Saturday afternoon I pulled on my tights and arm warmers and all sorts of other layers that would keep me warm on such a frigid day. As I got dressed, my nerves bounced around like rubber bands being fired in my stomach, plinking off the insides of my ribcage.
It was the day of my first bike ride of the year.
I love riding The Rocket, but there is just something about the first ride of the year that makes me all a jitter. Maybe it’s that a new cycling season is so ripe with possibility. Or maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t ridden outside in a couple of months and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to clip in and out of my pedals and I’m convinced I’m going to crash. At least once. Yeah, that’s probably it.
The night before, I pumped up my tires and took a minute to get re-acquainted with The Rocket. I checked her brakes, shifted and listened for any new squeaks. After a couple of neglected months, she had good reason to whine, but no, she is a bike who holds her tongue, a lady who thinks before she speaks.
I gave her the once over, eyeing the little chips and scratches on her frame, each one a battle scar, proof that we have been places, that we’ve seen the world together. I ran my hands over her, making sure all her parts were in working order. She was in prime condition.
Saturday was frigid. I think at one point the temperature got up to a balmy 39 degrees. My friend, Laura, and I cruised down to the river trail. We chatted and pedaled, our breath puffing around us as we rode on the mostly empty trail. There are a ton of newly paved sections and I was excited to try out a nice, steady climb.
We turned onto the new part of the trail and a creek to our left burbled down toward the river as we pushed up the hill. We were quiet, only a word or two popping between us. I’d like to say our conversation lulled because we wanted to enjoy the sounds of nature, but the truth of the matter is after a couple of months off the bike, I had to choose between talking and breathing.
One of the best parts of cycling is that I never know what I’m going to see, every ride is a surprise. And as we turned a corner, there it was.
A beautiful, old, red boat.
You might not think it’s beautiful, but on a day when the sky was a gunmetal swath above the gray river, and the air was wrapped in fog, the red boat was a stunning punch of color in an otherwise subdued landscape. I yanked off my gloves and willed my frozen fingers to work the camera.
A boat, a beautiful, red boat. In the prime of its life, it could have held 30 men, maybe carried them down the creek into the river. And here it was landlocked on the side of the trail. I wish I knew the story of the boat, but there wasn’t anything or anyone around to offer an explanation. I slipped my gloves back on and tucked my camera in my jersey pocket. I thought about that boat for the rest of the ride, inventing a history for it, keeping my mind busy while my legs turned the cranks.
The temperature dropped and a drizzle covered my glasses in a sheet of mist. We hurried back to our cars, willing our legs to spin faster as our fingers and toes ached with cold.
Back at home, I stood in the shower, letting the scalding hot water needle my skin. I piled on layers of clothes and slurped hot tomato soup under a blanket, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the cold from my bones, couldn’t keep the goosebumps at bay.
I like to think the goosebumps on my skin that day weren’t a result of winter’s icy grip. No, I think they were the result of standing tiptoe on the edge of a new cycling season, holding my breath knowing adventures full of unexpected beauty are just around the corner.