“I’m not faster. I can just hurt more than you can,” she said, the former pro, dropping me on the last climb, my mind warping against the task of making my muscles do what they would not. I pull over to the verge and try not to vomit, drool running off my lower lip, a dark spot on the bone dry asphalt.
I can feel the snot in the back of my nose beginning to freeze, a mentholated feeling, as I dive down Belmont Hill in mid-winter. Cars idle in long, straight lines, exhaust pooling behind them. Cold breath catches in my lungs. I cough. The bridge of my nose stings, my car keys loose at the bottom of my bag, useless.
The cars fizz and pop over my left shoulder in the dark, and I will myself not to look, as if looking will break the spell, the invisible barrier between us. The violence of their accelerations dopplers past. I curse at their tail lights. I should have gone another way.
Unintentionally drafting the garbage truck, nearly overcome by its sour tang, its creaky lurching, and the intermittent sloshing of liquid from its basin. Some poor bastard in a jumpsuit is clung to the back. I wonder if he smells anything anymore. I wonder how he manages on and off the truck all day long without twisting an ankle.
Up a small rise in the morning, just coming back from injury. What is this grade? 4%? Less? Then why are my legs so heavy? Why do they hurt so soon?
Standing in a shop in California, one mechanic drops a tool, another one laughs. Every drop costs 10 push ups, but this is the 3-way hex, the 4-5-6, so that’s 30. I make small talk with a customer, working on my own bike, clutching my own wrench tight, while penance is paid behind me.
I took my gloves off ten miles ago, sweat pooled in the palms, the skin rubbing away near my thumb. I can hardly hold the bars now, but there is no cab willing to let me sit in its back seat in this condition. We stop in town center. I empty a bottle over my head and refill it as best I can at a water fountain. Ruined.
Rolling along no-handed on the paved path that dumps out just below the office, my shadow perfectly formed, the sun from my left. Wishing I could do this all day, that the path was an asymptote, always approaching zero but never arriving, disappearing in the distance. And me with it.