There's a part of the ride we don't normally talk about–not in polite company or over beers at the pub.
It's the part between the awesome. We're not talking about the moments of suck either. Take enough trips around the sun and we discover sensations far worse than the hurt of impromptu pain or the suffering of masochistic machinations. We're talking about something far worse than feeling pain–feeling nothing at all.
There are times when our passion for the ride fades until its last remnants slip between our fingers, leaving behind empty hands that question whether they ever held anything in the first place. We stop loving the ride so much so that we can't even hate it. All we can do is nothing it. Like a canary in a coal mine, the feeling of nothingness suffocates the ride first, then creeps forward enveloping everything in its path.
The haunting ghost of depression is the monster that hides under the beds of adults, sending shivers down our spines when we glimpse the demon's face and recognize its tired eyes and forced smile as our own. At some point, we walked beyond the forest of pleasure and pain, until we found ourselves teetering at the edge of the empty crevasse that once housed feeling. We want to scream into its empty expanse, if only to hear an empathetic voice yell back, but the currency of wrath is feeling–and our bank account is long overdrawn. So we curl up into a ball at the precipice's edge, clasping our hands over our ears trying to deafen ourselves again the call of the void.
The transformation begins deceivingly small, the way a monsoon starts with a few clouds offering sweet respite from a hot day. It starts with a skipped ride, then a few more until our ride-to-bullshit-excuse ratio is downright deplorable. We have reasons. We're tired. Tired of the same old trails, the same old promises of more, the same old everything. Too little time. Too much work. Broken bike. Broken body. Broken heart.
Our bare feet sink into the once-moist sand of a deserted island where we stand powerlessly watching passion's tide recess into the horizon. If we looked around, we'd see we're not alone, but standing amid a crowd all fixated on the skyline, awaiting the sea's return.
For so many reasons or for no reason at all, our escape stops being an escape. We're not up for the ride anymore. We try, dear God we try. The doctor tells us to take two rides and call her in the morning. It takes all the energy we can muster just to air up tires that mock us with their slow leaks, but defeat washes over us before we get past the front door. We put down the pump and pick up another excuse–we can't face the nothingness today.
Our energy gets funneled toward other activities. Like jogging. (Just kidding, jogging sucks.)
In bits and pieces, other interests start occupying the void. Other people. Other vices.
Time's passage ramps up to the Mach speed of life grandma always warned about, as the ebb of passion is counted in weeks, months and years. But the moon always rises. The tide always returns. And tomorrow keeps coming right up until the moment it doesn't.
Just as the downward spiral began with a solitary skipped ride, the crawl back is marked by a single sojourn. Sometimes apathy's anecdote appears in the form of a person whose anachronistic bike, denim shorts and ego-free stories of grandeur remind us that it's not about the numbers but the experience. It surfaces in wordless conversations about life that take place while pushing bikes up hills with friends who know when it's time to walk, when it's time to talk and when it's time to shut the hell up and ride.
‘Our bare feet sink into the once-moist sand of a deserted island where we stand powerlessly watching passion's tide recess into the horizon.’
It can be gifted from an old steed and its creaking soundtrack of bygone times when every trail was as exciting as it was intimidating. It manifests as a shiny new bike that was saved for, scrutinized and finally splurged on–and it's the swankiest damned thing we've ever owned. And sometimes the moment hits halfway across the country exploring trails with new colors and textures amid the realization that home is no longer a place, but a memory.
With a quaking grip that lasts a little too long and not long enough, we embrace the awesome and the suffering. We hate the climbs with the special kind of loathing normally reserved for well-done steaks drenched in A.1. Sauce. Our clenching hands turn white around the handlebar as our front wheel creeps beyond the point of no return. Sweat hides the tears and tears hide the sweat. Grimacing smiles are woven during the ride with the knowledge that we love it and hate it. We loathe it and embrace it. The rollercoaster's safety bar is locked down tight, and we feel … It doesn't matter what we feel. All that matters is that we feel it.
It's just the smallest of sparks, not enough to provide anything more than a glint of light. And we could ignore it, walk away and neglect the burgeoning flame until it returns to nothingness. But we don't. We cup our hands around its fragile flicker and frantically search for kindling. We breathe in deeply and exhale life into the flicker until it grows into a full-blown blaze capable of lighting the night sky.
We wallow in the warmth, moving closer to the heat until the piercing shock of being burned causes a smile to scurry across our face. We lean in, not because we're masochists–not right now anyway–but because feeling something is so much better than feeling nothing.
A moon-shaped hole finally emerges from the painted-black sky and begins its march toward tomorrow. We share an understated greeting between old friends where we don't ask the moon why it stayed hidden for so long and it doesn't ask us why we stopped looking so quickly. Instead, together we bask in the soft lunar glow and listen to the beautiful sound of crashing waves.