I unlock my bicycle from its usual place in the parking garage. From in here, it’s looking sunny outside, but also windy. I don’t know if this is really worth the effort. I mean, I could just walk home. It would take a little longer, but it would seem a lot easier. For that matter, I could just take the bus. But I guess I already have my bike here, so I might as well ride a ways. I can always get off and walk when the hill gets steep. I start off up the hill, and it takes a little wiggling, an adjustment here, twist the ankle a little differently there, stand up to pull down the pant leg, readjust. But by the time I get a few blocks away I’ve fallen into a steady rhythm. Breathe in, 2, 3, 4. Breathe out, 2, 3, 4.
It’s a slight uphill, and I have to shift gears once to keep my breathing pattern the same. Then I turn the corner onto the freeway overpass and it gets steep. Breathe, 2, 3, 4. Breathe, 2, 3, 4. I start to warm up. My legs have to work harder, I can feel the muscles in my feet, ankles, calves, all the way up the backs of my legs to my lower back, all those muscles pulling together, rocking with the steady rhythm of the bicycle as I breathe. Breathe, 2, 3, 4. Breathe, 2, 3, 4. The overpass is steep, and fully in the sun. I shift down again. It starts to get hard. I’m too warm and I’m starting to lose control of my breathing. Breathe, 2, 3. Breathe, 2, 3. I am about to lose even that pattern when I get to the plateau at the top of the overpass. I’m able to shift back up a gear or two.
At this point, I can take it easy for a minute, let the muscles up the backs of my legs re-oxygenate, get my breathing rhythm back, relax a bit. Or I can shift up, put some muscle into it, lean forward, gain speed for the big push up to the top of Capitol Hill. Today, I elect to try for the big one. I shift up 2 gears and spin as quick as I can. I have about 100 feet to pick up as much speed as I can.
Breathe, 2, 3, 4, 5. Breathe, 2, 3, 4, 5.
I pass three cars on the right, blow through a stop sign, and start downshifting for the hill, which starts steeply right after the intersection. I’ve been here before, and I don’t want to lose speed by being in the wrong gear when I hit the hill, so by the time my back tire is on the incline I’m in my lowest gear, pedaling hard. My hands are clenched, and I’m using all the muscles in the backs of my legs, all the way up through the muscles in the backs of my arms, my neck is tensed, and each rotation of the pedals corresponds to a clench and release of my hands, arms, neck, shoulders, lower back.
Breathe, 2, 3, 4. Breathe, 2, 3, 4.
Breathe, 2, 3. Breathe, 2, 3. Damn I wish I had another gear. My hamstrings are burning. Breathe 2, 3. Breathe, 2, 3. I didn’t know I had muscles right there in my hips. Damn, this is starting to hurt.
Breath, 2, 3. Breathe, 2. Breathe, 2. I wish I had another gear. If this didn’t feel good, it would hurt. Hurts. Feels good. Burning. Breathe, 2. Breath, 2. Hurts. Feels. Burning. Good. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
My face is red, I can feel my pulse in every inch of my skin, my breathing is ragged, my mouth open, there is no more rhythm, except the steady pulse pulse pulse of the rotation of the pedals. I can’t think a complete thought, but I can see the top of the hill. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. There is a bead of sweat rolling past my eye. I can feel the perspiration beading up down my back, rolling down my neck, between my breasts. I lean forward.
I will make it to the top of the hill. I will make it to the top of the hill.
Breathe. Breathe. Almost there. One more. One more. One more. My hamstrings are starting to cramp up, but I ignore it. I will make it to the top of the hill. One more. One more. I see my front tire crest the hill.
And I made it. That feels so fucking good.
I lean back off my handlebars. My hamstrings are cramping for real, so I keep pedaling slowly, one hand on the handlebar, one hand holding the hair up off the back of my neck. The wind blows across my overheated skin deliciously. I can feel the blush in my face all the way down my throat.
I pedal the last 4 blocks home slowly, feeling each muscle in the back of my legs as they relax into the steadier rhythm again. By the time I get home, my legs are recovered, only slightly shaky when I step off the bike. Water. I really need some water. I step into the house, drink a glass of water. As I sit down on the couch, I notice a bit of chocolate, left over from an Easter basket. Basking in my leftover endorphins, I melt the piece of chocolate in my still overheated mouth. I think I need a shower.