I'm training for the merger of Fleur Drive and Locust Street in downtown Des Moines, where four packed lanes of cars slide together and I find myself the lone bike in the middle of dozens of hostile metal boxes. Cars pour in from the suburbs, meshing angrily with the cars pouring in from the airport. Every day. So I'm training for that gap in the mayhem, the ten feet between deadly bumpers where -- with a well-timed jump -- I can tuck my tiny bike and vulnerable body into the flow, slide safely through, and emerge curbside, untouched.
I'm training for Grand Avenue in Des Moines at five o'clock on a Friday, when those same cars back up for blocks, trying desperately to escape downtown. Minivans. Sport-utilities. Coupes. Buses. All motionless, trapped, burning overpriced fuel, their extra horsepower rendered useless by extra size. Drivers who -- like me -- just want to be home, out of their suits, away from the office, free from their jobs, their uniforms, their cars. Only I'm already out of my work clothes, cruising smoothly through the impasse in shorts and a flapping t-shirt, my two wheel track narrow enough for the tiniest gap in this endless parking lot, my two-cylinder engine burning off lunch.
I'm training for the guy on the professional-replica racing bike with matching shorts and jersey, all red, white and blue, who sits in my draft for a mile, pulls through without even a "how's it going?", ignores my hello and jumps out of the saddle to leave me behind. I'm training for the look on his face when, a mile later, he looks back to find me -- baggy shorts, wide tires, loaded panniers and all -- still glued to his official team-issue back wheel. I'm training to have enough breath to say hello again, just to see if he says anything the second time.
I'm training because donuts taste so good.
I'm training for Saturday morning on a quiet stretch of country asphalt, fifteen miles west of Des Moines, where, for just a minute, I catch enough tailwind to shift up to the big ring. A red sun burns through the morning mist, dew gleaming on the cornstalks. A freshly-lubed chain spins silently over a rarely-used gear combination. The hum of rubber on pavement reaches a new, higher pitch. I'm training for that instant where I feel like one of my two-wheeled heroes: ten years younger, twenty pounds lighter, and immeasurably faster.
I'm training for my cardiac stress test in 2027. I will be fifty-five, the age my father was when his heart stopped for good. So I'm training to make that treadmill smoke, to make my cardiologist suck in her breath in surprise. I'm training for the rides Dad will never take, the miles we missed together. I'm training so my wife can ride with more than just memories.
I'm training for November 8, 2052, my 80th birthday. My wife says, "Ride safe," and I reply, "I always do," the same conversation we've had daily for almost sixty years. And, without ceremony, without a crowd, without even a witness, I lift my leg gently over the top tube, and saddle up. I'm training so the neighbors can call me "the nutty old bike guy" when they see me wobble to the end of the block, turn around, and wobble back. And I'm training to do it again the next day.