Note: This is Part IV of Fatty’s Inferno. Read previous installments here:
We were back at the crossroads again. The signpost indicating where I had just been now read, Cycling Laziness, Selfishness, and Unbridled Greed.
“You know,” I said, “I’m beginning to think that hell kind of sucks.”
“And you have as yet seen so little of it,” mocked The Cyclist. “Choose now another road.”
“OK, I choose that road,” I said, pointing at the one that seemed opposite from the Laziness sign.”
“It is well that you choose that road,” replied The Cyclist with the hint of a smile. “But that’s not the next road you’re going to ride.”
“Well, why’d you even bother having me choose one if you’re going to send us on a different road anyway?” I said, knowing that while I was doing my best to hide my irritation, I wasn’t exactly succeeding.
“Just to jerk you around.” said The Cyclist.
“Well, why did you wait ’til now to take me on a different road than I chose?” I was getting worse at hiding my irritation.
“You just got lucky the first two times and picked the roads I was going to take you on anyway.”
“Whatever.” OK, I had given up on hiding my irritation. A part of me wondered at what happens when you start acting peevish toward the grim reaper of cycling.
“I can’t believe you just said ‘Whatever’ again. You sound like a fifteen-year-old when you say that.”
“Can we please just start riding?” I asked.
Later, I would regret being in such a hurry to get started.
This time I was ready for the way The Cyclist always took off before I was ready, and I got the jump on him. I pedaled furiously, at the absolute limit of what I was capable of, feeling a fierce pride in being able to drop this guy.
Three seconds later, The Cyclist blew by me, hands resting on the hoods, his legs spinning comfortably at what I would guess at 140rpm.
“How’s it goin’?” he said.
He then eased up, letting me draft, giving me the chance to assess this version of a cyclist’s hell.
But for the life (the death?) of me, I couldn’t figure out what was so bad about this place. Sure, the road wasn’t perfect – it was chipseal — but it was chipseal that had at least been laid down several years ago, so the vibration wasn’t too bad.
And there was a bit of a headwind, but I’d hesitate to call it a hellish headwind.
The surroundings were perhaps a little bleak, but not horrible. Boring, but not catastrophically ugly.
And I suppose it was uncomfortably warm, but I’ve ridden in hotter. In fact, I ride in hotter weather every day, two months out of each year.
And, looking around, I could see that there was in fact a wide variety of OK riding terrain. I could see some flats (maybe not as long of flats as I’d like), and some mountains (which I’d have preferred to be perhaps a little taller).
And in short, it didn’t seem like a half-bad place to ride. Not great, but not terrible.
“So what kind of half-baked hell is this?” I asked. “I wouldn’t want to move here, but I wouldn’t mind riding here if I had to.”
“You make an interesting observation,” allowed The Cyclist. “But do you see anyone riding here?”
“No,” I said, realizing for the first time that we appeared to be totally alone. “Where are the other riders?”
The Cyclist pointed. “Look, off in the distance. There’s one rider far ahead.”
“Cool,” I replied. “Let’s catch him.”
“Go for it,” said my guide. “I’ll let you lead.”
And so, for the second time in just a few minutes, I stood up, shifted into a big gear, and gave chase. This time, though, I kept my eye on the guy in front of me, looking for signs that I was reeling him in.
And, briefly, I believe that I was gaining on that rider. Just before I blew up. The rider ahead of me vanished over the horizon
“Oh, that’s too bad,” The Cyclist — who apparently had been drafting behind me the whole time — said. “It looks like you were starting to gain on him, too.”
“Yeah,” I wheezed.
Which is when another cyclist — one I had not seen before — flew by, not acknowledging me. In pursuit of…something, I guess.
“Are you beginning to see the nature of this cyclist’s hell?” asked The Cyclist.
“No,” I replied, honestly.
“In this hell,” said The Cyclist, “the only other cyclists you can see are the riders who are faster than you. Which means you can see other cyclists who are passing you, but they cannot see you. You can see — and pursue — cyclists who are ahead of you, but you will never be aware of catching one. Here, you will never see another cyclist who goes your speed or slower.”
“OK…so what’s the point of that?” I asked.
“This hell,” said The Cyclist, “is reserved for those who treat every ride as a race. In life they did not acknowledge slower riders, so now they cannot.
“In this hell, cyclists who felt they had to pass every rider they ever saw will never feel that warped sense of accomplishment again.
“In this hell, cyclists who didn’t look around and enjoy the world around them now have a monumentally uninteresting universe in which to ride. Forever.
“In this hell are the cyclists who, in life, chose to ride alone. Now they have no choice.
“But what about the headwind and the heat?” I asked. “What is the significance of those?”
“It’s hell, duh,” replied The Cyclist.
And then we were back at the junction. The signpost by the road we had just been on — the road to the left of the Laziness road — read Eternal Attackers.
“Ready to see another road?” asked The Cyclist.
“Could we pick this up another day instead?” I replied. “This whole thing’s kind of got me down.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” sympathized The Cyclist. “Let’s keep going.”
Up until this fourth circle, I had been pleasantly surprised at how nice the roads were in hell. This sensation now gave way to horror.
Chipseal. Brand spanking new chipseal. And there were cracks in it — cracks that seem like they had been specially constructed to be exactly the right width to grab onto your wheel and flip you over.
And there were potholes, too. And where there weren’t potholes, there were patched potholes, if “patched” can be applied to the way loose asphalt had been dumped and roughly stomped into the holes.
And it was so hot. As hot as . . . well, as hot as hell, to tell the truth.
But in spite of the heat, the shoulder was unusable, being completely covered with sand, salt and gravel, as if it had only recently been winter and the roads had not been cleared. There was clearly no way to ride there.
And then a sports car flew by, honking hard, with the driver yelling something at me.
This was followed by an SUV, the driver of which threw a bottle at me as he went by.
And don’t even get me started on the crosswind.
“So who is this hell for?” I asked. “It’s got to be the very worst sort of cyclist there is, because this is truly an awful place.”
“Actually,” answered The Cyclist, “This road is for cyclists who like to complain. The ones who tell anyone who will listen that the road sucks, that there are too many cars on the route, that the pavement surface is no good, that the pace is too hard (or too easy). The ones who ruin the ride for everyone else.”
“This place,” said my guide, “gives them something to complain about.”
At that moment, a large group of riders went by, each trying to talk over each other. Each endlessly bemoaning their fate.
“Surely,” I told my host, “this is the most awful cyclists’ hell of all.”
The Cyclist looked at me, and I knew his answer before he spoke it into my mind.
“Not even close.”
[To be concluded in Fatty's Inferno, Part V]