We excitedly shed coats and gloves as spring advances. Yet fields are still muddy with spring rains, and the farmers are nervously idling equipment, ready to catch the first waves of warmth to jumpstart the growing season. We will ride by these fields each week now, watching the progression of tilling, seeding, and the explosion of ordered shoots. Adolescent whiskers of earthly growth in corn, soybeans, and mustard.
Bikes are unloaded in the post-dawn shades of orange and yellow, shadows being washed out with waves of light. We run through mental checklists. Such a simple machine once you get going, but you hate to forget snacks, water, the computer, and all the little bits you might need. More than once, I’ve ridden away to then remember the car is unlocked. A short ride of shame, then off we go.
I am always a bit tense early in a ride. How do my legs feel? Did I fuel properly, get enough rest, and of course, will I be able to keep up? We settle into a “modest” warm-up pace, and you start to pay attention to the details around you that are missed from the comfort inside a vehicle. Grit on the road, dampness, bumps and imperfections of the shoulder. And then it hits you; the smell of earth. Fecund, pungent, dirty brown/yellow soil. The smell creeps high into your nostrils; the fragrance penetrates your brain. Damp Earth waiting to share its nourishment with the crops to come. Not much to look at just yet, even if the field has been seeded. But gone is that inert smell of cold; the ground has awakened as we spin by. You feel alive; it’s an uplifting transition to the work ahead. All sensations are assaulted early before your rhythm settles you down. Smells, sights, and sounds surround you as your mind narrows from the stimulus around you to what your body is doing. How do my feet feel on the pedals? Where is the tilt in my back? How do my hands feel on the grips? We become intimately aware of all the points of contact with the bike and how that will translate into power moving forward. We do it so much we barely notice the transition from excited anticipation to the efficient spin of pedals and hum of tires on the road.
We are immersed in the world around us. The immensity of the sky and the proportions of the surrounding landscape accentuate our smallness and fragility. A ride at pace lets you feel the smell and texture of the air you are passing through. In spring, the low dark parts of the road put up a wall of frigid air that slaps you as you ride through, causing a temporary shiver. You ride on through a climb to a higher exposed road, the heat from the sun offering a quick blanket of warmth. You reach for water as your inner heat from the effort challenges your choice of layers. We are less willing early in the year to begin cold, not yet the summer heat, to demand minimal layers, desperate to shed the heat we hold onto in May’s crisp mornings.
Our causal attitude is shredded on the first hill that bumps heart rates; the first challenge to pace, downshifting to meet the climb and hold as much speed as possible. There will be many more climbs on this ride. This is the first taste of adversity and spreads the group out. We regroup quickly, still warming up, still sorting out the group pace. Before our ambition becomes the discipline of effort, we smile and giggle, the world is wonderful, and the land around us shares its intimate texture of detail hidden by the comfort of a car. We see we smell, and we hear each meter. We are so lucky to feel alive in this way. The effort is the reward, and our surroundings cheer us on.