September 28, 2006


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.


Anonymous said...

You are so right. This is my second year of commuting. Although each season has it's appeal, I am really excited about fall. The cooler weather makes the too strong coffee and quickbread, at the end of the morning ride, all the sweeter.

Steve Mohr said...

OH YEAH!love the change to fall. after the beastly heat/humidity, the salty sweat dribbling in my eyes, pouring from my whole body --- fall delivers the spice without the heat. I can ride hard and comfortably. it's easier to get warm than to cool off. but there is something inexpicable about fall. it is more than relief from the heat. it's more than a time-marker. you tell it well, dude.