The boy is up at 5:30. No surprise there. That he's slept through the night is blessing enough. I'm out of bed, doing the wrestling match that the morning diaper change has become. He arches his back, pivots on his head as I try to keep him on his back. It's raining outside after a night of thunder, the doors and curtains sucking in and puffing out, moving on their hinges and rods of their own accord. "You want us to give you a ride to work?" My wife asks.
"No." Flatly. Last night there was too much to do for me to ride at all, and as I have exercised more regularly in the last few months, not doing so makes me incurably cranky. "I didn't ride at all yesterday. I need this workout." I know the words are harsh before they leave me, but it's too late. I make the oatmeal and the coffee, shave. I entertain my son while my wife gets ready for work. It's almost 7:00 now. I find my riding stuff. It's still raining. I've been doing knee warmers and shoe covers lately. I get wet anyway. I pull on shorts, a shirt, a windbreaker. Gloves will be pointless today, too. The bike is in the basement. 60 pounds in the tires, half of what they can take. No wonder it felt weird and unresponsive when I rode it last time. I pump them up in the dark.
By the time I'm ready to go, my wife is in the nursery, already putting my son back down for his first nap of the day. He's been up for almost two hours, and so have we. I can't disturb them to say goodbye, I can't make amends for my harsh words in the dawn.
On the road. I gave up on the fenders today too, didn't bother putting them on. There's a stream of grey water cutting me in half from the saddle forward. I'm soaked before the first traffic light. I'm late by now, I left about 15 minutes late. A flat or a mechanical and I'll be truly late. A miraculous ride and I'll be on time.
The first hill. My legs are fresh. I weighed less this morning than I have in at least five years. I spin up the hill. Fixed gear. Fifty-two teeth on the chainring and eighteen on the cog. It's hard to get it started from a cold stop but not too bad after that. Sometimes I mash up this hill. Today I spin. What a shame. Fresh legs and nothing to burn them up on but a 25 minute commute to work. Try to enjoy it. The spin down the other side of the hill terminates in a roundabout and a 90-degree turn on to a bike path. I have a good line and I'm sure of it when the road is dry, but today my fingertips are on the brake levers, tentative. My legs slow the drivetrain, and I go from leaning into one turn, decelerating, over the top to leaning into the next, then powering out.
At the next big intersection, a red light. The diesel grumble of a big truck is right over my left ear. I have the jump on him at the green. Only to meet him at the next red. I spin away from that one in a valiant effort to make the mid-hill light coming up, the one I really hate to stop for. No dice. Red light, a trackstand that leaves my legs shaking, and that same truck, right there. We go again. He must be loaded heavy. I pull away and don't see him again until the top, where he turns away at the light and I go straight. There is silence for awhile, silence through the roundabout and down the hill, out in the country now, or what passes for it in suburban Vermont these days. The manure on the shoulder, slick in the mist and rain, adds to the country feel.
The last big hill. I'm still not mashing the pedals, just pulling up a little at the end of the stroke, My feet swim in the rain stretched leather. These shoes were a size to small when I bought them, now I can't get them tighht enough. No matter. I'm over the top and in the office parking lot before I know it. This bike has no computer, I'm not wearing a GPS or heart rate monitor. It might have been my fastest ride in, might not have. You never know with traffic.