Staying Clear

Originally from RKP.

Neil and I ride here as often as we can. It’s the new place, small and tight, but designed and groomed by the local mountain bike group. We’re still learning all the obstacles, daring ourselves to ride the skinny bridges, find some air off the canted stones.

Our strategy is normally to take the wide, flat path along the mill pond, and then turn up the trail that climbs to the back of the small patch of forest. Get the work out of the way first, then twist and dive and rattle our way back down the hill, pumping the gravity out of the place, finding the flow.

The climb isn’t too steep or too technical, but we are grinding. It’s hot, the air thick with dust and insects, small flying things that aren’t mosquitoes and aren’t gnats, but occasionally find their way into your mouth and nose.

I feel a splash on my slowly churning thigh, and look up to see where it came from. The sky is bright and blue. It’s not rain. We are clear of the mill pond. I feel the splash again and wonder if it’s not some trick my mind is playing on me.

Then I hear a soft thudding on the trail behind me. It’s a trail runner. He’s gaining on us. Every part of my ego reels. We CAN NOT be passed by a runner. I lean into the pedals to prevent that embarrassment.

The splash again. We’re pulling clear of him. He wants to catch us. I can feel it. I would want that, if I were him. In my head, a debate blossoms about competitiveness, ego. I wonder if I should let him catch us, like maybe he needs that more than we need to stay clear. The splash again.

And then I see it, there at the corner of my helmet visor, a small droplet of sweat, swaying and swelling. There is a rivulet of sweat that runs out from under the edge of the helmet onto the channel at the side of the hard, plastic visor, feeding the drop, the drip, the splash.

I laugh out loud, and Neil looks over his shoulder to ask, silently, what’s wrong with me. We crest the hill, and dive, leaving the runner, leaving the debates, giving ourselves over to the swish and swoop of the trail.