How strong is the lonely cyclist? Riding at morning, at noon and at night. From a distance, he seems nothing more than a shrivelled, hunchbacked creature with deeply ragged breath and a face etched and pockmarked by pain and effort. Nothing more than a rattle bone ghost, then, gliding along the landscape as if a tear in space-time sucked him ever-forward. What could possibly compel someone to ride a contraption like the bicycle and brave the tepid, stifling heat of an oven sun where lungs and eyes and skin both bake and burn. Or to fight steep inclines, amidst the tops of the cordillera and their volcanic heights, where there is barely enough oxygen to breathe, much less fuel mountain misted calves and quads.
Whatever the reasons, a careful look at the tableau of a lonely cyclist begins to destroy the illusion. Shrivelled imp? No: the cyclist's sinewy muscles, taut and strong underneath sunbaked skin, are like those of a cheetah running with wild abandon because some misfiring neurons in its brain exploded into a euphoric feeling that it only knows to express through its jubilant speed. And the hunched back begins to seem less like a grotesque deformation and more like an elegantly carved arch, supplying a careful balance of power, flexibility and support as the spine undulates here and there. Slowly, as everything comes into focus, one realizes that mastery of the road is a bit like falling in love where one woman, at first categorized as "female, acquaintance, feelings neutral", slowly evolves in the eyes of a man as he begins to know her, until, one day, he does not see her objectively, as the woman one might glimpse in the mirror. No, she is filtered, unwittingly a part of a participatory illusion of his own making where what he sees are qualities, rather than flesh, that melt into each other to outline, delineate and shade someone perfect, and beautiful, and sublime.
And yet, the question of reasons remains. Certainly, what applies for one person might not for another, but I believe that underlying all the superficial reasons, underneath all the causes, all the passions, everything publicly spoken, the remaining answer is that quality which philosophers once held to be the quintessential human trait: hope. Though not just any kind of hope, no. It is that singular type, the kind that Greek allegories based themselves on with their demigods ascending; the kind that transforms men and women from one of the hoi polloi to a magic maker, a wizard that takes the dust of their imagination and, through the force of their will and the bent of their mind, birth into reality their hope. It is that hope spark, sieved and forged stronger than comic-book metals, that keeps the lonely cyclist going long after their body has given up protesting.
It a strength expressed like an Eastern philosophy that preaches balance between extremes, a matter of supple unyieldingness that forms the skeleton for a frail flesh body. To see a lonely cyclist on the road is to witness an increasingly beautiful sight in these amputechtured days: an independent spirit, free from the constraints and burdens that the fear of unknown failure chains us at the ankles with. Their spinning legs, churning kilometre after kilometre, are merely the visible representation of their mind, churning over and over the questions that begin to creep in when the stillness of the road merges with the hypnotic rhythm of the pedals: "What sort of person am I?" "If I were not me, would I respect the person that was?" "Who am I?" And, in time, measured by the steady rotation of black rubber on hot pavement, the answers come, private, sometimes unlikeable, but always truthful, because the effort of the ride leaves no room for self-deception.
How strong is the lonely cyclist? Ultimately, they are as strong as their capability to accept, understand and impose change upon themselves. Cycling, when all is said and done, is like any other discipline whereby people measure their character against the world as they master themselves through something. A cotton farmer, carting bales of cotton to the gin, is not asked, upon arriving, "Did you take the North road, scenic, but mountainous and hard? Did you take the South road, warm and hot, but filled with thieves? Did you take the East road, straight and short, but riddled with holes and mud?" No, the farmer is merely asked, "Brother, how good is your cotton?"