it's dark, dark as tar, and it reaches out as far as I can see, which isn't very far at all.
the air is cool, chilly, and the sweat I'm producing sits thickly on my torso and causes goosebumps to dance across my legs. I'm wearing ivy's super-reflect-y, bright orange, super-fast arm warmers, and I'm going to get to the top of this climb as quickly as I possibly can.
it's spooky, and for long stretches of time I'm the only one, anywhere, on this road. anyone human, that is, for the occasional rodent dashes across the asphalt, and one graceful deer has leapt from left to right in the far outer edge of the glow from my front light.
I'm somewhere near cedar breaks national monument, I'm somewhere between 9500 and 10,000 feet above sea level, and although it is quite possibly a beautiful place, all I see is a limited conical space of gray. when I turn to look behind me I see nothing but black.
I'm nearing the top (I can only tell by watching the mile markers: I've calculated from where I began and am counting them down, panting, eager for the end of up and the beginning of down) when I smell fire, and then see a faint orange glow. the tiny spot of orange becomes larger and larger, and soon I can almost discern bodies, and the outline of a camper behind. another orange glow dots the hillside far to my left, and another, further ahead, small and hopeful, warms my heart if not my legs.
I'm singing, almost to myself, but loud enough so that if anyone were near (hah) they would hear me. hallelujah, hallelujah. leonard cohen is getting me up this hill. I don't know all the lyrics, so I either fill in with words I like, words that have the right rhythm, or I la-la to fill in the spaces.
when the grade eases, and a faint, faint glow lies somewhere beyond the hills and clouds before me, I shiver, and sigh. I am so glad to be done with this climb. I pull on my gloves, and my teammates help me lift my reflective vest so that I can slip a wind jacket on beneath it. I decide I can live without the headband, and I push off with a cheery see ya soon! I have 7 or so miles to go, downhill, before I hand the timing chip off to karl.
there's a bit of flat I have to pedal through, then some down--only down, not wicked down--and suddenly I am shifting gears and my cadence is slowing and I am unbelievably pedaling back up a hill. no. no, no, no, this is not part of the plan.
I laugh and shake my head, no, no.
my legs yell at me and the hallelujah's have left my head, and finally I've crested whatever little bugger of a hill I've had to deal with, and I start down again. shift, shift, shift, my speed increases, and the cold night wind pushes against me. I'm slowing, impossibly slowing, and soon I'm shifting again and no, this can't be, oh, I am climbing again.
this one is shorter than the last, and soon I'm gliding down again.
a loud flapping noise is suddenly behind my left shoulder, and I turn my head, expecting to see a rider passing me, but it is only me, my jacket catching and releasing the wind.
jake is with me, and we have a conversation during the next five or so miles, talking about the dark, the cold air, the silence but for my jacket, the creatures that surround us, the angels above us, the friends waiting for us below, the love in our hearts, the joy of just being where we are.
we're somewhere past a third of the way to vegas, and I'm finishing up my second official leg. I've drawn this "king of the hill" leg up near cedar breaks, and I'm grateful. hallelujah, thank you leonard, this is a grand, beautiful experience. I'll be ready to hand my chip to the next hound, rest a bit, then hop back on the road again.
and sing, just a little, under my breath, words of thanks and praise.
relay, from relayen, middle english: set of fresh hounds