Friday, April 17, 2009

The Stones of Belgium - Part 3

The following is the third and final part of a story I wrote for Embrocation Cycling Journal, the brain-child of Jeremy Dunn. The story appeared in Issue Number 2. (You can buy issues 2 and 3 here. Please support them!) The first and second sections of the story can be found here.

Two kilometers from town, I turn from the main road toward Oud Heverlee. This cobbled strip is just enough for one final burst, one last test of my power and souplesse. I make a right, sweeping down the little hill through dilapidated brick houses, barns, and rotting barbed wire fences. Slipping my chain onto the big ring for one last time, I check my gearing—too little and I could lose my chain as soon as I hit the stones, too big and I won’t be able to maintain my cadence over the entire length of road. Reaching down to see that my bottle is secure, I hit the stones soundly. I’m in it now, my legs pumping, working to maintain and increase the speed. I can hear only the sound of my heart in my ears. I keep my head low for balance, and I can feel my breath on my wrists and hands. No need to consult the heart rate monitor—I know the extent of the effort. My nose runs; I can taste blood on my breath. After twenty-five meters I’m able to get one more gear, another after twenty-five more. I know there is slight dip near the finish that I need to account for in my final burst. I can’t try to stand on the pedals, for the sudden shift of my weight could send me tumbling to the stones; I can only rise slightly from the saddle, keeping myself loose and centered over the bike.

By now, focused only on the end of the road, I can’t feel the pounding of the stones. I can’t hear the slap of my chain or the pops of my spokes twisting under the strain. I can’t feel my heart beating or the burning ache in my legs. There is no time to worry about oncoming cars or stray dogs running into the road. I am not chasing or being chased; I am simply alone in the moment, comfortable with the route I have taken.

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