Pretend it is evening – about 6:15 – and you’ve just returned home from work. The day was not long or hard or more troublesome than usual in any way, but you just want to ride your bike. Business makes you get all wound up inside like a rubber band motor on one of those old toy planes made of thin balsa wood – it just keeps cranking and cranking and never lets up. Nothing, you recall from experience, can turn that energy into something positive like a hard 25-miler just shy of sundown.
As you know, the sky starts getting dark around and the clouds turn purple at 7:15, everything is dark by 7:30, and you’d better have head and tail lights if you’re still out there riding at 7:45. But 7 o’clock – a half hour before darkness – is nothing. It’s still the height of day, practically. No reason to fret as long as you’re within 25 minutes from where you’re going, right?
Wrong. Not this evening. It was a cloudy, look-like-it-was going-to-rain-all-day-but-never-actually-did kind of day. They call these days “overcast” on the Weather Channel, and you’d best believe it’s going to get a dark much earlier than if it were clear.
Me, I’ve always believed it gets darker when its overcast, but the trouble with tonight was that I forgot this elementary fact. It took a back seat in the “what I should watch out for” vehicle, known as my mind, to a concern over rain. Leaving the house, I thought, “Gee, hope it doesn’t rain,” planned on getting home by 7:40, and took off. Down to Wrightsville Beach I went to ride some sprints from one end of the island to the other. As long as I left the place by 7:15, I would be good to go.
That’s the trouble with the trouble you run into when your mind only has the “freight capacity” to worry about one thing. I wore my sunglasses the whole time I was riding sprints, so I did not notice the sun light rapidly escaping the day. When I took them off while stopping for some water, I was shocked and concerned: it was nearly dark and I had no headlight or taillight, a good 20 minutes of hard riding from home. At least it didn’t look like it was going to rain.
My theory on the light was wrong. I hadn’t even made it off the island before cars started nearly plowing me over on the shoulder of the road. Reflectors only work once it’s too late that time of day – I imagined a truck/tyrannosaurus sending me off the road and into the brush, the driver only seeing the wimpy reflectors on my wheels’ spokes spinning around as he returned to look for signs of life at the crash site. My mangled bike would be laying somewhere in a patch of weeds just off the side of the road, cluttered with fast food drink cups, beer cans and hypodermic needles, my lifeless body somewhere amidst the debris. It was an anxious time for me … as I saw the light from every approaching vehicle, I wondered if the driver saw the puny red circle below my seat – the reflector – and if it would alarm him there was a 170-pound guy riding a bicycle light enough for a toddler to pick up and cause him to move over. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little scary.
Then, as if the conditions for riding a bicycle weren’t opposite-of-fucking-splendid enough, it starts to rain when I’m about 2 and a half miles from my place. Not a little bit – like a little spring-time shower to rinse some of the sweat and dirt off my face and arms – but a lot. I’m talking a torrential downpour here. Remember, too, that it’s pitch black out. It occurred to me how difficult it is to see the road when I’m driving and it’s like that … and then thought how perfectly screwed I would be if any of the passing motorists were intoxicated. I pressed on, for there was nothing else that I could do. I could only lighten the longevity of the trip by pressing harder, and I did.
Eventually I came to the stop light to cross College Road – one of the two “main roads” of Wilmington. By then it was pitch black, pouring, and not warm. People in the lanes next to me at the intersection just stared over, pretty sure that it was mental issues and not a D.U.I.-soaked driving history that had sentenced the guy three feet from their cozy car to a bicycle. I just stood there, straddling the glistening yellow frame. I put my hands on my hips to look like a statue, unaffected by the rain. I felt amazing.
I rode the rest of the way home with a huge smile on my face; the 1.5 hour long potentially near-death experience, otherwise known as tonight’s ride, had given me the proof of life I was looking for last night. I was correct when I guessed what I guessed 18 hours ago – I just needed to step out of my comfort zone and remind myself I was full of life. I seemed to have done that tonight and now I am better. I am alive!