Summers in Missouri tend to be oppressively hot and unbearably humid, causing most people in these parts to run from the air conditioning of their vehicles to the air conditioning of their homes or places of business. Even a short trot across a parking lot will usually result in a perspiration-saturating experience: within seconds, clothing will be soaked through and through, hair will look as though one has just stepped from the shower, and rivulets of salty water will pool at the hairline before plunging down and tracing the curves of one’s forehead and cheeks. Winter, too, tends to offer little hope for the outdoor-oriented, bleak and muddy and gray as it tends to get around here. If it’s not cold and icy, then the ice and snow have just melted and another storm is on the way. The winds can be comically gusty — that is, unless it’s August, in which case the air is dead still with no respite from the brutal rays of the sun.
But everyone once in a while we get a beautiful day — a wonderous aligning of the elements, when the temperatures hover around 70 and the winds abate to a soft breeze. Clouds dance across a sky of cerulean blue, reminiscent of the opening credits on The Simpsons.
Today is such a day.
I pedaled north to Smithville Lake this morning and even though the road was out just before I reached my northernmost destination, the day beckoned with such promise that I bitched only for the briefest of moments before following the detour, miles out of my way. Other cyclists were of a similar mind this morning and I passed several road bikers, bent in singleminded, single file dedication, each leapfrogging to the front of the pack for a turn at the lead. A quick wave of the hand from everyone, sometimes a pleasant and friendly jingle of a bell — well, except for one fellow, obviously a Tour wannabe dressed in expensive lime green kit, a chump far too important for an acknowledging nod of the head to a fellow wanderer of the road… but on such a day as today we shall cut him slack and ignore his rudeness.
The night before brought us such winds that the roads and the path around the lake are covered with twigs and freshly greened and pruned leaves. At times I pick my line carefully as I speed along the tarmac, occasionally emerging from the woods to travel along the lake shore. A red squirrel, contemplating suicide, runs across the path, turns and then turns again, and nearly runs under my front wheel: I dodge, and so too does the tree rat; thankfully we dodge in opposite directions. Today he lives to dodge another day.
The unseasonable temperatures, coupled with strategically scheduled rains, finds us with trees fully foliated a month early. At times, mossy ponds are located along the outward bend in the trail; trees overhang one side. Logs, long and gray and covered with dozens of dozing mud turtles, reflect wildly abstract shadows and patterns across water tinted red by the iron-infused banks of Missouri clay.
Today is not a day to trudge along — but neither is it a day for speeds of screaming nonsense, breakneck turns, imbecilic downhills. I’ll save those events for another day.
Today, I think I’ll just ride, and be happy wherever I wind up going.