By Christopher Cudworth
It lingers into September, this feeling that summer lasts forever.
Then it occurs to you the light is fading fast come evening. That bike ride or run starting at 6:00 finishes in burgeoning darkness. If any clouds mask the western horizon the murk settles even quicker.
Last evening my companion and I managed to get on the bike by 6:30 and headed south with the wind. To the northwest the clouds looked like dirty dishwater. One lonesome cloud to the east, lit by evening sun, stood pink among a sky full of oyster shells around it.
We rode on a wide industrial drive and dialed the bikes up to 25 mph. Then the road curves and we cut through the wind from behind our backs, then the side. On we went together, spinning and winning some prized exertion.
Heading north the sky began to spit and sputter. Our sunglasses flecked with raindrops. “Here it comes,” I smiled and she chuckled something like, “Whatever.”
She is a resolute gal on the bike. Sometimes I cannot read her feelings or form for the life of me. She simply doesn’t let small things on the ride get her down. Not rough roads. Not spiraling winds. Not hills or heat or aching feet from riding hills in the heat on a long day in Wisconsin. She rides. She deals with whatever comes.
The stretch of road from Eola and Butterfield north into Fermi Lab is closed to traffic these days. A broad gate blocks the entrance where one could once happily enter the lab property from the south. It has long since been closed to the public. We creep our bikes around the gravel path and set up to ride again. The road is rough. Badump badump badump we go.
The wind is in our faces now, and the rain. We ride side by side because it feels like cheating to draft on this section. He strong legs work through each pedal stroke and by this time in the summer we are fairly fit together. It’s fun even though the conditions…well, they suck. That is one of the tarsnakes of riding. Sometimes the worse the weather, the more the ride means.
Across the intersection of Pine we go, curving into the wind with the rain horizontal and piercing. We’re at 20 mph again, into the gale, and we trade pulls. The light is pretty much gone now, dimmed even further by our cycling shades.
The long last stretch we ride to the west remains a windfest. We top 20 again and trade even more pulls. Then we approach the east gate and the rain lets up. We’re sheltered from the wind by a break of trees and all seems calm. A big truck pulls out from the industrial park ahead of us and she jokes, “Maybe he’ll help us get a light this time.”
Twice that evening we had not registered as real traffic to the stop light sensors at two other intersections. You fake it through on those occasions, riding into a red light hoping it will turn green for your side too. These are the things that motorists just don’t get. Our skinny bodies and bikes and tiny blinking lights barely show up in the big dark world as autumn lurks. We have to make it up as we go along. The rules of the road often don’t apply to those of us on bikes and on foot. We make it through however we can.
Another three miles home through town we keep the speed high and enjoy the sensation of rolling along in the half dark. It reminds me of being a kid again, of riding the Huffy 3-speed and occasionally borrowing the big yellow Schwinn Paramount owned by a friend. We’d ride around the little town of Elburn at night, crossing under streetlights in all seasons, not caring about cold or darkness. No helmets. Just hair to protect our heads, and lots of it.
At home we peel off our sunglasses and laugh. “It’s not that dark after all,” I joke.
“Yeah, right?” she chuckles in return while fiddling with her Garmin and Strava. At least someone’s paying attention to us. The satellite above the earth has watched our ride, traced our signals in a big square route that looks contrived on the app map.
We dismount and store the bikes. The next morning she is going for a run on her training schedule. The day dawns at fifty degrees. Chilly. Raw, even.
This is how it goes. We ride the summer right off our backs it seems. The tan on our knees fades with the light. Candles take over from citronella. The mosquitoes hang in there a week, hoping for one last suck of blood before buzzing their way into oblivion.
It’s not all bleak. There will be more mornings bright and warmer than we thought possible. It’s just this first burst of autumn that sets you on edge. The whirr of your bike tires matches the hum of crickets in the ditches. That can’t last forever. But every revolution counts. “The earth keeps turning,” she wisely notes as we enter the house.
Indeed it does. And so do we.