Controle: Any of several checkpoints you have to hit during a specified time window on a brevet, often a shop that sells food. If you’re too late, you DNF (Do Not Finish). If you’re too early, they give you cake and a foot rub. So I hear. I’ve never been early.
RBA: Regional Brevet Administrator.
Moving stripe: If you imagine the starting line moves through the course at about 9½ miles per hour, beating it to each controle means you don’t DNF.
WHEN PANICKING TO GET to controle 1,
you’re not on a brevet. That ride is done.
It’s like when something overwhelms your life—
you can’t take care of other things; the knife
shaves thin. The body must be let to wait.
The single organ must excruciate,
find joy in pain, distinction in heroics
so small from the outside that eighteen Stoics,
with Geiger counters of the rarest build,
won’t know—unless you SCREAM; but you’ll have killed
that impulse. Now the body petrifies
around it while the immune system tries
to save the living core—but not alone;
the core must also save itself. New bone
now bifurcates out from it, overtakes
the skeleton, and where it needs to, breaks
the pelvis, cracks the sternum. Heart and lungs
are useless; bone grows through them, meets the rungs
of ribs; it fuses. Muscles climb like vines,
the body’s DNA replaced by lines
of nucleotide code from molecules
transformed within the pain. If this all fools
the body into thinking it’s alive,
that’s fine; we’ll discuss later if the drive
that motivates the monster is the same
identity, or just has the same name,
and whether I’m the house or the address.
Til then, just grit your teeth.
But I digress.
YOU’VE HIT THE FIRST CONTROLE before it closed?
You’re in the game. Excuses, juxtaposed
with self-impressed conceit, are over, done.
The ride’s no longer to be lost or won,
but finished; that’s the point of a brevet—
or can be. Well, depending…
… Sometimes it is, and this one is, for me.
The next controle (they call it Controle 3;
there’s no consistent system in these cue sheets)
is tucked into a mall behind these two streets
that form a T, with lots of heavy traffic,
through which one must perform choreographic
pirouettes and careful sprints and hops
and watch out that the car that’s slowing stops.
But first—I ride right into a parade
or festival, or something. It all made
a vague impression through my great concern.
I need not to be stopped. I need to burn,
not toe my way from inch to inch in cleats
through crowds applauding Tae Bo in the streets,
through Girl Scouts, fire fighters, cops, food vendors—
which all would be just fine except it renders
me less able to make sense of the cues,
which already confused me. (I accuse
no one of anything in that regard;
it’s just that reading cues while wiped is hard,
and that’s when you’re not 90 seconds shy
of blowing your whole ride.) (I am.) So I
go calm and scan for signs I need to find.
The streets are clogged with bodies, sidewalks lined
like blocked aortas. Don’t they realize
I’m on a rigid course, can’t improvise?
I keep toeing ahead. Which road is Stage?
And which is Millpond? Men in middle age
should be able to tell which way is which.
I did this ride in 2010. A twitch
within sense memory says to go straight,
but if the twitch is wrong, I’ll be too late.
One minute til a callous God enjoys
a cruel DNF at Bagel Boys.
A street sign to my left, obscured by trees,
says my best guess is off 90°
so is this Stage I’m on? I just can’t tell,
but I’m about to DNF, so hell—
just pick a damn direction and just go.
The throng diffuses up ahead. I know
that once I clear the mob, and sprint as hard
as I can sprint, there is one distant shard
of possibility that I might make it.
The road bends left after the crowd. I take it.
E=mc2, so speed of sound
is all that I can do. Legs and heart pound.
I’m 205, the bike weighs 26,
the saddlebag is 813 (the bricks
might not be worth it, and the stand,
pneumatic tools, spare fairing, and
galoshes might bear reconsidering,
but there are things I simply have to bring:
the stove and tiki torches, the canoe,
the I.V. stand, arc welder, ladder, two
car batteries and cables and a side
of beef are the bare minimum to ride
with anything approaching self-sufficiency.
Bicycling is all about efficiency—
the time I’m apt to lose on a repair
increases if the table saw’s not there.)
And as I bank around the curve and sail
towards the T, I know I’m going to fail,
a certainty that settles in by dint
of going 8 m.p.h. in a dead sprint
when I need 8.00001.
I might as well give up. I can’t outrun
pure mathematics. Distance over speed?
Speed over something something? I don’t need
these numbers! Inner purity of reason
is all I need, to know I’ve blown my season.
But no point being chickenshit. Deny fate
your resignation to its certain checkmate.
Though 8’s damn slow, your sprint is wholly yours.
A randonneur does just one thing: endures.
(And it may possibly be more than 8.
Both time and poetry exaggerate.)
My lungs and legs are heavy, but I can’t
lift one hand off the bars to try and plant
a finger on the MODE pip of my watch.
To try to see the time would be to botch
my chance of trying hard in ignorance,
a precursor, it seems, to providence.
Three riders coming toward me from the T
look rando-ish, I think, quite possibly.
So probably, I’m going the right way.
Before I know for sure, I hear one say,
“It’s just about to close. You better hurry.”
There’s screaming from my legs. My vision’s blurry.
“No kidding,” isn’t the most gracious thing
to say, but I’ve already felt the sting
of failure; this is all a valiant death
for honor’s sake. I’ve got no ready breath
to shout a followup in cordial tone,
and even if I did, now I’m alone.
The T is hard to navigate. The last
remaining time ticks down, and I’m not past
the intersection. Right there is the mall
where I’ll accept that I gave it my all.
And then I’m through—but there’s no doubt my ride
has failed. I sprint to Bagel Boys. Inside,
the RBA sees me roll up and waves,
flips through the papers where she lists the graves
of randonneurs who’ve died on this brevet.
I grab my card, wave back, and on my way
toward the door, look at my watch, which shows:
It’s fourteen-hundred hours on the nose.
“You’ve still got time to go,” the RBA
says, shooting a thumbs-up. “I do?” I say.
“You’ve got til 2:05.” Again: “I do?
The cue sheet says I’ve only got til two.”
“No—” Papers flip again, but either way,
I know what my watch said. There is no gray.
It’s good to feel a chair. I eat some chips,
half-listen to the RBA give tips
to riders I don’t know, get up and wave.
A bagel in my saddlebag to save
for later, I roll back across the T,
behind the moving stripe, onto Leg 3.