Thursday, April 29, 2010

the big ride to the mountain

(written for school and lengthy. mmm hmm.)

“Dammit cat would you shut the hell up?’ I yell.
“Marowll!” the orange fuzz ball whines.
“Alright alright I’m coming.” I say and follow him into the plastered room where his food and litter box live. Zip the big black cat plods along behind me.
“Marowll!” Damn he has the most nasally meow I’ve ever heard. I dump dry food into the split green dish and scratch both cats on the head. Same routine every morning.
I’ve been writing papers for the past four days in prep for finals week. I promised my self that when I was done with reports I would decompress on the bike for a hundred miles. Now it’s finally Tuesday. Time to ride.
I pull on my chamois and fill my water bottles with Arizona green tea. A big cookie, two bananas, and three packs of peanut butter crackers go in my hydration pack.
Do I have everything? Think so. I’m out of here. I grab my orange bike and trot down the front stairs onto the side walk. A big push and hop on to start peddling.
I roll past the unemployment office and look at the gaggle of people lying around. Every day they chill there, smoking cigarettes, leaning on the wall. Past the office building with the big plate glass windows. I check myself out in the reflection. Man that’s vain. But I want to see what I look like to drivers. Skinny, all legs. Long hair. Fruity black and white striped arm warmers. Yep I’d probably run me down if I was a diesel wielding hick.
The road leads up the hill and out of town. I leave the last red light behind. 45 minutes in I’m passing the Westmoreland fairgrounds. I used to wear a camo uniform while parking cars and cleaning bathrooms at that fair. It was a fund raiser for the Civil Air Patrol; always had to explain to people that we were an Air Force Auxiliary dammit, not Army guys. But I wonder why county fair women always ended up getting fecal matter on the walls of the bathrooms. The sloppy potbellied dudes had better aim.
The sky is perfect. A few clouds and a brilliant blue. “Weather as fair as South France” I always think of that William Penn recruitment poster from the colonial era when the weather is nice. A coal truck blasts by and plows a wave of air that knocks me over to the side. Screw those asshole truckers. They don’t give a shit about anything or anybody other than hauling their load.     
I start the climb up the Chestnut Ridge. We ran up this hill in high school cross country once, and then did intervals on the Laurel soccer fields. That was a crazy run. I’m grinding up the hill at about 8mph. I tear open a pack of crackers. Oh god dammit. My cracker filled mouth immediately dries out. Why the hell do I always bring frigging crackers. These bastards are impossible to eat on the bike. I try choking the things down with some iced tea.
Finally hit the top of the hill. I’m feeling good. I tuck out of the wind and hit 44mph down the other side. A big pick up tries to pass me on the twisty road and almost hits an oncoming car. These fuckers are so dumb. I shake my head at him.
I cross Four Mile Run. A met a guy at a race who said he used to live here. “I grew up chasing frogs in that stream, then I hit puberty and figured out that girls were more fun.” He moved to the city to chase his new favorite thing.
There are horses everywhere now. I try not to look the things in the eye. If they wanted to, they could jump right over those tiny fences and pound my scrawny ass into the pavement. I can’t believe people ride those monsters. They’re all staring at me. 
Now I go by a cow farm. One looks like it’s going to charge. I resist the urge to moo at it. That thread on the mountain bike forums said you never moo at a cow. The guy who mooed was knocked off his bike and trampled by the bovines. They broke his back. He doesn’t ride bikes anymore.
I stop to pee on a gravel road. There are “no trespassing” signs everywhere. $300 dollar fine for setting foot in these woods. People take their property way to seriously. Stupid society making all the forests off limits. I read the name on a mailbox. “MacDonnell.” Holy crap. How did I end up here. Jimmy MacDonnell was such a weird little monkey. He spent the first 11 years of his life on a boat sailing around the world with his parents. Used to wear duct tape rings and leave orange bug juice stains around his mouth. I swivel my head to the right and look at the red barn. There used to be a hay fort in there. It was the most elaborate hay structure I’ve ever seen.
Hey I know exactly where I am now. I smile and put a foot down before crossing Rt. 711. I roll down the hill and into Rector. I pass a moldy run down house. “You’re gonna live there when you grow up!” we used to jeer at each other on the school bus in grade school.
I hit the base of Laurel Mountain and pass the Valley School were I went until 7th grade. My last act before leaving that place was mooning a girl in my class because she made fun of me for wearing tighty whiteys. I sure showed her. The road is a steady grade. It’s nice and smooth since they repaved it. The trees close in tightly around the road. Air gets cooler from the shade and increasing elevation.
I stop at the spring where an old man is filling gallon jugs from the dual metal pipes. His old wife is sitting in the gray Oldsmobile.
“Mind if I hop in here and fill up my bottle?” I ask.
“Sure go ahead. Where ya commin from?” he says.
“Greensburg” I say.
“Oh yeah? Us too. That’s a trip. You goin up over the top to 30?”
“Yeah it is. And I am. But it’s a beautiful day for it.” I get back on my bike and ride off. “Have a good one” I yell. He doesn’t hear me and goes back to filling jugs.
My speedometer reads 42 miles. I’m climbing up the mountain at a good pace. The first time I tried this four years ago, my legs cramped up so badly that I had to lay in the gravel by the side of the road and moan. Now it isn’t bad. I turn off the road and onto Fish Run Trail. A big stream froths down the mountain beside me.
I get onto the gravel road at the top of the hill and ride over to the grassy parking area. The picnic pavilion is available, so I sit on a bench and break out my big cookie. The plan is to ride a few hours of the super rocky trails on top of the mountain. I lean back happily and dig out my phone to check in with my padre and Tessa. The little text envelope is lit up.
Tessa the Bear: 1:28 “Drew and I were in an accident. Please call me soon. We’re going to the hospital and I can’t have my phone on.”

