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Throwback Thursday: Dislocation

Before sitting down to create this blog post, I had to check Google to see if Throwback Thursday, or #TBT, as I've always known it, is still a thing. Seems like it is, which is good, because I recently had this desire to revisit some old pieces of writing and post them here as part of a periodic throwback series.

This piece, Dislocation, was written in the fall of 2013, halfway between Ithaca and Albany, New York. I was on my way back to living in the Capital Region after three years in the Southern Tier of the state. The picture, and the story, were of a late-summer day spent out in the rural hills of Rotterdam, New York, three years prior in 2010. Maybe because it's July right now and the Tour de France is on the television, or maybe it's because I've been thinking recently of getting back on the bike myself every now and again. Whatever the reason, this piece felt like the right one for a first #TBT.

September 9, 2013

It seems like it was long ago, partway into just another late afternoon, when I found myself riding along a little road called Ennis. It was September, and that end-season chill was in the air. I had just climbed up a twisting blanket of backcountry asphalt known as Crawford Road; my jersey was partially unzipped and my arm warmers were peeled down, bunched near my wrists. I made it to the top of the climb with hardly a breath left in my lungs, then I swung left along Rynex before hanging the hard right onto Ennis. My legs were reflexively turning over in those familiar circles, not because they were necessary in helping to move the bike forward (the road was pointed down) but because they would have locked up entirely had they been still. Their desire to work, even when unneeded, has always been unmodulated and somewhat automatic.

The autumn wind blew over my shoulders and it was colder than most other nights before this ride. The clouds hung low, and for the first time in a while, the sun had begun to drop noticeably further below the ragged horizon. I tugged my jersey zipper to my neck and pulled my warmers back up. I almost reached for my wind jacket, the one tucked neatly in my back middle pocket, but decided to leave it. 

Of all the distractions I searched desperately for, I couldn't keep myself away from the persistent acknowledgment of my own, unrelenting burden. For almost the entire year prior, in a time and place that now seems like another life - another person's life - I had placed a pressure upon myself greater than anything I had known before. I was tired, and the cracks were starting to show. I had weighed myself down so heavily that it was a miracle I could even get myself up those roads to begin with. 

The matter which preoccupied my mind for so long was that of a pursuit. A searching. An unanswerable call from the unknown. One that relentlessly beckoned me to leave while taunting me with the threat of failure should I have stayed. Like my desire to climb and to go far, my resistance to this impulse was futile. And it was all consuming. So I took to the roads, and as I struggled to understand my place among the landscape, I rode what seemed like endless miles - day, after day, after day - all in an attempt to find my way. 

In hindsight, I'm not sure I ever did.

Screaming down Ennis, balled up in a racer's tuck with my hands atop the bars and my chin practically touching the cap of the steer tube, I remember feeling confident in my decision to go. To leave. Like launching an attack out of the peloton, suspecting full well that the break probably wouldn't stick, but trying anyway. In that moment, the road swept to the left and I remember thinking (as I ticked over 45mph) that life's trajectory can be just like coming into a high-speed turn. One subtle hesitation can ruin the arc. 

Shortly after that day, I went. I attacked. And though I believed it to be the deciding move at the time of my acceleration, like all breakaways, there was no guarantee I was going to stay away. But, after all, it's never really about winning or losing, is it? It's about the feeling of wind on your face.

I was out of the hills and down in the valley, three years ago, on this late afternoon that I last rode Ennis. I stared down and lost myself in the spokes of my front wheel as they turned in a blur. Looking beyond them, I watched the asphalt as it flowed under me like a torrent. I was chilled to the bone as the autumn wind worked against me, and I was broken down from the day's efforts. I finally did grab my jacket from my jersey pocket and slipped into it, first with my right arm and then with my left. I soft-pedaled to drain the hurt from my legs and listened to the wind and the fluttering of my collar. I had spent the better part of a year striving to leave, and in the week that followed... I did.  

Only now do I know just how much I was really looking forward to going home.