Thursday, August 24, 2006

the ride

They gather every Wednesday, after work hours. One hundred, maybe two, parking their cars, each week in a different place, a short drive out of Madison.

Go on the Wednesday Night Bike Ride with me this week! Ed says.
I knew it. Get a fast bike and the pressure is on to push yourself. Today a Wednesday Ride, tomorrow le Tour de France.
But I’m not ready for it! Twenty miles of hills and vales – these people are fit! They wear spandex pants and biking jerseys.
Don’t forget, I’m one of the regulars.
You have a point… Still, you like these killing challenges. I would want to take photos along the way, I’d slow you down…
Come anyway. There is a potluck at a vineyard afterwards.

Ed knows how to twist that wrist.

Dave Mitchell is one of the riders. Dave, owner of Wine and Hop – the store that sells equipment for wine and beer making enthusiasts – grows grapes just south of Madison. You want to make your own wine? Help with the Mitchell harvest this fall, press your own grapes, get the right stuff to ferment the juice and voila! You’re in business.

Dave tells me -- what I like about the Wednesday Night Ride is that it draws people from all jobs, backgrounds, ages. They have only two things in common – they’re into keeping fit and they like to bike.

This week, the ride starts in the town of Oregon. Ed and I arrive late. He has a flat tire to deal with. I'm feeling jittery.

It’s going to storm. What if it storms when we are riding?
Ed shrugs his shoulders. You get wet.

I made a map for you. Clip it to the bike. I picked a short cut if you don’t want to do the full ride. You can go at your speed and I’ll zip ahead and we’ll meet at the end.

What if I have a flat tire? I don’t know how to change a flat tire.
Someone will help you.

I watch the last of the riders set out. Me, among these?

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Oh! This one’s reassuring. He can't be in it for the speed.

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We set out. Ed is patient initially, but within minutes my shoelace gets tangled with the chain. I pause to fix things, he circles around, waiting.

I pause again, this time to take a photo.

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Again he circles, backpedals.

Please go on. You are making me so nervous! Send for me if I fail to reach the finish line.
Are you sure?
I barely catch this. He’s already pushing ahead over the next hill.

On my own, I lose myself in my surroundings. The sun is low, the colors are warm. All the bikers have long passed me. I am alone with the sunflowers and the red barns.

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I am so taken with the light, with the quiet, that I neglect to pay attention to my clipped map.This is the way it looked when it was clipped on.

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Sometime during a particularly brushy side trip into the tall grasses (for a photo) I managed to lose the damn thing.

Still, a loop is a loop. If you turn left a lot, you’re either going to wind up in a dead end circle or back where you started from.

I relax. I pause again to watch men work in a tobacco field.

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I am not paying attention to time. My pedaling alternates between devilishly fast and carelessly mellow.

The sun is a low, red beach ball. Wait, I feel my cargo pants vibrating against my thigh. The phone! I have my cell with me.

Nina, this is Mark, a friend of Ed’s. Where the hell are you??
I’m watching guys hacking away at tobacco leaves...

My pokiness means that we reach the vineyards for the potluck just as the sun touches the horizon. The light is beautiful, though quickly fading. I manage a few photos, then give it up for the night.

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Dave tells me something I already know from my spring ramblings.
There is nothing as spiritual as looking over a vineyard. To watch the vines reach into the air, stretching, as if they knew there is something up there waiting for them -- it's humbling. You can throw down a blanket in an apple orchard or a peach orchard, sit down and look around you and it will be lovely, bucolic even, but sitting at the foot of a vineyard – that’s altogether different. Nothing compares.

I study the tall rows. The soil isn’t the rocky orange of the Languedoc. The grape varieties aren’t the same either. The stubs are young, the winemakers are children, playing with grape juice. I am a child too, taken in by the magic of the vines.

I’ll be back for the September harvest. I'll probably bike over.

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