to have to bail.

"I'm not riding back," I said flatly, once we reached the final summit overlooking Martinez. And I promptly burst into tears.

A lesser man (see: anyone I dated/lived with/married/had a flaming extramarital affair with, between the years of 1973 and 1998) probably would have seized this opportunity to ridicule me for being such an unspeakable weenie, or to berate me for dragging them out into the middle of nowhere for nothing, or to remind me what a complete waste of *time and attention molecules* I am. Instead, David simply said "I'm sorry: I think maybe I bit off more than we can chew." And he led me down that last bumpy incline into the town of Martinez  ... located a safe comfortable place for me to wait: in this case, a sunny open courtyard in the middle of town ...

... and then set off to ride the eight miles back to the car.

My own personal knight in shining Spandex.

After he rides away, I sit there on the bench for a moment, wondering how I'm going to kill an hour until he gets back with the car. I always carry a notebook and a pen in my bike bag: maybe I can scribble a few notes for a *FootNotes* entry. I reach down to unzip the bag ... and then I remember: I don't HAVE the bike bag anymore. It doesn't fit on the handlebars of the groovy new bike, so we've moved it to David's trusty old Cannondale. This means he's got the pen and notebook with him. (This means he also has the cell phone, the digital camera, my emergency tampon stash AND the other half of that Power Bar with him. Damn.) With nothing better to do, I decide to settle in and indulge in some recreational people-watching. I watch tourists strolling along the sidewalk, peering into the windows of the antique shops. I watch the construction workers on the next block as they build the new Starbucks. I watch cranky locals, kicking and swearing at the broken ATM machine across the street from the park. 

After a while I start to feel uncomfortably warm again, so I peel off the buttercup yellow windbreaker and turn around to face the sun. Maybe I can at least work on my sunburn while I wait. I close my eyes and doze a little, listening to bees droning in the azalea bushes ... listening to a car radio in the distance ... listening to the construction workers shouting affable obscenities at each other. ("Yeah? Well fudk you too, ya big fudkhead!") While I doze, I enjoy a vivid half-dream about my great-grandmother's orchard. In the dream, cherry blossoms are raining down on my head, while my little brother pulls me through the trees in a rusty red wagon.

After what feels like a slow, sleepy, delicious eternity, I wake from my nap and check my watch.

Exactly four minutes have elapsed since David rode away.

"This is stoopid," I mutter. Why am I sitting here on this park bench, doing absolutely nothing, when there is a charming little town in front of me, waiting to be explored? If nothing else, maybe I can find a 7-11 and buy myself a newspaper and a cold Pepsi. I strap on my helmet, pick my bike up off the ground and march resolutely down Main Street, pushing the Trek by the handlebars.

I quickly discover that Martinez is long on antique shops, liquor stores and ethnic cuisine ... but mysteriously short on convenience stores. There isn't a 7-11 or an AM PM or a Quik-E-Mart within a four-block radius of Main Street. I momentarily consider ducking into one of the liquor stores to buy a newspaper -- I can see a rack of soft-core porn, next to the checkout stand: I figure they must have newspapers in there somewhere -- but there is a young man lingering in the doorway, smoking a cigarette. He looks at me, standing there in my silly bike clothes and my Tootsie Pop red helmet, and the expression in his eyes is dark and unreadable. I keep walking.

Eventually I climb onto my bike and begin to ride the outer perimeter of town, in ever-widening circles. There is no traffic to speak of: just the occasional pick-up truck or ancient Plymouth Valiant. There isn't much to look at, either. It's mostly warehouses and storage facilities and row after row of squat brown houses. I'm about to turn around and head back to Main Street -- and to my lonely vigil on the park bench -- when I catch sight of something that fills my heart with joy.

A convenience store!

By the time David finally returns with the car, a little over an hour later, my good humor has been mostly restored. I hear the toot toot of the Subaru just as I'm finishing the last of my soda. Smiling, I fold up the newspaper and walk my bike across the street to meet him, where we embrace like lovers separated by war (instead of a couple of middle-aged married people separated by sixty minutes).

"I can't believe you rode all the way back to get the car," I say, feeling humbled. "Thank you."

"I was glad to do it," he says, loading my bike into the back of the Subaru. And I have no doubt that he means it. There is a definite air of sweaty masculine jubilation about him. Although he would never admit this in a bazillion years, I'm sure that he secretly enjoyed tearing across those hills without a tired, crabby wife slowing him down. It must have been like reliving the glory days of his youth.

Over scallops and deep-fried zucchini at The Dead Fish, I apologize for my stoopid behavior earlier. 

"I'm hormonal," I say: the handy-dandy/all-purpose/no-fail excuse for the inexecusable. 

David says that I have nothing to apologize for. "Hey," he says, "you rode all the way from Crockett to Martinez. That is no minor accomplishment." 

I'm not at all sure I agree. Between pushing my bike uphill -- and rolling it downhill -- it doesn't feel like I "rode" much at all.

"But this is nice," I say, looking around the restaurant. Our window table provides us with a striking view of the Carquinez Straits below. "At least the day hasn't been a total waste."

"Hey," he says, shrugging. "You can always rescue the day."

You can always rescue the day. Can you believe he actually says stuff like this? I've lived with the man for almost four years and *I* still can't believe it, sometimes. It's like living with Eek The Cat. The funny thing is that all of his sunny, unflagging optimism rubs off on you, after a while. I think it's some sort of marital osmosis process or something. If you live with a cigar smoker, eventually you start to smell like cigar smoke. If you live with a Ukranian folk singer, eventually you develop a fondness for Ukranian folk songs.

If you live with an incurable optimist, eventually you ... well. YOU get the point.

"I think we should ride again tomorrow," I say, out of the blue ... surprising us both, I think. Usually after one of these Disaster Rides, I must be gently coaxed back onto the bike.  Sometimes it takes days  ...  or weeks.  But right now I'm thinking that the only way I'm going to get better at the uphills (or even the downhills) is to keep practicing. 

And practicing. And practicing.

As long as my knight in shining Spandex is close at hand, that is. Just in case I ever need rescuing again.

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