Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Wind, the Rain, the Cold and the Road. The Rider and the Machine.

So the Wind whistled and the Rain smattered and the Cold morning frosted and all of it, a whisper under a roof, said, "Stay. Stay in bed where it's warm and comfortable. It's been a busy week at work. You have a race next weekend. You're certainly no lesser for staying in this one day. Really. You could use the rest."

Then he rolled over, lulled by the sweetness of the sounds, and agreed with the dark clouds and the whipping branches that this was, indeed, a day for rest and nothing more.

But in an instant the Rider within him awoke, angry with the laziness and determined against the atmosphere. This is no day for rest. Rest is earned, and not easily purchased.

He dressed in layers, digging out the winter clothes he'd weeks since put away. To protect him from the Cold; not even 50 degrees outside. From the Wind and of course the Rain. Tantamount to armor. For this day meant him battle.

He went downstairs, approaching the sleek Machine. Chrome and Titanium and Carbon and Steel, but not Iron. "Today?" It asked, unsure, looking outside. "Today." The Rider affirmed.

The garage door opened the world unto them, wet and dreary and blistering. Surprised to see him, the Wind chased away to find the Rain. They returned together in force, slapping the Rider with a million needles across the face. "Go away." It said, a little cautiously. The Rider said nothing, and prepared for the day.

Four and a half hours, the day's intended journey. He covered the first 15 miles steadily, but with effort. The Wind tested his resolve now and again. The Rain simply swept along, incredulous and disbelieving, biding its time and saving its energy. Constant and Cold. The Road grew ever saturated, slick and black. He wiped away his glasses from time to time. Refueled as required.

He arrived some 20 miles in, just over an hour, to the first town. "Well done!" the Wind sneered. "Now certainly you can go home. 40 miles round trip on a day like today? Well done indeed." But the Rider didn't turn around. He turned west, and the sky collected itself into a new kind of darkness. The Rain swirled in irritation. The Wind no longer hid its malice and said, "So be it." Then abruptly went quiet.

He rode easily, and suddenly the Wind returned, but at his back. The Rider flew on its wing. The Rain less harsh now, not flying into him. The Road still wet, and still the Cold. He wiggled his fingers to bring back warmth. Even with his armor, the Rider was soaked absolutely. Still, he rode, and with new intensity. For the Wind, he knew, was no ally this day, and was not to be trusted.

Ten miles more. Past the creek where last week a father and son fished off the bridge; abandoned today to the Rain and Cold. Past the haunted house of last week's turnaround, when the day was sunny and lovely and the Elements in better spirits. Fifteen miles, into a new county. Unexplored territory, this; the Rider had never journeyed this far. Soon the traffic increased, houses multiplied, and the sprawl in the distance approached him until he was in Princeton, some forty miles into the ride now. Around him the Drivers watched, most shaking their heads, for a day like this was for warmth and comfort.

Finally, two and a quarter hours in, the Rider turned around as planned, setting sights for home.

And the darkening sky exploded, the Wind shrieked from its temporary retreat, the Cold intensified, and the Rider rode into it all.

The Wind blew twice as hard now as it did two and a half hours since he set out. Directly into him, pressing him, crushing him. Constant at some 17, 18, 20mph in his face. Gusting at 25, 28, 30mph. The Rider slid the Machine into its easiest gear, and still could only just turn the cranks. Fists of Rain were thrown into him, shocking him. Wet and cold, the Rider could only just press on. "Turn. Around." The wind shook, furious. No longer pleasant, no longer amused. "Go back to the city, make a phone call, and be thankful you made it this far." When the Rider did not stop it pelted him harder. He was, for all his effort, very nearly standing still. A Ghost on a Machine through grey mist, on a day when the sky touched the world.

The Rider, finally, was stopped. He found shelter under a tree, took in some fuel, and rested to collect his thoughts and energy. The Wind found this hysterical and taunted him with the waving branches. The Rain wanted only to punish him, and somehow fell even harder. The Cold stayed like an unwelcome guest with nothing to add but its miserable presence. The Road stretched cold and slick ahead before, disappearing into the gloom, covered in puddles and grime and potholes.

At last, the Rider refooted the Machine, and slowly began to push its gears. "You will not beat me." He said aloud, so they could all hear him. For men are not easily made of Iron, and these are the days in which the fires for forging are stoked.

