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Autumn

September 21, 2011

Today’s Ride: 104km—Jerseyville Rd., back along Governor’s, then out to Rattlesnake Point

Weather: Sunny, warm

Michael Barry’s Le Métier is divided into four chapters, each representing a season. “Autumn,” the final chapter of the year, begins with the solitary rider climbing in the Pyrenees. Barry describes the experience:

Alone as I near the Pyrenean peak, I feel fast. The only person that I race against is myself, and the ghosts that I create. I throttle towards the summit, accelerating hard out of the tight switchbacks and glancing at the road ahead while focusing on the peak above. The kilometer markers posted at the roadside seem to come every couple of minutes. I don’t need to look at my powermeter to know I am fit. The data it stores will be all that records my effort. With nobody to judge me or compete against me, and no spectators to witness the effort, this is a solitary experience race I create.

Which fits my feeling at this time of year. The hard work in building fitness is done and the riding is that little more pleasurable. Also, the confidence that one can ride well and hard. Today, I rode well. Especially up. I joined a couple of colleagues for another assault on Rattlesnake Point, this time up Bell School Line, which I tackled last week. To accommodate a later departure (from Domestique), I set out in the opposite direction for an hour’s light spin up the rolling hills of Jerseyville Rd. I got back to Domestique about forty minutes before our meeting time, and settled into an espresso, biscotti, and Barry’s final chapter on the front porch as the sun started to get to work, providing heat as the time rolled by. This is the life. Mrs. Velonista, on her break from work, wandered by and stopped for a chat and graciously took my arm and leg warmers; I was grateful for them during the first, short ride, but they would definitely be overkill as the day warmed up. Summer’s last gasp.

Colleagues arrived and we were off. We settled into a fairly lazy pace, chatting—talking tires and tubes—as we approached Snake Rd. By the top, our pace had picked up and we had established a good but comfortable speed. We made a somewhat inchoate paceline along Walker’s, then dove down No. 4 Sideroad. The pace slackened as we turned onto Bell School Line, perhaps conserving a bit of energy for the climb on the other side of Derry Rd. The climb itself, the two steep pitches, weren’t as intimidating this time. I was over the first quite easily and had time to take in a bit of oxygen, but the road turned upwards again. Again, as I had with the first ramp, I stepped out of the saddle and willed my way to the top. In those brief moments of exertion, the world stops, and all sensations concentrate on the burn in the legs and the pressure on the lungs. Sound is irrelevant; I don’t hear anything. Vision is limited; peripheral light and motion don’t register. The climb, the exertion exists only in the moment. My recollection of this kind of riding is always limited. I remember spots on the side of the road that serve as landmarks, or the bulges in the cement—one of which I veered left to avoid, the second to the right—but otherwise the sensations focus on willing me to the top. I didn’t relent. I didn’t sit down. Lungs bursting and searing heat in my legs. Probably a bit of a snarled grimace—pained but determined—on my face. No Pyrenean peak, this. But today: my own Waterloo. Bell School Line is very straight. It makes the climb both easy and hard. Easy, because you can the top from the outset; hard because the second pitch is mighty steep.

At the top, we regathered ourselves and rode across the top of this jutting portion of the escarpment, before descending and heading for home along Limestone Rd. We set a ferocious pace along Guelph Line, and I came to the front for a hard pull. Hands firmly clamped on the drops and legs pushing a heavy gear. In these moments, I can feel the ride in my quads and hear the wind screaming in my ears. It’s hard to maintain this kind of pace riding solo, but with companions, one is almost galled into riding harder for longer. Just when you might be inclined to sit up on your own, colleagues become hellhounds and one finds the will and (just maybe) the strength to carry on for another minute, maybe two or three. And then recover at the back of the line.

As I said, it was a good day. Any day on the bike is a good one, but especially so when the sensations and the performance come together. I didn’t ride beyond myself today, but it was the kind of ride that suggested the work over the summer—and the consistent riding—wasn’t all for nought. Good day.

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