Jonathan broke the peloton coming between Quincey and myself. Jonathan was a formidable rider. He was a burly, roaring, roistering bear of a man, with enviable feats of cycling strength and hardihood. He was broad-shouldered with short curly black hair; his countenance mingled an air of fierce determination and passion. From his ursine frame and great powers of leg, he was famed (at least to us) for great cycling skill, being as dexterous as a downtown bike courier with a deadline. Front rider for all our rides, he pulled us in wind, rain, sleet and soon to be darkness with the ascendency his bodily strength acquired from many rides and many hours in the saddle. Breaking not a stride, he broke the silence: “Hey, I propose that we sprint to the top of all the hills!”He yelled, but not loudly. “To make it worthwhile, if you can beat me, I will buy dinner after the ride.”
Always up for a challenge, Quincey responded, with a hungry hardy affirmative, “Ya, but what kind of dinner are you proposing?” Quincey the schoolmaster among us was a considered congenial gentleman cyclist; a man of letters, a man of the bike, he was no slow poke plodder like me. He kept a little something sweet in his jersey pockets, and delighted in telling anecdotes of portentous sights and sounds from his breadth of books. He was superior and elegance in dress. His jersey never clashed with the colors of his bike. With long sinewy legs, his appearance was reminiscent of a gazelle ready to bolt by even the slightest inclining of a challenge. His garments fluttered in the air, as he stretched his long lanky body away over his handle bars in the eagerness of his flight up the first hill. I struggled to keep up with the conversation and with the pace.
The first hill was a dead draw. When we got to the top, Jonathan slowed, allowing our heart rates to normalize as the road subsided into a beautiful expanse of country side. Bathed in the shifting shadows of daylight, the valley was a velvety blackness. The chiaroscuro, the mere beauty of light seemed to cheer me, providing peace and comfort with every belabored breath. Looking on the horizon, where sunbeams slept so quietly, so demure, I could not help but think at least the dead would rest in sleep. The second and third hill provided no respite. Jonathan was clearly in the lead with Quincey close; myself further adrift and further lagging behind. Not despairing, nor fearful of the spreading distance and impending darkness, I could see them ahead on the other side of a bridge. Hanging over the bridge were thick shaded trees when approaching gave the sensation of entering into a dark room, of drifting into a dark doom. The trees captured the little warmth of the sinking sun in the shadowy shade. Quincey and Jonathan were now out of sight.
Without turning around, they had flown away. Estranged by the road, sequestered by fatigue, isolated in a tunnel of trees, I shrieked out a hardy surrender, but heard no reply, nor saw no colorful jersey. The road had split: up went one, the other lain flat. I took the hill knowing the bet was still on, and the darkness was descending. My failing legs disoriented my brain. A temporary panic had set doubtlessness down hard. The sound of a cyclist behind me tempered my distraught. His breathing hard and labored above the din of my own heart was a welcome sound, a cold reprieve from my own body’s heat.