% push
[l.b. noire]

                The burning in my quadriceps tells me that my legs are
         nearing exhaustion but I have to keep pumping the pedals to
         reach the crest of the hill.  I've always prided myself on
         using that bit of long-suppressed rage to carry me through
         situations that require extending yourself beyond your
         capabilities.  This time, I'm not sure if I can summon the
         anger to surpass my physical limits.  The anger is no longer
         there.  I feel as if my best friend since I was ten has now
         betrayed me and left me at the time I need him most.  My
         limit is reached and my leg muscles withdraw in terror from
         the imminent pain.  My mountain bike slows to a crawl during
         the climb and I shift to the lowest gear.  This does nothing
         to help the situation because I am now just spinning the
         pedals while inching forward at an intolerable rate.

                I jump from my saddle without even bothering to use
         the brakes.  Gravity is enough to bring the bike to a stop. 
         As usual, I didn't think about the consequences of my actions
         so my now-useless legs give out when I put my full weight on
         them.  I fall first to my backside.  This undignified
         position is made worse when my bike, lacking a kickstand,
         cannot stand on its own and sprawls across me sending me to
         the ground on my back.

                I lie there for a few seconds wondering if my heart,
         now pumping at 180 beats per minute, is going to rupture.  I
         usually take my heart for granted and barely give it a second
         thought.  However, right now I can feel it as another aching
         muscle in my body simply wanting more oxygen and a brief
         rest.  I look down at my bike before I push it off my chest
         and to the side.  Then I put my hands behind my head and
         decide to rest here for a few minutes.

                I look at the sky and observe the dissipating clouds
         dancing through the setting sunlight which gives them colors
         ranging from a bright shade of orange on their western sides 
         to a light hue of purple on their eastern sides.  I can feel
         the sunlight on my face which makes me look over to the
         setting sun on my right.  I suddenly realize I had reached
         the crest of the hill and start laughing out loud.  For once,
         I had actually accomplished something without having to rely
         on a spirit I dread to summon.  Adolescent energy has
         dissolved into the past taking with it naivete, innocence,
         ignorance, and haste.  Emerging in its place is a maturity
         bringing with it wisdom, experience, awareness, and patience.

                After resting, I move my bike to the side and stand
         up, brushing the grass and dirt off my shorts.  I look around
         to assess my situation:  The sun is beginning to set; I am
         almost fifteen miles from town on a ranch road in the middle
         of the hill country; the temperature is starting to fall from
         sixty-five degrees to Dog-only-knows what in the thirties
         with a slight southwestern wind adding to the drop; and, it
         doesn't matter that I am nowhere near a phone because I have
         no money.  I decide to continue to my destination instead of
         turning home because I am so close.  Although it would be
         easier at this point to turn back, I need to finish this

                I lift my bike and straddle the seat.  One more look
         around reinforces the fact that I'm in the middle of
         somewhere:  Trees, hills, rocks, shrubs and cacti stretch to
         the horizon in every direction.  The only synthetic
         interruption to this blanket of green and brown is the
         solitary ranch road waving over the hills until it disappears
         in a valley between two large hills which actually resemble
         small mountains.  I shiver at the temperature and the thought
         of having to cross this distance to get to my destination,
         but it is something that simply has to be done if I want to
         get there.

                The thought of using the full potential of my mountain
         bike crosses my mind.  I had recently become more skilled at
         off-road riding when a friend had to teach me the vast
         difference between road cycling and off-road cycling.  It
         took me several weeks (and numerous cuts and bruises from
         falls) before I learned the basics of crossing rough terrain. 
         However, since it is getting dark I decide not to do this
         right now.  I'm not too familiar with the countryside of the
         Devil's Backbone to attempt its crossing in the dark.  There
         are a few of ravines and cliffs that could put a quick end to
         my ride if I didn't see them in time.  Also, the idea of
         hitting a rock and being thrown onto a cactus isn't very
         thrilling.  This trip will have to be finished along the 

