Rubber Side Down
The trees whiz by on both sides; the frigid autumn air forces itself into your lungs. Your eyes sting and your cheeks are an uncomfortable rose red. You are not alone in your pain; people surround you on all sides, each as close in physical proximity as in suffering. Together, the group glides down the road, producing the barely audible hum of spinning wheels as they pierce the air. It is early; early enough that time itself seems lethargic and slow, almost as though it, too, is still asleep.
But something is awake, and the sound of crunching leaves alerts you. You have heard this sound. It is too familiar. It is the sound of a speeding dog, a hellhound set on an intercept course with your front wheel. Others hear it as well, and suddenly a moving mass of twenty lycra-clad riders awaken from their morning torpor and brace for collision. You are near the back and see it unfold: the gray streak dashes out from the shoulder, the riders in front swerve to miss, the dog is hit and yelps in pain. Two riders go down. One careens off the road, smashing his helmet on a post and putting fear anew into the peloton. We all think the same thing, but choose not to voice it. “That could have been me.”
The dog appears to be okay, save for a possible leg injury and a new fear of road. The rider is less ok; his ride home will be on four, not two, wheels. The owner comes out from her rural house to see what has happened. She’s mad because we hit her dog. We’re mad because her dog ran into the road. Neither side has recourse to win this argument. The countryside dog wears a sulking expression, shrouded in innocence. He knows not what he did wrong. He knows even less why the grown ups are so angry.
“Not now, dog. Look what you did.”
The rest of the group leaves to finish an otherwise-beautiful autumn ride. The rest of the world wakes to start its harried Saturday activities. We don’t talk about the solemnity of our earlier encounter, but the pace is not so frenzied anymore. The normally-competitive group has put aside competition for this brief moment. None of us is thinking of training. All of us are thinking about gray dogs. The immediacy of the former is swallowed by the latter.
“That could have been me.”
Together, the group glides down the road, producing the barely audible hum of spinning wheels as they pierce the air. Newly layered on top of this noise is the sound of conversation, about families, about friends, about things that need to be finished, about things we’ve always been meaning to start.
Somewhere in the countryside, our gray protagonist limps to a spot in the Saturday sun. Flies bother him as a settles in a sunny patch of his expansive territory. I wonder what he is thinking as I roll into the garage and lift my bike onto its hook. Does he know the change he affected today? Probably not. In fact, I think I know what he is thinking.
“That was me.”