Dawn. That ethereal state of awakening when the earth is bathed in a bluish-green glow which sneaks through the curtains to land on my sleepy eyes. That time just before day-break when the roosters begin to echo their calls through the countryside and the birds chip curiously as if they, like me, aren’t quite sure if they want to be awake yet. It’s this time of morning when I have a stern conversation with myself…
Brain: “Wakey, wakey!”
Self: “I’m comfy and the bed is cozy, stop bugging me.”
Brain: “It’s almost dawn and you know it’ll be hot soon! Get up if you want to ride.”
Self: “Oh… but I’m comfy.”
Brain: “You could lay here, but you’ll be sorry later…”
Self: “Right. Ok. FINE. I’m getting up.”
Sleepily, I stagger out of bed and throw back the curtains and allow the twilight glow of dawn to fill the room. Pulling on some shorts (so I don’t shock the neighbors), I open the heavy wooden door to the porch and wander outside. It’s nice to feel the morning on my skin before I do anything else. Almost as if to say “Hi” to the earth first. There’s nothing quite like greeting the day in person. It’s almost better than coffee.
While I go about my morning routine the sun pops over the trees, highlights the mist that still hangs in the valleys, and shimmers on the millions of spider webs between the grasses that have somehow sprung up overnight. Very busy, those spiders. Fed, hydrated, cleaned, sunscreen on, kit on, food stashed, bottles prepared, helmet, gloves, sunglasses, shoes, and air in the tires – those same tires are set down on pavement around forty minutes after I had that grumpy conversation with Self. Somewhere in all that I decided where I wanted to ride. All roads leave from my front door here. It’s just a matter of which direction I want to go.
Today is Climbing Day.
The click of cleats engaging the pedals, the first hum of tires on pavement, and the soft swish of the chain is heard by no one in particular as I roll out. Not yet sweaty and not yet warmed up I focus on a slow pedaling rhythm as I cross the bridge on the edge of my tiny town and climb. Climbing starts immediately so I set my gaze out across the yellow-tinted softly lit fields and breathe in the early morning. The first few full lungful’s of coolish air complete my awakening.
It’s a good day to be alive.
Cows watch me curiously, slowly blinking as I pedal past. I blink back as I warm up to the second hill and the third. I haven’t met a car yet. I haven’t really thought about it. It’s quiet with only the birds chirping and the cows grazing. A hawk is startled from its perch as I go past. It looks at me sideways as it slowly flaps overhead. I notice how pretty the clouds are and smile. The initial longer climb greets me familiarly and I settle into my hill-training goal of the day. I concentrate on my breathing, the rhythm of the legs. Not too fast, not too hard, sit back, breathe evenly, focus right in front of you, feel the air, feel your sit-bones supporting you as you climb. There is nothing else. Just your breath, just the climb.
Heartrate steady I reach the top and happily push on without needing to recover. That is my goal: endurance. Climbing in control of my heartrate. It takes concentration. Enormous amounts of it when I get tired or distracted, but climbing this way means I can ride all day long.
… And I sometimes do.
I’m happy. My heart is singing inside as I turn and “Wheeeee” down a little decent. Shifting into the large chain ring – the legs make the most out of the higher gear. Then… I get to practice climbing out of the saddle. Just a little, not too much yet. It’s still early and there are many, many more miles to go. It’s only a little bump and I’m too lazy to shift down. I admire the view. Every climb has a view. Most make you wish you could take pictures with your eyes and send them to everyone.
Rolling green hills, a big blue sky that goes on forever, and huge puffy white clouds that are thankfully providing welcome shade this morning. Twenty miles tick by quickly as wheels hum over pavement – up hills, down, and back up again. I’m keeping in my zone and sticking to my goal. This ride isn’t about fast. Fast will come with practice in this style. I’m climbing not quite as quickly as I could if I ‘sprinted’ the hill (as my norm), but I’m climbing more efficiently. I am gaining strength and endurance.
These are my content thoughts as I strip off my embarrassingly sweaty gloves at the country store. Sweat splashes onto the pavement, wrung from the same gloves. A couple of Harleys are pulled up in front. One of the Bikers eyes my gloves and says to me: “Nice day, don’t expire out there, now”. We exchange a few pleasantries about the heat and which roads are nice to ride. I walk inside – into the freezer. It feels good, but not for long. Just long enough to grab some fluids. Face wiped, sunglasses cleaned, a few gels, and water bottles filled I click into my pedals and spin away. More climbing, more views, more concentration.
I know every road, every pebble, every crack, and the exact line to take on that bumpy decent after the hardest climb of the day. It never gets old. At least; not on mornings like this. I am grateful. I am grateful that I can be active. I am grateful to have a bike to ride, good food to eat, and a nice bed to sleep in. It’s the little things that we forget to be thankful for… I silently thank every single cloud that hovers above and shelters me from the sun that hasn’t quite gotten worked up to a good burn yet. It’s still early. The summertime is the only time I pray for clouds and I’m thankful for a stiff breeze.
The miles roll by and the hills arch their backs up to meet my wheels like a cat – anxious to be petted.
I’m less sweaty now and the air is getting hot. My internal clock is telling me that the sun is working up to the ‘Burn’ and it’s time to go home. I rest a minute in the shade. I can see the air dancing above the pavement as I rub out the sting from the bottom of my feet. My legs tell me I can do many miles more, my stomach wants a popsicle, and my feet want to go home.
I head home.
I can count them exactly. Precisely two hills between me, my front porch, and a cold popsicle. A car drives slowly by as if the owner is concerned that a lone crazed cyclist might not make it into town. I smile as the last few miles march grimly by, faster than before. I’m like a horse that has been pointed towards the barn, the closer I get, the faster I go. There’s no shade now although it’s over an hour before noon. It’s summer time in Texas – even the clouds have given up and scampered away. The sun has turned into a laser beam on the very last hill as I focus on my goal, sit up, and concentrate on breathing … and a popsicle.