                I push off with my right foot and begin coasting down
         the hill.  Acceleration.  Within seconds I have reached the
         bottom of the hill and must begin another climb on another
         hill.  However, the climb is made much easier by using the
         momentum from the previous hill.  The funny thing I
         discovered about myself and cycling is circles.  The word
         "cycling" alone holds much meaning.  If I were to look at the
         long distance of a ride I was about to make, I wouldn't even
         start.  However, I simply start without worrying about the
         distance.  It's not an ignorance of the distance for I have
         to know my own limits.  Instead, it's a way of not becoming
         overwhelmed with the trip ahead.  I simply look down at the
         ground and concentrate on where I am with an awareness of my
         destination.  Concentration.  Concentration on little
         circles.  I look at my feet and concentrate on the little
         circles I'm making with the peddles.  They seem to be moving
         in a continuous cycle never moving anywhere and never
         accomplishing anything.

                A large dualie pick-up truck passes inches from my
         left side at a speed which is surely much higher than the
         posted speed limit.  The suction of the passing truck nearly
         rips me from the bike and onto the road.  I momentarily
         consider shouting some form of obscenities at the shrinking
         truck, but restrain myself because it won't accomplish much
         more than emptying my lungs of much needed oxygen.  Besides,
         I'm not adequately armed to fend off an attack from Joe Bob
         and Bubba who are probably carrying an ax handle and a

                Cycles.  My feet continue to circle endlessly like
         gerbils on exercise wheels.  They seem to never move more
         than the few inches back and forth, but it is this motion
         that drives me forward.  The motion of the cycle that gets me
         to my destination.  It's at this destination that I look up
         and realize that I have passed between twin hills and into a
         large valley.  The sun has completely set by now and I'm
         following the road partially through feel and partially
         through the faint moonlight illuminating the center line.

                I cross the bridge over the river.  I can't see the
         river since it is too dark, but I can hear the water flowing
         over the rocks below.  I coast for another two hundred yards
         before stopping at the only light along the main street of
         this small town of a few hundred people.  I pull up to the
         small gas station and get off my bike.  I lean it against the
         wall near the door and bend over with my hands on my knees to
         catch my breath.  After a minute, I stand up straight and
         walk inside.  An elderly couple are running the place
         tonight.  The man is sitting at an old wooden desk going
         through receipts.  The woman had been reading a magazine but
         came over to the counter when I walked in.  I ask her if
         there is a phone I could use.  She tells me of the payphone
         right outside the door.  I thank her and walk out feeling
         foolish because I now realize I had leaned my bike against
         the wall right under the payphone.  I pick up the handset,
         punch in a carrier access code, a telephone number, and my
         calling card number (which I had memorized after repeated

                Ring once.

                Ring twice.

                "Hello?" my fiance answers with a sleepy voice.

                "Hey, I'm sorry to bother you.  Were you asleep?"

                "No," she lies, "I had just laid down."

                "I'm sorry.  I was wondering if you could do me a


                "I'm kind of stranded twenty-five miles from my
         apartment.  I was wondering if you could pick me up."

                "Where are you?"

                "I'm at the first gas station in Wimberly.  I rode
         here on my bicycle, but I'm too tired to ride back and it's
         getting cold and . . ." I trail off.

                She giggles.  "Okay.  Let me get dressed and I can be
         there in about thirty minutes."

                "Thanks.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate

                "It's okay."

                "All right.  I'll see you in a little bit."  I'm
         getting ready to hang up the handset.


                I managed to hear her yell before I hung up.  "What?"

                "I love you."

                I laugh a little at my forgetfulness and say, "I love
         you, too."

                "I'll see you soon."


                I hang up the phone with a smile on my face.  I look
         up at the moon.  It has risen to its zenith and is throwing
         its full light on the ground.  I smile again and walk inside
         to the warmth to wait.