New England Journal

Springtime exultation rather than grim Winter agonistic demonstrative commitment, but the day doesn’t cooperate and insists menace grey. 4:30 coffee shop cliché, no one will be there but at least espressos. Eyebrow raised hellos, eight already, five more will show up, trying to wrestle the sky into our affect, knowingly unknowingly making the painful mistake of dressing incorrectly. Of course we secretly declare a Tuesday Night World Championship.

Talking rollout, few easy miles, then Dostal, Ben and DL to the front after the turn West. Wind flooding down the double yellow line pavement toward us, on the wheels, immediately morning alarm clock startled that I can’t keep this pace for the duration. Hope: that they back off, either on the flat section so that recovery is possible, or on the few steep climbs maybe ensorceled by the spurious concern that they should hold back saving something for later, depends on how well D and B remember the contour. Resigned: foreknowledge that I’ll get dropped. Thirty seconds later, wondering: maybe I don’t know what my situation is this early in the season. Back to hope! Alas, resignation and then to wondering again, pedal stroke cyclically, eighteen more minutes.

We’ve reached the end of the kinder bit, there’s a drizzle, icy and like minty razors in the back of my mouth. Acceleration and I’m falling away from what was admittedly a precariously gripped edge, now unsheltered. Shortly Todd leaves me for dead. Nearer the top I’ll be caught by Matt from behind and will hide in his draft, we’ll almost regain contact with the others by the time we crest, this meaningless essential flow ebb drama.

Other side, crater dug pummel cracked asphalt from too many frozen days, we’re crouched shivering testing tires against wet wrong cambered curves. No fingers, toes by the bottom. A valley reprieve, stalking farm houses, twisting trees, bending reeds. This next ascent is marginally shorter but is steeper and ends on dirt, the ruts for the final mile, the splashing needle prick puddles, the skeptical traction, they’re at least an invitation to come back to attending to this world after giving up on the slopes. Maybe I was closer to the front, maybe I can’t tell.

Another descent, faster, aero wheels chop wobble weave in the crossblow, the rest of the crew gives me a wider birth, I don’t blame them. There will be more dirt, a reasonable section of it, before the final notable ache of the day, the back side of Rabbit College  Road. It can come and go quick like a stranger’s kindness sometimes, but we’re all tired and our fitness was only aspirational. So, heaving, enduring, fantasizing that it isn’t when it is. Curve left at the end and that’s the steepest part, 20%, legs dense and thick and quicksand lunging up, it’s done. DL has blown, C is shepherding him along way back, B is shaking his head by the time he joins, the rest of the boys wobble and purse their lips as if it’s okay.

Then we time trial home in the twilight on a guttural roar tailwind. Threes, twos and fours trying to keep one another in sight, trying to find a gear that you don’t need to shift out of because your rigor mortis hands have trouble doing it, trying to negotiate the betrayals and the surprises of how you feel. Trying to have an April ride.

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