Once upon a time there was a man on a bicycle and this man on his bicycle was riding up a hill. He was growing tired, this man on his bicycle, because the hill was steep and he had been riding his bicycle up it for a very long time. It seemed like a long time, to him. It seemed like forever to him.
And as this man rode his bicycle up the hill, he found it increasingly difficult to concentrate on what he would find once he arrived at the top. This had been his strategy, to concentrate on the destination, on the pleasures to be found there. Concentrating on the destination would distract him from the rigors of the task. It would make the time go by like that, he assured himself. Like that. But as he rode, the grade, while seemingly modest at the outset, tired him steadily as he progressed until now, with no further gears to shift down to, it seemed impossibly steep. He was slowing down, in spite of his best efforts. Standing on the pedals, forcing them down with his full weight, he was slowing down. Soon he would stop. The bicycle would shudder beneath him and fall over. That would be the end of it. His legs would stiffen from the accumulated lactic acid. He would be incapacitated, unable to remount much less continue. He would be unable to remount and so unable to return to town, to glide down, back to the point of origin, where the dream of the glorious view from the top of the hill had taken hold. The dream. The goal. The view from the top.
Still, he consoled himself in his agony, there had been other, very nice views along the way. The meadow unfolding before him in every direction as he left the village was a very nice view. The road. The road, too. Such a lovely road, so peaceful though steep. The fields he passed were pretty and the wildflowers too. Should have stopped to take some pictures. Perhaps on the way down. All was not lost even if he did not make it to the top. The view from this very spot, if he stopped, was probably not all that much different, in principle, in context, from the view at the top. Fields and flowers. Except not in 360 degrees. Not even an owl could see all 360 degrees at once. Even an owl had to turn its head. So it would be no great loss if he did not make it to the top.
He stopped. Slowly dismounted, anchoring one foot on the curb and drawing his other leg over the frame. It was hard to draw his leg over the frame because he was so tired. His leg was so heavy. He laid the bicycle down by the side of the road. He wanted to sit but knew that it was best to stand, to walk, to walk it off. Already his breathing had improved. He was no longer conscious of his heart. His heart, under stress, had burst through his shirt, its beat echoing throughout the countryside. Now it did not seem so bad. He would be able to continue. Yes, he could go on. It was not so very bad after all. It was pleasant here, too. So many flowers and the way they moved in waves with the breeze and doesn’t that breeze feel so good, so refreshing.
He raised his arms and locked his hands behind his head, letting the air circulate beneath his arms and run up the open bottom of his shirt. He sat down and slowly lay back, evaluating the tension in his abdomen as he lay back and closed his eyes.
Not too bad, he thought. Not too bad at all.
He opened his eyes and watched the clouds roll by, the curtain growing fuller and darker as it moved across the sky until there was no more blue. The breeze grew stronger and rippled his shirt. He felt a single heavy drop of rain on his forehead, followed by another. Drops erratic, random. Suspense. Would it or wouldn’t it rain. Fast moving clouds. Perhaps he was well beyond the center of the storm, catching stray drops. It may rain. It may not rain, he thought. I hope it does not rain on the ride home. Slick roads and drivers who can’t see. Mortal danger. But for now, this was all right. If it did not rain, this would be all right. When would the rain come? He hated riding in the rain. The tires threw water up his back. Just as well he did not go all the way to the top. It would be all that much farther to ride coming down.
But if he went back down now, he had lost the bet. He had lost the bet.
“You will never make it,” she said. “You will never make it. Not that you can’t, you won’t. You’ll give up. I know you. I know you will stop.”
Technically, he had not failed, yet. He could remount and continue up the hill. And besides how would she ever know he did not make it unless he told her? He could wait a little while longer, in this spot, in this very pleasant spot, and then continue on up. Oh, hell. He was tired. Did it really matter and did she really care and did she really need to know? It was a point she was making, but it had nothing to do with riding a bicycle up a hill. It had to do with other things and there was no reason to believe that this had anything to do with other things.
There was no reason he could not try again tomorrow. Or the next day, if tomorrow he was too sore or if it was raining. No reason why not. No reason at all. And if she asks? When she asks? No, if she asks. Wait here longer still. Let her sweat. Worry. Hope he did not have a heart attack and die. Wait until she is worried enough, frantic enough to come up after him. Then he will swoop down coasting hunched over in great form passing her and waving to her. She would be surprised and relieved, though her face would not show it and even if it did he would not see it he would be flying by so fast. He would zip by her and coast into town and continue up their street, refreshed now, still in great form, refreshed from the rest and the gravity pulling him down the hill and invigorated by the wind, the blur of trees fences fields wildflowers on either side of him. She would get back to the house to find him casually holding his bicycle with one hand resting on the saddle while he shot a long jet of water from the water bottle into his mouth.
Yes. I made it.
Do you ever really know, on such a long upward climb, exactly when you reach the top? It just might be that he was there, now, that this was the very spot but he had been so tired he had not noticed it. The fatigue in his legs. That was it. The fatigue in his legs. And the heart. He was now at the top and his body was telling him so. It always hurts more after you crest the top of a hill. There is a rush of pain. That is how it is. So that is where he must now be. He had crested the hill. He had made it to the top. This was the plateau, or very nearly so. There was no reason to lie. There was no reason we would not make it to the top again.
And doing other things, besides.