You get up with the sun on a Sunday morning. Normally, you'd put on something nice for church. Instead, you get dressed in bike shorts and a jersey with pockets on the back. You pack up your things and load into the car with a few friends to drive to the start. You eat breakfast, wondering if this food will provide enough fuel for the day ahead. You fill your water bottles. You rub in your sunscreen. You fasten your helmet, adjust your sunglasses, secure your iPod, and check your bike. Then you clip in. And you ride.
Your muscles feel tight from the day before. You wonder how long it will take your body to warm up and find its rhythm. You smile at the volunteers on the corner cheering you along the course and pointing out turns. You thank the officers directing traffic at the busier intersections. You make note of every sensation in your body, wondering if it is a temporary ache or an all-day companion. You see other cyclists. You pass some. Some pass you. You read the jerseys of the folks near you and wonder where the teams come from, who started them, how they got their names. You think how nice it would be if the seventy-five miles you rode the day before were it.
You reach the end of town and see the long line of cyclists stretched out before you like ants, ascending the mountain. You grab a drink. You shift once, pedal. Shift again, pedal. You shift, shift, shift until there's nothing left to do but grind. You hear your breathing become shallower, faster. You find a rhythm for your pedals and hang onto it, pushing one, then the other, and again. You pass some. Some pass you. You feel strong. You wonder how to become stronger. You hear a man thirty years your senior say, "Do it for Dannette," as he passes, having read the tag on your back that says, "Riding for:". And you think, It is a gift to push my body like this. You feel grateful for this second seventy-five miles.
You feel the morning sun, already high, blazing on your shoulders. You watch the city stretch out behind you, the mountains before you. You wipe the sweat from your lip. You inhale. You exhale. You push one leg, then the other. You near the top and you hear someone say, "It's a beautiful morning," and you think, Yes, it's glorious.
You enter the cool shadow of the mountain as you pick up speed on the back side. You shift, shift, shift, pedaling, and then you coast. You grip the handlebars tightly, searching the road for any tiny rock or seam or crack that would take your velocity and redirect it skyward--and then ground you. You get a chill from the wind as you reach the bottom. You appreciate it, knowing it won't last long.
You round the bend and shift once, pedal. Shift again, pedal. Shift, shift, shift until there's nothing left to do but grind. You settle in again for another climb. You move your hands down into the drops of your handelbars. You bend closer to your legs, willing them to work harder. You find your rhythm: push, push, push, push. You feel your lungs begin to fill. You feel your lungs empty. You wish you could breathe deeper, wish you could satisfy their demands for oxygen. You inhale again. You exhale. You pass some riders. Some pass you. You grab a sip of water. You feel strong. You wish you were stronger.
You near the top and see a young woman walking her bike the rest of the way to the top. You notice her gait is uneven. You look more closely and see that her right leg is prosthetic. You glance up and notice her jersey: "I ride with MS." You inhale. You feel more reverence and respect for her than you can hold. You exhale. You think, It is miraculous what the human spirit can overcome. You breathe. You pedal. You swell with gratitude for the blessing of your own health. You wish you could do more than just ride a bike. You wonder how much closer this ride moves the world toward a cure.
You reach the top and grab your water bottle. You drink long. You shift, shift, shift, pedal. Shift, shift, shift some more until your speed exceeds your ability to pedal in your highest gear. You begin to coast. You straighten one leg on your pedal and bend over the bars, lifting yourself slightly from the seat. You enjoy the momentary relief. You watch the road carefully as your speed increases. You see the rest stop ahead, full of bikes and riders and volunteers. You see hundreds. You know there are thousands. You think, This is better than church. You revise your thought: This is church.
No stained glass. No pastors. No sermons. Just three thousand people riding their bikes. In love.
You pull your brake handle toward you. You slow down. You unclip your right foot from the pedal and continue braking. You guide your bike into a gap in the crowd. You hear someone singing show tunes. You stop, put your foot down. You unclip your other foot and get off. You set your bike in the gravel and grab your empty water bottle. You head toward the line of people waiting for the port-a-potties.
And you think, There is much good in the world.