Friday, February 22, 2013

Heard his skull crumple

Me on my favorite part of the dam-ride; east side of Horsetooth Reservoir - Fort Collins, CO
Today I woke up in a terrible mood and I had no idea why. The regular tasks like making breakfast, taking out the trash or finding my keys just aggravated me. There was no reason to be in a bad mood.  It just seemed to be circumstance; off serotonin levels, bad night sleep, I don't know. When I got on my bike to start the commute to work that bad mood fell away. I feel like a kid and a superhero all at the same time when I'm on a bicycle. There is pure joy in it for me. As my metabolism gets crankin' so do my thoughts. More visions of the illuminated phylogenetic tree burst into my head and plans were made to send out e-mails, assemble a team to make it happen. 

While thinking about my affection for the act of riding a bike I recalled reading an amazing passage in Earnest Hemingway's Moveable Feast last year. In it he describes attending the velodrome races in Paris. I recall getting that tingling sensation you get when you hear a moving piece of classical music of see a painting close enough to notice the brush-strokes.

Here it is. I hope it strikes the same chord with you that it did with me. 

 I have started many stories about bicycle racing but have never written one that is as good as the races are both on the indoor and outdoor tracks and on the roads. But I will get the Velodrome d'Hiver with the smoky light of the afternoon and the high-banked wooden track and the whirring sound the tyres made on the wood as the riders passed, the effort and the tactics as the riders climbed and plunged, each one a part of his machine; I will get the magic of the demi-fond,  the noise of the motors with their rollers set out behind them that the entraineurs  rode, wearing their heavy crash helmets and leaning backwards in their ponderous leather suits, to shelter the riders who followed them from the air resistance, the riders in their lighter crash helmets bent low over their handlebars, their legs turning the huge gear sprockets and the small front wheels touching the roller behind the machine that gave them shelter to ride in, and the duels that were more exciting than anything, the put-puting of  the motorcycles and the riders elbow to elbow and wheel to wheel up and down and around at deadly speed until one man could not hold the pace and broke away and the solid wall of air that he had been sheltered against hit him.

     There were so many kinds of racing. The straight sprints raced in heats or in match races where the two riders would balance for long seconds on their machines for the advantage of making the other rider take the lead, and then the slow circling and the final plunge into the driving purity of speed. There were the programmes of the team races of two hours, with a series of pure sprints in their heats to fill the afternoon, the lonely absolute speed events of one man racing an hour against the clock, the terribly dangerous and beautiful races of one hundred kilometres on the big banked wooden five-hundred-metre bowl of the Stade Buffalo, the outdoor stadium at Montrouge where they raced behind big motorcycles, Linart, the great Belgian champion that they called 'the Sioux' for his profile, dropping his head to suck up cherry brandy from a rubber tube that connected with a hot-water bottle under his racing shirt when he needed it towards the end as he increased his savage speed, and the championships of France behind big motors of the six-hundred-and-sixty metre cement track of the Pare du Prince near Auteuil, the wickedest track of all where we saw that great rider Ganay fall and heard his skull crumple under the crash helmet as you crack a hard-boiled egg against a stone to peel it on a picnic. I must write the strange world of the six-day races and the marvels of the road-racing in the mountains. French is the only language it has ever been written in properly and the terms are all French and that is what makes it hard to write. Mike was right about it, there is no need to bet. But that comes at another time in Paris.

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