By Sal Ruibal
T.S. Eliot is one of my favorite writers and “The Wasteland” is one of the greatest works in the English language. But ol’ T.S. had it all wrong when he said April is the cruelest month. In Northern Virginia, February is day for day the meanest, nastiest place to ride a bike. February is so bad, it got docked two days for misbehaving. One day in Leap Years.
This year the wheels have already come off. We’re still a week away from February, but my bike room looks like a M*A*S*H unit in the Korean War. Wounded bikes are everywhere, parts and cables exploded and disassembled like carbon fiber bodies in a morgue, muscle-like cables exposed and revolting fluids seeping from hydraulic ports.
In two consecutive weekends, I managed to jam grit and mud in nearly every nook and cranny of my first-string mountain bikes. The front derailleur of the XC bike needs the services of a skilled surgeon to remove all the crumbly bits of quartz sand that are etching vulgar graffiti on the most important moving parts of its drivetrain. The enduro has dropped its drop-seatpost and it can’t get up.
The rear disc is screeching like the Nazi V-2 rockets in Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” which begins, “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.”
Each turn of the cranks causes my eardrums vibrate and my very expensive tooth fillings to work their way out of my eroded molars, the glaciers of my mouth inexorably grinding themselves into alluvial plains of the lost continent of dentistry.
Last Sunday I was forced to call to the front my last line of defense: the steel, single-speed Gaansari Whirlwind 29er with a rigid steel fork. This was my Maginot Line, the elite corps of design and materials that would rather die than fail its leader.
Into the breech we rode, three soldiers whose names could not have been more heroic, the stuff of ballads in taverns for generations to come, the song of Sal, Mark and Patty joined in alcoholic salute with the magnificent notes of “Garry Owen” of the 7th U.S. Cavalry.
But nay, it was not to be and I am sad to say that it was I, your narrator, who fell at the most critical juncture, the crux move of the whole day, the final charge that would bring us to the highest point of the ride with honor. But when the singletrack suddenly turned left into a minefield of wrist-thick and bark-skinned roots, I could not, would not maintain my traction. I fell hard amongst the deep black cables of living wood and took friendly fire from my own top tube across my thigh.
We slowly made our way back in the growing gloom of a winter afternoon. In the chill, I felt the acid in my throbbing thighs from a previous day’s mission in which my drop-seatpost failed, forcing me to pedal like a duck up a steep hill while rude children mocked my awkward position. If I had not been wearing mittens, I would have shown them a middle digit.
February is coming, but like the V-2 rockets, I will not hear its roar before it strikes, as foretold by Pynchon in the final words of Gravity’s Rainbow: “Till the riders sleep by ev’ry road/All through our crippled zone/with a face on every mountainside/and a Soul in every stone.”
In cruel, cruel February, everybody must get stoned.