DURING THE PRINCETON 200K yesterday (I finished), I was thinking how a brevet that goes the way it’s supposed to doesn’t make for good stories.
At mile 10 there were hills.
At mile 26 there was a really big hill. Everybody went slower.
At mile 38 a turkey buzzard was eating a rabbit. We made ironic jokes.
I did write this haiku:
sweat and butterflies
drop through my vision, the road
like cartoon static
But I’d pretty much decided not to blog about this one until the long descent on County Road 519.
Boy, do I love descending.
I laugh when things are funny, and I smile when one of my children does something that opens my heart. But basically, I’m not a smiler. In my experience, male smilers are mostly salesmen.
But around 35 miles an hour, downhill, my heart’s beating faster, and by 40 there’s a grin. At 45, it’s full-out, flushed, eyes-bright glee, the way people look after a really awesome roller coaster.
I hate roller coasters. But I love descending.
When my stomach’s flat and my hairy butt’s got no lard on it, I’m between 190 and 195. In the small print for bike parts, I’m “For our heftier riding friends…” And I climb like a banana slug. You’ll have time to call your friends to help cheer me on.
But descending? If everything’s lubed and packed, and I’m not too exhausted to hold the position and trust my reflexes? Newton was wrong. Gravity loves me.
THE THING ABOUT a good tailwind on a descent isn’t that it speeds you up. It’s that when your ears are coasting along at the same speed as the wind, the turbulence roar goes away. The pinna, the outside part of the ear, has all these folds and curves that are great for sound focusing and directional localizing, but for hearing anything but ROOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAARRRRRRR on a downhill, ears suck ass.
But not with a tailwind.
If there are birds, you can hear them. If you have good tires, you can hear little leathery blumps over surface breaks and dips. If you have lousy tires, you can hear the same thing with a little more crack to the sound.
And if there’s a tailwind, and you have good tires, and it’s a few miles of new pavement?
And it’s sunny and nice?
PART OF THE reason I love descending is probably that I’ve never wiped out on one. So far, my wipeouts have been in the city: Two doorings (van; taxicab), two endos (hidden pavement heaves; submerged algae slime).
The best descents in Manhattan are Fort George Hill, 168th down to the Hudson Greenway, and the switchback above the Little Red Lighthouse.
These are not descents. In order, they are wrong way against heavy traffic, ends abruptly at major intersection; average New York traffic, ends abruptly at hard left; and place where kids play and people walk and you’re a city jerk if you act like it’s Paris-Roubaix.
Each of these little downhills lasts less than 30 seconds.
ACTS OF BEAUTY don’t get much more senseless than zooming downhill at 49 miles an hour with your jersey rippling and your gloved fingers on the levers. It’s pure. There is no manifesto, and you can’t get theoretical. Some beauty is simply itself.