Monday, August 31, 2015

Astrobiology of the goon

Friday night I set my kit out with two Larabars. I place it on the railing so I can grab it in the half light and go silently, to not wake my wife and son. My heart rate is a few beats higher just thinking about the 7am goon in the same way it used to be higher the nights before a race.

My son cries at 6am, and it is the cry of a boy determined to stay awake, so I get up with him, and make coffee for me and a smoothie for him and toast and peanut butter for me.

It is a sure thing that if I change his soggy overnight diaper, then he will immediately poop, so I change his diaper, and, sure enough, he poops, and I change him again. Then he sits on my lap and we clink glasses and say, "cheers," and drink smoothies together. He grins, then he spills it all over me.

I am off, late, hoping to meet the goon at Sangamore, where it will come rolling off the hill and at 30mph come roaring past you like a meteor.

Morning again after all these Summer days is cool. I could say this is the forty-first cooling season in my life, but for twenty of these autumns I lived in the North with its unvarying cool mornings, and for two I lived in Africa, with its unvarying hot ones.

I am reassured by the return of cool mornings. Yes, I know climate change doesn't work like that. But I have a deep pit of irrational fear, a part of me, maybe a part of me that once feared the USSR, that still needs filling with some immense catastrophe. Once I surmounted my fear of aero road helmets, global warming seems to be filling the void.

The UN, NPR tells me, is holding meetings on climate change, a process of immense complexity, with nations now forming coalitions, including a group of 133 nations called The Group 77; the Least Developed Countries (a group from which Samoa recently "graduated"), our own The Umbrella Group; the righteous sounding Environmental Integrity Group (EIG); the, naturally, villainous organization of petroleum exporting countries (OPEC) group; and my favorite, the Cartegana Dialogue. I'm not making this up.

The reporter struggles to explain how these groups form and coalesce. It makes me think of the peleton, or any large enough group of riders--those we call goons, whose ride I am about to join.

I descend the Massachusetts Avenue hill and climb it once, then twice, before I see them. I slow roll up and onto Sangamore, but then they do not appear.

The peleton stopped for a moment of silence to remember Timothy Holden, struck here 25 hours ago. I had not known. I'd ridden along thinking about coalitions of nations and the peleton and stupid irrational fears of climate change. I hadn't known about the death of the cyclist, a Navy SEAL, a grandfather to three and father to five daughters.

"Jovial. Funny. Great to be around, and humble. To be a navy seal and as humble as he was, it was just incredible," his brother Peter said. "It's just a terrible tragedy."

I only read about it later. I was intent on riding that morning. The goon roared up and I joined in the swirl and jostle, caught up between the Coalition of Willing Pullers and the Disgruntled Wheelsuckers.

There were moments of surprising danger, as when riders came backwards down Brickyard and slow-rolled it in gobs, forcing those of us who'd made the full trek up to spread wide and into oncoming traffic, a Group of the Dropped Fredstraviganza.

I'd never seen such disregard for safety on a goon ride.

But no one was hurt, and only a few motorists were pissed off, and what, after all, is a goon ride without some obscene stupidity?

And what, after all, is a goon ride without an archaic steed of steel and 32mm tires and canti breaks?

What, after all, is a goon ride but a swirling, heating planet to itself, galloping through space, driven onward toward annihilation, huddling on itself, harrowed by satellites of benign (STRAVA!) and deadly intent, interwoven by absurd alliances of convenience, in the shadow of tragic death?

I come home to my son sleeping in his stroller in our doorway. I look at him, his perfect skin unmarked by road rash, has face unworn by sin and sun, the crust of mucus on his nose. I wipe my own nose. I think of Timothy Holden, who came home from his tour in the Persian Gulf and from unknown terrors, and from how many rides--to his five babies, for two more decades than me.

Upstairs on soft feet, I do not wake my sleeping son. I spoon peanut butter and Greek yogurt and close my eyes and sit on the floor and read the news.