It was early when I swept the Bourbonneur from his front curb. Fishing-with-Pépé early. The range was extended for the morning, which required an abnormally early sequence initiation.
Items were neatly crammed into satchels of various sizes: foil-wrapped sandwiches, cremes of questionable purpose, an assortment of wearable status indicators—stretchy, wind-blocking, synthetic, natural, tight, manly, elite—multiple helmets, shoes, duct tape, spare corks, a novel, flares. Maybe more.
Over the course of the prior week, we’d both been aware of the unwavering forecast: it looked like cold. Zero fluctuations in this science prediction of air conditions took place, and the day of the plan just kept getting closer. All aspects of preparation focused on how to v. macho, even if no one was looking.
It would be a favorably typical punishment: A small climb, a big climb, some more climbing, a big descent – nice, and a longueur of asshole jerk rollers to bludgeon the last drops of whining from us. The plan was to return to the auto with no change left. We liked this plan and prepared.
Arrival at our insertion point was met with atmospheric deviance. An odd and flaky pollen clung to the the air. We thought, yes—a bird has ran into some tree-flowers. It’s really because of that. But then it was cold as it hit our skins, and then we could see ahead to the point on the ridge far far away that there was a cloud, dark. All cubic measurements of air between us and that were filled with this deviance, and as it touched on our skins, we concluded based on its temperature and beauty that it was snow.
And there was breath. Cold, cloudy, valuable breath. Hasty preparations took place. The contents of carefully packed bags were transferred spitefully into jersey pockets without much thought. All manner of shakings and shivers took place as jeans and warm shirts were chucked at floorboards. Caps were pulled snug. Neckerchiefs were knotted firmly. Bottles were beat into cages with purple fingers. Pumps, tubes, fig bars, beers, cameras, phones, car keys. Overboots were zipped. I skipped cologne.
We hi-fived and clipped in, rolling out with varying flavors of anger/glee/macho/cowardice/stoke. The preparations were complete, and we inhaled the affirmative choke of doing.
Arriving quickly at the first climb—dirt, slick, wet, roughened, marketable—the clouds still poured forth from metallic throat/chest components. Blood units were waiting on queue for rare bits of oxygen, as the legs were hogging it desperately.
Pavement was reached, thanklessly. It was the sort of transition that trades a fuck for a dammit. A left turn into a bear trap, more up.
We kept chatter down through switchbacks. Conversation-casual was the pace but not the product. Words had been replaced with concentrated efforts. I assumed that Bourbonneur had private thinking to do. I spared him any inquisition related to: are you okay/isn’t this great/fuck it’s cold/do you like your bike. My face wore an equal request: please refrain from lobbing any crap of that sort at me.
It went on like that for a bit like all good climbs do. I kept looking back/down at my cogset as all bad climbers do. There was still one left, but I couldn’t use it. As it was, I had $10 left down there. Had I spent $3 of it, I would have surely incurred low-balance fees, which of course send a man into the negative, and then come the flood of punitive fees related to being bad at climbing. So rather than that and then the phone calls and scary letters, I just kept at it and never asked Bourbonneur do you like your bike/is your dad nice. I just climbed harder.
After the whole of that pitchiness, right before the bad cop grade handed us over to the good cop grade, said sorry about that guy and offered us a smoke and cup of coffee, we broke the plan. It was a crucial point of the plan: we were to arrive at the National Park gate, pay a person to go on the road that their bosses are the boss of, and continue on with all remaining portions of the plan. But we had stuffed all things in pockets with such macho, such haute homme, such supplesse and la-classe, that we did not stuff any form of payments in these pockets. There began an attempt to barter. We can clean your windows. We can take out a trash, would you like a sandwich or fig bar or refreshing cool beverage—canned or in a silicon-lined bottle—of your choice. We could leave an ID which I purchased from your cousins of government and come buy it back for/with appropriate government tender. These offers were all defended with NO. NO. GOVERNMENT. NO. SORRY. NO. UM, NO.
We said fine. Abrupt plan changes involved an about face, and we went down fast, cold, clinging to bar drops and checking for things in the road ahead which may have impeded the new segment of radness. We came to the next gate which we could see stood free of manning. No governances of any type had ordered enforcement of its containments. We scratched heads and began to really know the cold. The climbing had produced a layer of sweat and the Nozzle of Valhalla had been aimed at out chests/fingers/talking muscles/judgement. As we stood at the gate we wondered about things like routes back to warmth, government awards for unauthorized use, and plans.
But then the joggeurs came. They came ten-wide, and proud, and unafraid. They went right by the political boundary so we did too, because you know joggeurs aren’t risk-takers, and we glided right into a level of folly, thorough as the cold may have been. We were free to swerve and use all lanes and spread out a little bit which was nice because prior to that I hadn’t really gotten a full-length view of all the great ingredients of Boubonneur’s outfit/ensemble/costume/rigging.
A terminus was decided upon, and the prepared celebration commenced. More significantly, the real cold took over. It dug into our meats like a stockyard claw or a viking or just some really loud jerk at the hotel bar. An odd corporal function was initiated by the part of my brain that was designed to disregard my input: involuntary twitching and convulsing was happening. There was weird urgency of bladder function and dancing of some sort began to take place. There was loud laughing at things that weren’t jokes. Cans were smashed—which took a minute, thanks to road cleats—and pocketed. Astride once more but swerving with a spastic paralysis, a velocity was sought that might smooth out the ripples. That was achieved but the cold grew serious. There was a formidable descent ahead.
Down. The cap brim flipped down. The temperature went down. My hands took a lower position, and index fingers were curiously curled around very important components, though this had to be verified by sight not feel.
my face met the wind like a watermelon pitched against a breaking wave. the cold rose against me, each vista a blue headache in the blur of descent. He was ahead, a black angle on the pitch, and with a sudden savage wail, burst forward into the gelid pain of the dive. I thought of the perfume counter at Sears, and put my head down there near the tiny mirrors and unnamable pink tubes, and pedaled hard into the pain, following at all cost.
Curves, howls, tension, glee, plans, cheeks and a snack. And hard effort to keep clean in the wind, and the last turn, and the first sighting of the car, and a key, somewhere in one of the 9 pockets of the three tops I was wearing. I’d have more easily fished it out with chopsticks, numb as the hands were. But I got them. so we piled back in. Chilled trousers/teeshirts/jackets were thrown on over tights that couldn’t possibly have been removed efficiently, even if hands had been able to. Engine function was initiated. Gear was compiled recklessly, rack ratchets tightened and managed. Multiple helmets, shoes, duct tape, spare corks, a novel, flares. Maybe more. All items were chucked at floorboards as hands/toes/noses offered critique of the plan.
So we left. We didn’t talk much for a bit. Bourbonneur was journaling. I was dictating to a voice recorder. My eyes hurt a little bit. I was smiling. Bourbonneur reciprocated. The winter had landed one last punch during its egress, but it would be fine to us both if nothing different had happened. Far from home, full of very interesting feelings and pains rather new to us both, it turned out to be a pretty good plan.