we had talked ourselves to and through this last little point, the point where we would be confronted with the fact that it was over, and we had succeeded, and there must be something next because the ache in the legs will never appease the ache in the heart. so we pedaled forward, wondering about the last few meters of the rise, about the cop in front of whom we almost ran this stupid red light, about how in the hell we willed ourselves through the last two hundred and forty kilometers. it would, of course, be a sprint finish.
tumbling down the pseudo-smooth highway from the highest point in southern ontario, it never occurred to me that i was flirting with the edge between sanity and something else. i was screaming at myself in the hopes that vocal volume alone would generate some much-needed heat beneath my layers. i was repeating phrases like 'nice and warm nice and warm nice and warm nice and warm'. my teeth were chattering. i could not brake because my fingers would not bend. i was stuck, as it were, in the highest gear i had and i was hammering my pedals into it for all i was worth. my tires sprayed road grime up my back and into intimate areas that had long since gone numb. i was blind with the abrasive impact of infinite rain drops that felt like a sand storm on the parts of my face i could still feel. my legs went round and round and round. my words did the same. nice and warm and nice and warm and nice and warm and dry and dry and dry and nice and warm and nice and warm and dry and dry and dry. i couldn't wait for the next ascent. i couldn't wait for the next instance of warmth, no matter how much my thighs screamed for rest, the rest of me screamed for heat. we needed a hill, and here we were, screaming down the biggest hill in southern ontario, trying to not fall off the edge altogether. scary things are afoot when we start talking about our body parts as individual entities.
jada said, months later, that she had gone out in the car on that dismal day to look for us. no real plan or map or route, just an idea and a general profundity of love that would likely guide her to us. she mentioned that it warmed her heart to see so many riders on that scrap of land we were lucky to call home once upon a time. i responded that if she saw riders, she would never have seen us.
we saw riders at the first rest stop, and again at the turn that they all missed to cut their ride short by some miles. there is something torturous about knowing just where you are, just where a warm home and hot chocolate could be, and how many miles, vertical and surface, have to be ridden in between. ignorance would have been bliss. i hadn't studied the route map for that very reason. then i had decided to take some ownership of it and make sure that i would know the turns and the order and all that other crap that ends up hurting my brain after my legs have spent all of its oxygen. as luck would have it, i should have kept to myself and remained in ignorant bliss. for i made the correct turns, knew exactly where i was, and always had too far to go, re-learning every vertical inch one pedal push at a time.
outside of kaszuby the road regresses to its original garbage state, more pothole and patch than pavement of some kind. hopefield is a rugged and beautiful ridge that shoulders up to other high points and eventually foymount, and its inhabitants are varied and few. outside of a modest brick home whose aesthetics leaned more towards military practicality than soaring architectural ideals, i was powering up a hill, optimistic about my chances of keeping up, cautious about using my reserves to climb too fast too soon. i need not have worried. as i drew abreast to the upper limit of the hill, and parallel to the pragmatically gravelly driveway, i felt something begin to ease, and i noticed the sickening hiss of a tube gone flat. this was to be the first of two catastrophic punctures of the day, the first of only two CO2 cartridges, the first of three oversized tubes carried, and the last time i would feel confident.