Cycling with Jane

Nonfiction, Lisa K. Harris

August 20, 2016; 32 Miles; Average Trip Speed (ATS) 17 MPH; 13 Weeks To Race Day

“I can’t believe what Ione told me when she called,” Jane says.

Whatever her daughter said must chaff or Jane wouldn’t cycle so. Lagging behind, soon to be out of earshot, I dig into my pedals and narrow the gap between us.

A Saturday morning in August, with the potential for catastrophe since the unseasonable cool weather will draw others to Tucson’s Loop, a multi-use pathway hugging the city’s dry riverbeds. I scan for upcoming dog walkers, joggers, slower cyclists; obstacles which may bound into Jane’s trajectory and upend her, as she has yet to compete a training season without a tumble.

Lizards scamper across the pavement and below, in the riverbed, souvenirs of last week’s monsoon deluge, pale yellow flowers pox wild cotton bushes. As a wildlife biologist, I’m on the lookout for rattlesnakes and roadrunners, sneaky critters that dart from nowhere, like a hand slap or “fuck-you” from someone who promised to love you. Unsure it’s real, until a skid, bike down, and a knee bloodied in shame.

I dog my friend’s rear wheel. No drafting. Should Jane run into something I can’t be too close or I’ll tumble, too.

Jane says, “Ione never wants children.”

“She’s a first-year med student,” I say. “Having kids isn’t top of mind.”

Jane’s black ponytail wags. “That’s not the reason. It’s her childhood. Her bullying father, the turmoil Todd put us through.” Turning her white helmeted head to stare back at me, her Trek wobbles. While her eyes are hidden behind dark Oakley sunglasses, I recognize a concerned forehead. “She doesn’t know what she’ll miss. I can’t imagine life without my four. They’ve pulled me through so much. What if she never has kids?”

Nearly eleven years span Jane’s and my first and last born. She filled her decade with two more babies and a miscarriage, a baby lost after a beating. Jane buried her girl-baby-to-be in a shoe-box in the backyard. I filled that same decade grieving a husband’s death, navigating single parenthood, and remarrying before my next and final daughter, Ava, born a few months prior to Jane’s last son.

 “You’re going down a rabbit hole again,” I say as Jane spins out possibilities, imagines outcomes, often the darkest, regardless of their likelihood of occurrence, and falling into the imagined blackness, becomes distracted. My job is to keep her safe and keep us on course so we reach the finish line. Without her, cycling is dull.

“Best to worry about Ione now,” Jane says. “Dive into my drama-hole in the daylight or I’ll never sleep tonight. My anxiety has to chase something.” Jane faces forward, swerves, barely misses a rut.

 We pedal; white rims spin. I scan. Sometimes coyotes run alongside and once, a bobcat bolted past. Approaching La Cholla Boulevard’s bridge over the Rillito, we follow the pathway down, zooming to the dry riverbed’s level, our eyes just adjusting to the gloom before we thrust into sunlight and crank uphill to the bank’s edge, wishing we could leave our thoughts behind in the rafters among the roosting bats.

September 10, 2016; 38 miles; ATS 15 MPH; 10 Weeks Out

“You going to the reunion?” I pull abreast and hug the center line. We’d had a blast at our last milestone: crashed both business school and law school parties, lying to gatekeepers that we’d left our tickets at the hotel; brunched with our daughters, both current students; traded snarky comments about how old our fellow college class members looked. I had attended the prior milepost solo, barely recognized anyone, and was so shocked to find myself among bald, fat, middle-aged, boorish overachievers at our group photo that I cut short the class dinner. I decided then and there I would neither age nor attend another reunion alone.

“It falls on Todd’s week with the boys,” she says. “But he wants to rearrange our parenting plan and flip the schedule, so I’d have them. I gotta see what the lawyers work out before I plan anything. And, as you know, the argument will snowball.”

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Original image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabayay