The following is an excerpt from some fiction I’ve been writing. It’s part of a project I’m calling In the Heart of the Heart of the Valley. Who knows how it’ll go? Not me. I’m just writing some of it 4-5 mornings a week. I’ll post other excerpts from time to time.
I hope you feel the trail and the road. Enjoy.
The road turned around the mountain. At the turn’s apex they crossed a mossy stone-wall bridge spanning a small water-carved gap. To the right, water cascaded in a little falls over the moss-beard rock and below. Despite three weeks without rain, the springs and creeklets still flowed from the mountainside.
Malcolm’s voice broke the scene. “Creek dip at the end?” The heat ate him more than her.
She nodded in reply.
For all his seeming tough appearance, his knife-blade cheeks and ropy arms, he never complained about her beating him uphill. He had equanimity about it. She was, after all, 15 years his junior, 50 pounds lighter He had equanimity about it. She was, after all, 15 years his junior, 50 pounds lighter, a tiny watt generator. The climb was about to become hard and he would try to hang with her anyway. But the next mile of road to Black Run Trail stair-stepped ten or so wicked pitches with easier grades. By the top, she would be clear and relish it.
She rode the undulating pitches on the road as if she were playing the notes on a rolling sheet of music, its theme ever rising. Each phrase began with a bit of restraint while she stayed seated and backed off slightly. With breaths fast and deep, her abdomen pulled air into her whole body, the rhythm becoming more urgent. Then she stood and pulled on the bars to build tempo, her eyes reading the road ahead, her body and the bike singing the road. Once there, she popped off the top and sat down and started the next variation.
By the top of the third pitch, she had put five feet between her and Malcolm. Then 15 by the next. When she rode out the last one he was in the middle of the eighth over a hundred feet back.
She stayed standing through the top, breathing hard and deep, the whole world now her and the bike, nothing but sensation and focus on speed. The melody turned into a chugging riff. All sound and sensation roared in her. Everything was subsumed: the frightened tittering chipmunk, the hairy woodpecker pips and her tires’ churning on the gravel. All of it roared in a concert of power toward the sign marking the entrance to Black Run Trail.
Once she got there, she eased up and took another drink. She grabbed her other bottle and poured it down the nape of her neck, welcoming the shocking chill.
Then Malcolm came along side her and she waved him in. Even with her lead, he would have caught her before long. He saw everything and he descended like a falcon.
Black Run snaked along the ridge’s top, a rough-scaled snake winding through the laurel and blueberry bushes. Thin crooked roots reached from its edges and foot- and fist-sized rocks jutted from its many corners and dips. Here it laid a smooth carpet and there it tried to grab their tires. In a wide corner the trail skirted a clearing where the Little Flat fire tower Public Works Administration cabin sat empty. Then it was back into the bushes and the pines and broken rocks.
Iris tracked Malcolm’s rear wheel from fifteen feet back. He seemed to be made of water, flowing over rocks, roots and stems like the creeks. Even his cadence stayed smooth in tight corners. In two quick successive corners with trees on the inside corner, he dipped his bars in, pedaled, and dipped in the opposite direction through the second, his speed barely touched. It all seemed so effortless, so easy. And she did all she could to mimic him and yet lost ground to him here every time.
The light dimmed as the canopy thickened. The ridgetop’s bushes and sparse pines gave way to dense stands of hard woods. The mingling broad leaves and thick trunks of big red and swamp white oaks, pignut and shagbark hickories and red maples suddenly blocked the sun. Here the trail became a little loamier and the roots became much bigger, some of them wrapped around big chunks of sandstone as they made their way toward the edge of the mountain, toward the steep benchcuts and fall lines down to Widow’s Hollow.