Oh shit. I hold down the 2.
“Hello?” Tess answers.
“Hey what’s up?” I say.
“Nothing.” She says.
“What happened?” I ask.
“We were in an accident. I’ve gotta go.” She hangs up.
Well she sounded like she was ok. I take a bite of cookie. Tessa’s mom calls and I talk to her. She says they’re ok. I text Tessa and tell her I’m coming straight back to Latrobe. I’ll be there in two hours.
It figures that this would happen when I’m at the absolute farthest point from Latrobe. I’m about 30 miles away. I sprint out of the picnic area and onto a trail that cuts across the mountain top. There are big primordial looking puddles. I slow down when I go through them so I don’t splash too much water on my ass.
Back onto the gravel road and I’m peddling as fast I can. I’ve been riding across Laurel Mountain for almost and hour when I hit Rt. 30. I pass the Laurel Summit sign and reach back to switch on my red blinky lights, just in case. I’ve always wanted to ride down this hill. It’s massive.
I go over the top and a huge headwind blasts me. I’m rolling down the mountain, tucked down as aerodynamically as I can, but I can’t break 28 mph. The headwind is like a wall. “What the fuck” I shout. My voice is lost in the wind.
The universe is not against you. It’s just weather. I’m trying to convince myself that I’m not being punished for something. At the bottom of the mountain the wind continues. It’s still sunny, but now I’m getting cold. The sign at the Pie Shoppe says 52 degrees. The road is flat but I can’t go any faster than 12mph. This wind is ridiculous. I’m trying to get to the hospital, and this fucking wind is blasting me. Dammit. The universe is not against you. I’m not convinced.
I pass a pair of plaid boxers by the side of the road. I’m tempted to stop and take a picture, but I don’t. Tess is in the hospital. I’m trying to get back. I ride into a gravel driveway to read a text from Tessa’s mom. They’re home now. Ok. That’s good. I don’t have to hurry so much anymore.
I’m passed Idlewild Park and heading into the gorge. I curse the Penn Dot guys for eating up almost all of the shoulder with rumble strips. Where the hell are bikes supposed to ride on this road? Cars are flying by. Some have to be going over 80. I pass one cross with some flowers laid out, then another, one more. Jesus. How many people have to die on this road before people slow down?
There are two guys fishing on the flooded causeway in the river on my left. They’re wearing big boots to keep the water out. I pass the sloping dam where people lay in the summer, spray painted “Dave’s Beach.” I think Dave is a dick. It was funnier when it said “Welfare Beach.”
I turn off 30 and roll down the across the back road into Latrobe. I’ve been out for 5 hours and 66 miles. I guess I’m not gonna get 100 today. No biggie. I’m almost to Tessa’s house. I pass the dirty fluorescent roller skating rink “Have your birthday party here!” its sign yells at me. No thanks.
A school bus rumbles by me at the Sheetz intersection. I let it go. I’m always wary of kids throwing stuff out of those busses. I used to when I was younger. Calculators in particular were fun to watch explode. But I never did like math.
The old Sheetz is across the street. They just abandoned it and built a new one. The parking lot is walled off with curbs. I turn onto Lincoln Ave. The steel yard is rumbling on my left side, and on my right, Racers Tavern is blue again. They painted the whole building pink for breast cancer awareness a few months ago.
Now the road shoulders are huge. I wish they were like this on all the streets. There’s a crossing guard in a green safety vest talking to two heavier girls by Holtzer’s Deli. They’re wearing sweatpants and they stomp off. I pass the long row of pink cherry trees next to the rail road tracks. I’m reading road signs. Walnut, Chestnut, Spring. I turn up Tessa’s street and start climbing the hill.
She’s standing outside with her arms crossed in jeans and a fuzzy dark purple sweater. 


Jason said...

Wow, that was epic (the ride and the post) hope all is well. Sad about you not stopping to photograph boxers. But, I suppose I'd be sadder if you had.

Montana said...

Aye it was epic. But everythings cool. Tess just has a sore back and an upset stomach. Those boxers were nice and muddy though