More and more my enthusiasm for cycling has evolved into JRA (Just Riding Around) outings. Often enough, as I pedal from the driveway I have little or no destination with perhaps only the vaguest of routes in mind. To be sure, many times my journey is determined more by the bike I feel like riding that day. For instance, the Gazelle tends to mean I’ll be riding quickly; the Boulder less so, with plenty of stops along the way. I’m discovering that the Raleigh International lends itself to a leisurely pace, with gears aplenty to tackle hills and such without having to break out of the more leisurely paced gait of my JRA roaming.
Yesterday was an entire JRA Day for me. School is out this week for Spring Break and true to form we’ve had very few Spring-like days during this time. Thursday, on the other hand, was quite enjoyable, but Friday – ! Ah, Friday! Until a truly incredible day rolls around, I tend to forget just how wonderful it can be to simply exist. I know that sounds like existentialist twaddle, but every now and again I’m ok with a tiny dollop of twaddle – especially when it happens to work out that there’s a great deal of truth to the twaddle.
So imagine if you will, a morning filled with sunshine. Birds are in full song. A brisk, but warm breeze comes out of the west and the thermometer is rising, rising, rising. It’s a Gazelle sort of morning, a day when I feel like zipping up and down hills, a minimalist sort of ride where I’m carrying the bare bones essentials: pump, patch kit, water bottle. As I fly down the first hill I debate about continuing straight to the south or turning toward the east. On a whim, I take the turn, pedaling through the town square, bisecting a neighborhood of homes on the historic register, past the college and out of town. There’s a nice descent and a bit of a tail wind as I do so – it allows me to kick things into a higher gear and stretch out my legs for a few minutes. I enjoy the pace briefly because the road I’m on takes me immediately into rolling hills with a mile long 11% grade to start things off. This hill has never defeated me, and once or twice I’ve even climbed it with a great deal of aggression. But normally I know that I’ve treated my heart to an aerobic workout by the time I crest, and this day was no exception. For mile after mile, I rode at a brisk pace. I’m surprised to hear the pipings of bullfrogs along the way. At one point the sound of starlings or blackbirds or whatever has grouped en masse at a farm house drowns out all other sounds. Thousands upon thousands are resting amid the surrounding trees and the branches are blackened from the forms of their silhouettes. I turn into the wind, seldom taking advantage of the freewheel except when I run out of gear on a downhill segment, pedaling and feeling at one with the machine.
It felt good. Great, in fact. I needed to cut loose for a bit. And when I grew hungry I turned toward home for a quick bite, there to switch out bikes and kit.
It is a JRA Day after all, and I intend to take full advantage of every second I can, drinking in the outdoors. It’s off to the north for the afternoon, up to and around Smithville Lake at a much more sedate tempo, astride the International. The Carradice Bag is stuffed with snacks and water, the gear selection seldom changes. The day has warmed to an unseasonable temperature and I’m enjoying the feeling of a warm breeze coming off the lake. My wife has joined me on this afternoon ride. We stop when we feel like it to look out upon the lake, to watch sailboats pass, to marvel at the incredible day we’re experiencing, and to remark upon the gathering clouds that promise yet another change.
And then we continue to ride around the lake, just riding around.