With three layers between me and the elements I part the rainy air, leaving nothing but a thin line of raised water and a ghostly balloon of mist behind me in the twilight. Only a dot on suburbia’s landscape, I carve my own tiny bubble of utopia – I might be in Olathe, but in my minds-eye I’m on a secluded rural byway outside Nausthaugen. It’s late September, and my sleeves are long.
Mallard ducks – about seven of them, huddled on the waters surface near the pier of a small wooden bridge that crosses over Indian Creek. I don’t even know exactly where I am, in relation to the world around me – which I’m sure is only ¼ mile away in any direction – here, I am alone with nature. There is a rustling, a breeze, a few raindrops fall. This ½ second slice of time, as loose boards rattle and shake under my tires, seems to last an hour – but it’s come and gone in the blink of an eye as I whisk along the trail towards home. The familiar, but long absent, crunch of fallen leaves underneath rubber – the occasional buzz of a twig flung through my fenders – the scurry of busy squirrels gathering for the months to come. This magical couple of weeks cannot be missed if you ride a bicycle.
This is the BEST time of year to be a rider. Gone are the oppressively hot days of summer, but the real cold weather has yet to arrive. The harsh, burning sunshine of August yields to a comforting blanket of thick stratus and a cozy grayish-blue hue. The final songs of birds in the trees are in perfect concert with flapping nylon vests and the gentle hum of a freshly oiled drive-train. The song of a north wind, not stinging quite yet but definitely awakening, whistling past spokes and cables – maybe pushing you along if you’re lucky – is comforting, cooling, and commanding all at once. Only recently too hot to wear at all, rain jackets finally have a chance to stretch again over wool warmers as the skies let loose and wet the ground and clean the air of summer’s stagnant pollutants. It’s a crispness that I can taste – slicing through the air, a lick of salt from my moustache and the taste of clean rain that chases it. I can’t help but smile. Some find misery here, and hang up the bike – I find my roots, my heritage, my bliss – all on these hard fall days. It’s time to let the beard grow, and pull the socks high.
Gone are the “goals” – well, nearly – but even the one, large goal that’s left is seldom thought of. The training is done, and now all I can do it count the days until I head south for another challenge. I have to remind myself that it’s coming – but I’m so occupied with other things that it hardly seems real. It’s a good attitude to take, considering how I’ve handled things in the past. It’s nothing to panic about – so I refuse to. I can’t wait for it to be here, but I don’t find myself looking for a change of scenery with all that surrounds me on such trivial rides as my commute home. Instead of focusing only on the heat and the misery of fresh blacktop, I now enjoy and look forward to the rides home – the daily grind has become something more than utilitarian. Late spring, and early fall alike – these are the days of the bicyclist.
These are my days – not even traffic can spoil them.
As the season wraps up for some, I look forward to the harsher days to come – the promise of hot drinks and soup at their ends. A fireplace, a wool throw, and a good book about cycling through interior China, perhaps. Tiny icicles tangled in the long hairs of my beard, and bites of cold pastries on a cold morning twenty-miler. AHH! I shudder not from the coming cold, but from the thrill of transition into another gorgeous fall season. Give me a big saddlebag to dig through to find that extra layer. Give me an all-night café to serve up hot griddlecakes and coffee on a freezing morning. Give me a road and a gentle grey sky, and I will ride.