The Big Brick Review

Building on the narrative of our brick at a time.


Old Men On Bicycles

by Marty Nott

PAINT ME AN autumn landscape, Mr. Wood, with trees and hedgerows tinted in pumpkin-pie oranges, yellows, rusts and apple reds. Chill it with a hint of frost, top it with whipped cream clouds and paint in a barn or two, glowing scarlet in the first hour of sun and casting long shadows over pastures and livestock. Paint in a rolling country road, and on it a solitary cyclist heading for a tall horizon, up a hill through acres of yellow, dying corn converging in the distance.

Yes, I’ll have this pie for breakfast today, thank you, and my coffee will be the bite of late-October air in my lungs, riding out from the town into the hills as motorized commuters race in the opposite direction, sleepy eyes half on the road and half checking their faces in the mirror, hands groping for a travel mug. Sweep the road clear of fallen leaves with the churning wake of an occasional passing truck as I climb toward some distant ponds.

A cyclist is never quite alone on this road. There are others, even this late in the year – mostly young, wiry men and women in multi-hued, skin-tight Spandex, sleek helmets and angry-looking sunglasses, riding as earnestly as they are dressed – training, constantly training. I am training, too, though for exactly what, I have no idea. Climbing hills such as this one, I am regularly overtaken by riders with entire lives ahead of them, and we greet each other – “Morning” – growls or huffs rising from the diaphragm, fit into the rhythm of the ride lest we break stride and lose a little more of our breath. No time for further pleasantries. I study them from behind as they climb away, examining their cadence and spying on their derailleur settings; mostly, I just remember and envy.

Nine miles behind and 300 feet below, in a darkened office, sits a more comfortable chair facing a desk and a phone and a computer burning blue – waiting to invade my day and checked briefly before leaving, to be sure the world could survive for a while. Work will wait. Out here, turning from the main road onto lanes that circle the ponds, the road and the blazing trees and the birds do all of the talking, and the voices are musical whispers above the hum of thin tires on macadam. Cue the Vivaldi, please.

The rider’s heart, still pounding from the climb, begins to settle yet leaps a little, happily; these lanes are almost entirely ours, mine and my bicycle’s, and the trees that line them, and the slight mist rising from the ponds, and the little rises and falls and curves teasing a wanderer onward. Here comes a lone jogger, steamy breath rising and eyes downcast; there is an empty parked car – bird watchers, no doubt, stalking silently through the woods with necks craned – and now two women walking a dog, silhouetted by the rising sun through the gentle mist. 

Greeted with a cheery wave, a town employee in his pickup truck responds with a deadpan face and the wiggle of an index finger from the top of the steering wheel. To him, this is just a job, but to a cyclist, this is pie indeed, after the hardtack of a hill climb, and I savor every bite, dipping and tasting around the ponds. Ahead waits the downhill ride, smooth and cool through air gently warming under a climbing sun. 

There are no young riders on these quiet lanes; this morning is left to the trees and the ponds and an old man on a bicycle.  Winter is coming, as trees and old men know when autumn slices coldly through their bones, but today it is spring again, at least for a few hours or for a day, if we are blessed. The trees throw brilliant color defiantly into the jaws of the coming sleep, and the old man’s heart pounds joyfully, even a little angrily. Not today, winter; not today.

Marty Nott learned to do and love writing, photography and bicycling while growing up in Batavia, N.Y., and attending Ithaca College. Marty lives in Rochester with his partner Nancy, and as he approaches retirement from his career in communications management, he combines all three passions in his occasional blog, Wheels on the White Line, and in fundraising for the American Diabetes Association through its annual Tour de Cure (donations gratefully accepted).

"Open Road" photo © 2016 Gregory Gerard


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