I had known the remote mountain road would be battered after the winter. But I did not predict it being this stunningly bad. It was not a matter of having to watch out for potholes. The whole thing was a pothole. More of a ravine than a road. More of a riverbed. As I plummeted, bouncingly, down the mountainside, mud and water sprayed everywhere. Stones slingshot from under my tyres in all directions.
It had been some time since I'd gone on a ride like this. Alone. Far. Wandering the back roads in search of a location the way to which I could only vaguely remember. Last time I had cycled this way, I did not recall there being quite so much climbing - which could only mean I was still pretty weak. My lower back was starting to ache. The wind was picking up and the mist growing heavier. If I didn't find the place in the next half hour, I would need to turn back, unless I wanted to do the return trip in the dark and fog (I did not).
As the headwind showered my face with gravely dust from the road, there was a question I was asking myself - or rather, trying not to ask, which amounts to a more pressing, repetitive asking. Was I enjoying this? And if not, why had I not waited? Another month, even another week, until I grew stronger and the weather improved, before taking on this trip.
But I hadn't waited. And now I was tired and slow, and needed to make a decision. My decision was to descend down a road which I knew was tricky, but would get me off the mountain before dark.
A quarter of the way down, 'tricky' was no longer the fitting word for the terrain I found myself on. 'Tricky' had given way to 'no longer qualifies as a road.' Well, no sense going back now.
It had been a while since I had last done this descent. But somehow my body retained the memory of the sequence of bends coming up. Rather amazingly, I sat through the bounce and jostle calmly, more surprised at the road condition than anything, as I steered away from the more gaping openings in the rough surface, and equally away from the cliff's edge. All the while I tried to take in - and enjoy - the glorious misty views.
At some point during this, I felt my front tyre dislodge a particularly large rock. As my bike bounced sideways before regaining its composure, I saw, from the corner of my eye, the rock flying. It must then have bounced off of something violently, as I then heard a loud clanking noise. Hoping it was not my derailleur, I tested my gears. Luckily, they seemed fine. And so I continued the hideous high-speed bounce down the ravaged lane with no further incident. Two hours later, I was home. And after washing the mud off my face, I fell promptly asleep.
It was not till the following week that I felt up to trying another adventure. I'd begun to feel better by then. And I also started to tell myself, that the earlier trip was not nearly as 'epic' as I'd made it out to be. The road had probably been fine, maybe a pothole or two. I had just been tired, is all, and my mind played tricks, exaggerating every tiny thing I encountered.
After breakfast that morning, I looked over my bike - checking it, as I do before any long ride. I am especially concerned about the wheels; having built them myself I still don't entirely trust them to stay intact. And indeed, this time around I noticed a spoke on my front wheel was loose. In fairness, this has happened to almost every set of wheels I've ridden in Ireland, including factory-built ones. Not a disaster: the spoke gets tightened; the wheel re-trued it need be, loctite applied and afterward all is well.
And so I did just that. And it was not until afterward that I noticed the ...other thing. When I saw it at first I had to force myself to stand up quickly and walk away - far away - from the bike, before I did anything stupid like fling it at the wall in anger. When I finally calmed down and looked at it again, I still had to take deep breaths.
So that's what the rock had bounced off of.
I ran my fingers along the dented seat tube, again and again.
After a minute or two it finally sunk in that the dent was there, and would not disappear no matter how much I wanted it to. But whatever mix of emotions I felt initially, dissipated. With a clear head, I checked the frame for other signs of damage. There were none. I put on my shoes, got on the bike, and rode for a couple of hours. The weather was good. The bicycle felt wonderful as ever.
I would not be the first to use cycling as a metaphor for - you know - Life. And this one is so obvious, I almost can't help but chuckle at the sight of that dent. (Almost.)
We go through a rough time, convince ourselves all is fine, that it wasn't that bad really. But when trauma or damage occurs, it will surface afterward, sooner or later. Sooner or later we will notice and have to acknowledge it. And then?
Well, that is up to us, isn't it. Either way, I think noticing is important.