New England Journal

Best intentions were for an early morning rollout. Banter, last minute derailleur fussing, craving perfect clothing flipped to 10 o’clock click in. One handed, it’s apple season and I’m biting fresh sweet clean bitter like the air. Earlier in the week were hurricane wisp forecasts and a detailed backup plan to sit in the barn drinking beers and watching Il Lombardia, didn’t come to that.

Been riding with this crew for so many years that we know each other’s quirks, how we each differently wobble when tired, how much hill each likes left before rising up for the attack, where we put wheels on broken paths. Elbow flicks aren’t the exaggerated ones of strangers, but a little twitch and pull through. We’re on a route around the 1930’s Quabbin reservoir in western Massachusetts, water collected to serve distant Boston and the communities in between. Depression era communities bought out by the state with buildings and roads and machinery left behind, not quite the spooky overnight abandonment or abduction of horror films, but still with marks of having left before it was time. The dirt roads we’re on are lined with ferns and growth, but look closely and see the stone fences, the intersection markers, the sturdy foundations.

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The ascents crackle sharp onset deafening pop, steep and straight, fade as they top out and then the descent. This is terrain for a fatter tire but instead we’ve brought studied bad sense with a good aesthetic and 25mm tires. Well, I’m on Michelin Pro Race 4 28’s. The doubetrack is walnut to fist sized stones over hardpack, I’m in the drops and wagging my rear wheel around the biggest ones best I can, handfuls of brake and then stomping on the big ring gas to keep T and B in sight, sometimes to see if they hurt. JCraig rides in the grass in the middle, willing to accept the unknown for an on balance smoother ride, Mark is more opportunistic. Overgrown reeds on each side reach out so we shoulder into them.

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Marsh beaver dam flooding, leaves just going to yellow, that lost blue sky, it never gets warm enough to take off the jacket and I’m glad to have my knees covered. We roll into a tiny town to find the bakery closed but there’s an intimate farmer’s market, four or five stalls then we’re sitting near the gazebo and fountain with a rustic baguette and local cheese to share ‘round.

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Bruce is working on his third or fourth flat, Craig’s had a couple, Mark, three. It’s getting late but we shrug and patch the puncture while the previously repaired tube goes in. Someone jokes about sunset shivering, those threats generate the miniature drama that will give us something to tall tale about later.

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A long pedal, the water, if not always visible, still present to our left and outlandishly the sun stays to our right due to our anti-clockwise circumnavigation. Elemental reference points that in their stasis make us think we haven’t really moved, but there are those internal markers: hunger, depletion, bigger intervals between laughter. Dirt roads, iron skillet smooth asphalt, abandoned carriageways, leaf and stone, roll and dig in.

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