I can can feel his cold breath on my back, like a shadow drifting through an alleyway. He’s not yet upon me, but the Man with the Hammer is lurking nearby. I’m not even sure he has the intention to strike; he’s just staying close, cruelly reminding me that my fate is in his hands.
I feel the heaviness in my legs from the first turns of the pedals as the road tilts upwards; its not the usual resistance that I know will spin out once I find my rhythm because finding my rhythm will be impossible when the pace is as it is. I’m not on the rivet yet, but the pressure foretells my future; no graceful arcs of the pedals, I’ll soon be pedaling squares in search of the power I need to hold the wheel in front of me.
The pitch changes, not steeper but the change disrupts whatever grasp I had on the rhythm and the gap opens a bit. Handlebars are chewed and the gap is closed again, for now. I know it, and the shadow knows it: this is a temporary fix, not a long term solution. The end is coming, but I’m determined to hold it off for as long as possible. The next symptom is that I can’t find a gear that works, I’m shifting constantly, back and forth between the same two gears trying to find the magic ratio that lets me hold the tempo more easily.
All the shifting of gears has broken my concentration and I as I look up I discover I’ve let the wheel go without even noticing it. The shadow reminds me that I hadn’t even cracked yet but I let it go just because I let my tired mind occupy itself with a detail like what gear I’m in when what really matters is pushing on the pedals. The price I pay is more handlebar chewing and clawing back onto the wheel. The effort means the end is just drawn that much closer, but still I will do anything to delay the inevitable.
I’m starting to wonder if I’ve dug too deep already, that if after the inevitable happens will I be able to limit my losses? Maybe the smart thing to do – I try to convince myself – is to let go and find a steady tempo to ride to the top. If I do that, I can probably bridge up on the false flat at the top, or on the descent. Failing that, I’ll catch them back on the flats.
But there is no catching back after letting go; it is the reality of our world. These are just the things we tell ourselves in order to face the harsh reality of getting dropped. The only thing that truly exists is the fact that I will be dropped, and that there will be a long, lonely road home.
The wheel in front moves a few centimeters ahead. I see it and push harder on the pedals but still the gap opens. It is only a meter now, but it might as well be a kilometer; the wheel is gone and I am alone.