Essay: On the Belgian Side of Things
(2016) I feel like a broken record. I look back at all the rides of the last month and it’s hard to find a sunny ride. This weekend was about to be awash (sorry) because of the persistent rain, but then the sun came out. And so did the bike.
I donned my new Belgie jersey. If I was going out for a quick few miles, I was going to be seen. I snapped on my Ass-Saver because of the still- wet roads. I didn’t want my Belgie too dirty on the first ride. Since the weekend had been warm I ventured out with only arm warmers, but even those I thought would be overkill. Oh how I would thank myself shortly for bringing them.
I turned into the mighty headwind amidst the turf farm and crop fields. It looked like Armageddon was ahead. I brushed this off thinking the line would parallel my route, repulsing me as I did it. The headwind did not tip me off to the fact that the darkness was coming toward me. What gave me false hope were the dry portions of pavement. Little did I know I was coming to a fight with a target on my back.
I turned my normal turn and now the darkness was to my left. Cresting the knoll the angry sky revealed itself in front of me. At some point I would catch the tailwind back and ride the wave. I would hit out hard down the last road with a cross wind and make it in time before the weather.
Flying down Sweetbriar with the tail wind I felt the change in pressure. The temperature suddenly dipped. Perhaps I should keep the arm warmers on I thought, just a bit longer I expanded. The moment when one thinks dark lenses were a bad idea for sunglasses is the moment the storm is upon a rider. I can still beat it back I stubbornly continued.
The first spits hit me at the turn. They were gobbish drops of rain. I questioned if it were hail because of the sting on exposed skin. It was now really dark. The cross wind roared with disapproval at my continued disrespect.
I thought of the Belgian Boys Club motto: 'Full Gas' as I plowed back toward the house. But there it was! I did this to myself because I donned the Belgian jersey! The cycling gods decided to give me an authentic Belgian experience. Giant rain drops, giant wind, giant obstacles by giants of yesteryears in the cycling world.
A new obstacle came to mind: What if the wife got in the car to pick me up? She knew the route. Would I get in the car with a Belgian jersey on? What if someone saw that? Would the wind and rain whip up even more in disapproval?
Every set of headlights coming my way was scanned to see if it was hers. The giant drops were now elevated to assassin status. They bounced off the bottom row teeth as if they were ball bearings. Furthermore, the drops sounded like marbles bouncing off the asphalt. The spray off the front wheel went out front then was blown into the direction of the yellow line. I found myself laughing.
The familiar uphill return took its toll. The rain seemed to park itself over me. I imagined cycling fans standing aside the road with arms crossed, one hand propping up the chin with a downturned mouth. Perhaps they were in approval of my effort, but still reserved of whether I would get in the car if the wife showed up. Does he understand the duties when pulling on the Belgie jersey they may ask. In my imagination they are unfazed by the weather.
Now in the final mile the rain showed no signs of letting up. My left cycling boot filled with cold spray then somehow my right. My bibs began to saturate totally. I strongly considered continuing to ride at this point. The droplets dripped off the brim of my cap. In one final handful, the storm slapped me on my back with a ferocious gust and a sheet of rain sent me into the middle of the road. I saw one car in the closing mile; it wasn’t the wife’s.
As I came into view of the house, soaked through, the wife’s car with its headlights came into sight. She yelled that she had gotten caught out, too, on her walk; otherwise she would’ve come sooner. No worries, I thought, that’s just how it goes sometimes. Naturally in the final few meters the rain let up. I went inside after kicking off the sopping shoes and rolling off the waterlogged socks.
Getting into dry clothes I watched the weather from out the window. The clouds roiled and flicked. In a few moments the sun came out. The blue skies revealed themselves from behind the battleship curtains. Perhaps it was just the Belgian weather making sure I knew where I belong in the thick of things when wearing a Belgie jersey.