Alive

Autumn is a wonderful time of year to be a cyclist. You’re past the spring retraining, made it through the heat, humidity and discomfort of summer, your form is great, the weather much more comfortable, and the scenery is fantastic.

Of course the down side is that winter is on its way.

That aside, this past weekend had the first cool, windy, wet days in two weeks Which means the past two weeks—warmish, dry and sunny, with nothing more than a gentle breeze—have been perfect cycling weather.

For some people, the earlier sunsets this time of year are a problem. Me? I have lights and no fear of the dark. Experience has shown me that with adequate (not cheap) lights I’m much more easily seen—and avoided—at night.

But this isn’t the whole story.

Due to my work schedule being offset from the rest of the population, my headlight season runs eight months from mid-August through mid-April. What I’ve noticed is that I don’t enjoy my commutes home in summer’s daylight nearly as much as I do those during headlight season. It has to do with why I cycle, and how I feel on the bike.

It’s tough to explain—I’m not certain I understand it myself—but a transformation takes place when I get on a bike. In real life, I’m clumsy, awkward, and feel at a distance from the world—sort of like watching life on TV and directing myself through it with a balky remote control. I crash myself into furniture, doorways, other people, and I’m never entirely sure I understand what I see and hear. I can’t trust my senses.

On a bike, that completely disappears. I feel alive. That’s the easiest way to say it. I’m smooth, graceful, powerful. My senses come awake. I feel connected. I see, hear, feel everything. The planet beneath me, the wind on my skin and through my hair, these physical sensations replace the sort of cotton ball that surrounds me normally.

Internally, what I feel inside is ordinarily nothing much with occasional discomfort. On the bike I’m aware of every muscle fiber, every blood vessel, bones, joints, the entire inventory is revealed. It feels good.

Cycling at night amps all this up. It’s when I feel most alive. My visual world may shrink to the cone of my headlight, but I expand into the rest of the world. My focus on the cycling itself becomes so acute, that beyond what my senses tell me, everything else falls away.

This is what I miss in the summer.

Henge less traveled

Until this past week, it’s been transition time coming home—sunset and twilight.

With two different closing times during the week, I deal with the “henge effect” twice each season. The henge effect being when the sun sets directly on the road ahead.

Over on the west side, heading east, I make sure my headlights are on and look inside the cars coming my way in the opposite lane, searching for clues that they can’t see me.

A half-hour later when I turn to finish my long loop home, I’m heading into the sunset. I get very wary despite my Dinotte 300R taillight. Since, despite my polarized sunglasses, entire lines of cars disappear into old Sol’s glare, I’m certain that I do as well.

So I vary my route, taking the henge less traveled. Instead of the four-lanes, no shoulder, and granite curbs of East Avenue Henge, I use a residential side street, Esplanade Drive Henge, then a short distance of the two-lane, wide-shouldered Highland Avenue Henge, which henges mightily leading up to the bridge over I-490. Hillside Avenue henges for just a little bit between the trees, and by the time I’m on Park Avenue, trees and buildings have eliminated all possibilities for henging. Much safer route.

Now that the sun has set long before I’m on the east side, I’m back on East Ave, lights blazing and racing the cars again. If I’ve paced myself properly, I’m at my fastest in the final ten minutes of the ride home. My rules for stoplight racing are simple. As long as I make it to the next stoplight before the cars I left the previous stoplight with are moving, I win. Bonus points if I have the panniers on.

Then it’s home, recycle the mail, have a recovery Ovaltine, start dinner, and wait until tomorrow’s commute to feel alive again.