The Wind hurled at him, but he ducked low to cheat it. The Rain smacked his face again and again and again, but he did not flinch from it. With the increased effort, the churning gears turned the wheels which finally moved the heavy Earth beneath them, and the Road, though resistant, gave way to be so deliberately reeled in. Atlas, the world unshouldered, now carried it beneath him, and the Rider rode on. A mile where usually three are achieved. The Rain moved to target the Machine, greasing its gears and cogs. The Road joined in the assault, throwing grime and mud into the delicate system. The Machine coughed and sputtered and slipped and missed, but Ol' Blue is true, and though hobbled, would not falter.

Slowly but steadily he collected yellow lines on the Road until they made up miles. The Elements howled in anger, in defiance, in jealousy, in madness. "You will not beat me," the Rider continued, and rode on and on and on. He approached from the opposite side the haunted house, where Ghosts peered out and stalked him, screaming and cackling in support of the Elements. Grinding so slowly up hills. Pedaling on descents, for any coasting today brought Rider and Machine to a standstill. Finally crossing the bridge where, to the Rider's surprise, father and son had returned to defy the Elements themselves. Cloaked and mysterious in their own armor, their faces and forms hidden. Yet here they were, after all, for some simple fishing into a creek on a day made for storms, and the Rider found some brightness in their presence, choosing to see some metaphysical possibility that perhaps under their hoods this was a Father and Son he might once have recognized. Perhaps it was some small cosmic bit of encouragement whispering with a voice ten years unheard, "Go on son. Be loose, be cool, and get it done."

Sixty miles in at last, and twenty miles from home. Turning South now, and the eastern Wind screamed its final furies at his face and now worked to push him over. He was back in the first town, now the last. Suddenly the Rain all but stopped, and the Wind all but calmed. The Machine breathed, "It is over?" The Rider answered, "I think it's a trick."

And just then the Road bit at the Machine, and in surprise, Ol' Blue let out a POP and a gasp. It happened five easily walked blocks from a friend's house. The Rider dismounted and pulled over to examine the damage to the deflated rear tire. The Wind approached, calmly, to negotiate.

"Listen. Sixty miles on a day like today is nothing short of remarkable. You've been a worthy adversary, but it's not worth it. We chose this moment to make this easier for you; see just down that road is warm refuge! See how honorable we are! We could have done this ten, fifteen miles ago, but chose to assist you instead. Now honestly. Come back another day when we're not so busy, and we'll be happy to accommodate you. Just not today."

The Rider stood quietly, his crippled Machine next to him, when in that instant a Driver drove by. He slowed, and called from his comfort, "Are you okay?" The Rider, without a second thought, smiled brightly and waved. "I'm great, thanks!" And with a wave the Driver went on, and the Rider attended to healing without a word to the Wind.

Again the sky collected itself. Again the Rain, in a sudden burst, beat down on him while he worked. Again the Wind shrieked angrily. His fingers, so Cold, had lost nearly all dexterity. It took him thrice the normal effort to gather his materials, attend to the surgery, replace the pieces chewed by the Road. Every movement required concentration and attention. Unclipping a cap, unscrewing a lid, all nearly impossible. The CO2 cartridge he used to re-inflate the tire turned white with Cold and froze to his wet glove. And as always the Rain poured; pointless now for not a piece on him had been dry for several hours. The Wind howled, but with nothing new to say. Finally, after all, the Machine stood again, the Rider mounted, and said, "Let's go home."

Mid-afternoon but the Drivers around him had their headlights on. Delayed from the day's increasing Wind, the Rider rationed his remaining fuel and rode hungry. The Elements whined in frustration as sixty-five, then seventy, then seventy-five miles ticked underneath the Rider. In the end, nearly six hours after the first pedal stroke, they could only squeal in childish frustration, carrying on with their cries. Unheeded and disrespected as, with a quiet and defiant smile, the Rider atop the Machine crossed the threshold of eighty miles, home at last.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bravo!! :) Now when do I get to read the book that you are going to write!!

Awesome ride Chris. I love days like that. Very few and far between for where I live. And laziness, you don't need no stinkin laziness, when there is Iron a comin.

have an awesome week ... Kathi

Kylie said...

Beautiful.

And great job!

Anonymous said...

It is not often in our daily lives that one faces the elements and returns with a smile....Crazy? A little. Persistent? A lot. Determined? Always.

Michael Anderson said...

Welcome from the wild, courageous Rider! Welcome from the wild brave Machine! Triumphant with hearts so strong though roads wander long. Tempered in skill despite Element's ill will. The solitary Souls of champions have achieved their quest. Gallant Knight and Steed, I salute you!

Wil said...

Not very often I get to feel like I'm on a ride with someone like this. Awesome writing.

Definitely hope to catch up with you this summer :)