Stopping to Smell the Fishes

An ode to remembering why we ride in the first place

By Vernon Felton


Damn. I quit pedaling and grind to a stop. Somewhere along the line, sometime during the last eternity and change of grunting and sweating and humping my bike up this peak, I knocked the rear wheel out of true. For the past hour my rotor has been squealing like Ned Beatty bent over a log. Go figure, I can hammer this bike down scree slopes, over root balls and off log-jumps and never budge the rim even a bit out of true. How the hell did I warp the hoop on a climb? A climb? I have no friggin' idea.

Damn, damn, damn, dammit!

I climb off the bike, free the wheel from the frame and hold it up for closer examination. It seems a crime to simply call it a wheel--it's nothing less than a technological marvel. Twenty-eight wispy spokes, mated to a beautifully sculpted rim and at, its center, a Swiss-made hub that, as far as workmanship goes, makes most of the parts on my Toyota  look like they were sculpted out of boogers by particularly unimaginative toddlers.

I reflect on this jewel of 21st century engineering for a moment and then I raise the wheel above my head and bring it crashing down against the nearest, meanest-looking boulder. It makes a satisfyingly painful sound. I lift it up again, squint some more and give that mother another couple whacks against a cedar, more out of spite than from any sense of purpose. Satisfied, I slap it back into the frame and give it a spin.

Perfectly quiet.

At this moment, I am the luckiest man alive because it really could have gone the other way entirely; I'm not exactly a master of the Neanderthal wheel-truing technique, but I'm also not in possession of a spoke wrench and I think I would have gone shoot-up-the-Walmart nuts if I had to ride another mile with that rotor squeal cutting a swath through my piece of mind.

Peace of mind is, in fact, what I'm after today.

I don't do yoga. I don't drink herbal tea. I don't know what the hell color my chakra is (or if I even have one). I'm an uptight, tooth-grinding, 40-ounces of coffee-drinking kind of asshole. Stopping and smelling the roses generally isn't on my to-do list, but I was riding yesterday and it struck me that all the deciduous trees were full of healthy, vibrant, almost neon-green foliage and that absolutely shocked me because the last time I'd bothered to pay attention, those same trees were ugly, grey skeletons. I ride up here five days a week and somehow, over the past couple months, I haven't even noticed that spring came and kicked winter to the curb.

It's easy to zone out for a day or two, but how does someone go blank for months at a time? It's sort of scary--particularly since that someone is me.

This season I've strapped on a heart rate monitor, made daily note of my mileage and have become half-way serious, for the first time in a long time now, about getting into kinda-sorta respectable shape. I haven't exactly been checking out the scenery, which is truly a shame. I, in fact, moved to my neck of the woods for the scenery. I moved here to escape traffic, smog, strip malls and groupings of people larger than your average bowling team. If I've been staring at my friggin' heart rate monitor so much that I've somehow forgotten to look around me, I've been missing the point of, well, my entire existence.

So, back to the bike. I climb on. I pedal another twenty minutes in blissed out silence and then I descend to this little lake. The fish aren't big. There aren't many of them. As a honey hole, this five-acre puddle is nothing to write home about. But that isn't the point. The point, I think at least for today, is to just sit back and relax. It's Sunday. The sun is out. I've been riding my bike. I am not in a cubicle. I am not changing a poopy diaper. I am not sweating my tax return.

I am fishing. My wheel is quiet. Life is good.