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In the early chill of the morning, as I hug the curvature of the mountain on my bike, my mind is open. The baritone of the whirling wheels, the bass of the humming tires on asphalt, the tenor of the creaky chain, all punctuated by the intermittent clicking of shifting gears mingle to compose a harmonic tune. My deep rhythmic breathing lulls my mind into a deep state of rest. I do not think of the past or future. I am immersed in the singularity of the present: going up.
Three short hours ago, I left my garage in the chilly morning. I imagined I am Lance Armstrong, flying up the Alpe d’Huez. One by one, I would drop my responsibilities on the last leg of the 68 km stage. I hear the announcer over my earpiece, “My goodness, this unknown rider is pushing the pace on Alpe d’Huez and splitting up the peloton! Jalabert had crackedOlano is gone. Only Ullrich and Pantani have managed to stay with him.” Bonds and shackles are breaking, making me freer every moment. “And he attacks! The time only Ulrich managed to respond. It’s a two-way race now. The others are out of the picture. The unknown rider is pulling ahead.”
And then a middle-aged man zips by me. I forget I am on the slopes of Mount Hamilton, inching up the 4,000-foot climb on a creaky old mountain bike. A hint of a condescending smirk appears at the corner of his mouth trying to hide his pity at this impudent teenager. I remind myself my purpose here is not here to entertain passersby, but to achieve an ambition. Last summer, I tested myself with a 63-mile round trip to Coyote Point weaving through the traffic of El Camino, though at the end, it was all too easy. The reward that is intrinsic of accomplishing a genuine challenge was not there. A week ago, I had opened a map and picked the highest peak to ascend. All 4,000 feet starting from home. On a bike. Alone.
My bike sways in cadence as I stand on the pedals, powering up the steep grade. The only relief comes at the flattening of the road at the switchback turns themselves. A blur of color barrels down on the other side of the road. His two-wheeled machine probably costs two grand and weighs half as much as mine. Any hint of envy is quickly overtaken by pride. My bike is a piece of art in itself. At one time, it lay in three 5-gallon buckets. All parts of my bike had been scavenged from thrown away bikes; a set of spokes here and a derailleur cable there. Every single bearing, race, and brake pad has passed through my inspection. I blew the breath of life onto my bike. When we ride, my bike and I are one. We may not be the fastest or the lightest, but there is an unbeatable richness of being homebrewed.
As I rounded the switchbacks, Lick Observatory did not seem any closer than 10 miles and 1200 feet back. All my granola bars and water have disappeared into my stomach eons ago, too long ago to remember. The bright sun and cold, dry air illuminate the mountainside in a crisp clarity. I am precarious balanced on the edge of lunacy, yet I have never felt my thoughts so clear. What if I do not make it? It does not matter. Time intertwines with nature and disappears. One revolution at a time, I am going to the top to nowhere.
Memories of the long, rewarding hours in the cramped garage came flooding back. My father and I worked side-by-side, switching roles every so often to relieve the soreness. Though not the most time efficient process, the personal rewards gained are well worth the time. He learned his skills as a bicycle and motorcycle repairperson in Vietnam, operating out of a little shack at home. He has come a long way. Now, I am here next to him, inheriting his love for handy-work while he passes on a little of himself to me. I cherish every moment working in that cold, cramped, under-lit garage next to my father.
Still no closer to the top than before, I catch the last glimpse of the sunlight shimmering across the hazy valley in the distance before me. About to collapse, I watch the sunset in awe atop of the world on my bike. I come accept and love all things as they are. Encrust in sweat, I have never been happier in my life. I look forward to satisfying buzz of my sprocket: it is all downhill from here.
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