“Ready to ride?” Michael asks, as we sat in the warm sunlit front seat. “Yep. let's load up and get rolling” I reply, as we roll out of the car to unhook the bikes for an autumn Saturday ride.
My friend Michael has me on one of his favorite routes, following parts of the Old Natchez Trace in Nashville Tennessee. Our destination: historic Franklin, Tennessee to meet our wives for a bit of lunch.
After some stretching and final preparations, we're off, hugging the white lines of a beautiful winding band of asphalt through the Nashville countryside. The air is clear and crisp, leaves changing to hues of gold, tangerine and persimmon. I can smell a blend of asphalt, burning leaves and cool fall air as we make our way South. There's no place better to be on an autumn day than outside, riding.
The first few minutes of the ride challenge me, as they always do. My body is taking a little time to adapt to the aerobic level — particularly on this ride. I've not been on a bike much this year, so my concern is how I'll stack up to Michael. He's been a riding machine with many miles on his wheels. Only one way to find out: ride.
We're stopped now, checking out a stone bridge erected in 1800 for the Old Natchez Trace, 400 yards beyond, an old roadside home of the same vintage still stands. History seems woven into the fabric here in Nashville, in the shadows everywhere. Back home this is also the case — but when you live in a certain history, it seems to become part of the white noise.
Riding on now, catching glimpses of ancient hand-built stone fences, plantation homes and gorgeous views of the rolling mid-Tenessee countryside. As we pedal on, talking and enjoying the afternoon, I'm reminded that cycling for me is not about the destination so much as the experience of being on the road, in the fresh air, appreciating the ride.
Now we're in Franklin, locking up the bikes as our wives stroll up. Lunch at McCreary's: fish n' chips remind me of the fish n' chips at Heathrow with Andy. I'm enjoying the fellowship of good friends, tasty food and a view of shoppers on main street through the front window.
Fulller n' full of fish n' chips, Michael and I mount our bikes for the ride back to the car. We're carbo-loaded and ready for the curves and climbs ahead... we think.
We're doing well, approaching 75% of the way back to the car, when Michael tells me about the steep hill coming soon. The facts register in my brain, but reality is a sharp crack to the calves and lungs.
Fighting the sudden, steep rise, I'm cranking while trying to drop to the small sprocket. No such luck. High stress and a lube-starved front derailleur cable keeps me in the middle ring — no choice but to fight it out now. I dig in, talking myself into accepting the pain. It won't last long, just keep fighting!
I'm over the rise and happy to be past it, though the shock of the hill sucks my energy level down several notches. I'm glad to know we're nearly home, because my legs are starting to solidify like cooling carmel on a cold carmel apple.
Final slow-burn incline to the car comes up slow, but I feel good. I can see the red rooftop of the Cherokee Chief ahead as Michael climbs toward it. Now we're at the car, feeling the endorphin buzz setting in after a good hard ride.
I can see the level of my legs and lungs now, after 28 miles on the road. Michael's training base was clear to see as he walked away from me on the final climbs of the day. However, I feel good about my strength on this very off year for cycling.
We load up the bikes and head for Harpeth Bikes, the one local shop in town that carries Rivendell bikes and gear, hoping to make it before they close. We arrive at 5:59, sneaking in just before the doors are locked. There are 2 Rivendell Ramboulliet models on display — they are gorgeous bikes. So clean, classic, and functional.
We take time to talk with one of the owners who happens to be a Rivendell bike fan, who has met Grant (the owner of the company). We're talking steel frames, practical bikes and the joy of cycling. What great fun to meet someone who knows and loves the idea behind Rivendell.
On the way home Michael and I talk about cycling: how I'm now fired up to get my old Manta steel-framed bike back rolling and ready for spring... and maybe even get in a few cold autumn rides back home.
Our discussion veers to what cycling is all about and what it isn't about. Why do I as a cyclist buy into the idea that I need to dress like a pro rider wannabeee fanboy, with my fancy jersey, clipless pedals? Why when I ride at home do I often think about speed and distance, when I truly enjoy the ride and the experience of getting there?
Have I lost sight of what cycling is about? For me it's about fully experiencing the joy of being free, cruising through rushing wind, smelling the air and seeing the world from a different perspective.
I've lost sight of what cycling is about.
I've been caught in the simulated idea that cycling is about how I look to others, rather than how I feel when I'm out riding. I've traded impressing others for the knowledge that I can feel God's pleasure through my cycling.
I choose to experience joy in riding a bike, letting the moment unfold, rather than worrying what image I'm projecting to others.
I want to have it back: the joy of the riding that I felt on Saturday.