The Most Lonely Number

The Most Lonely Number

Solitude is a subtle and dangerous art. Clarity has a habit of showing up when I’m by myself, when the waters aren’t clouded by friends, family, or otherwise. I love being alone, and luckily my job allows me to indulge in solitude. That being said, solitude is like skidding on the ice: you’d better turn into that skid or solitude will throw you into the deep ditch of loneliness.

Riding alone can be one of the most beneficial things to my psyche. Riding alone makes skirting the depressing parts of solitude that much easier.

Before Christmas I embarked on a 2.5 week excursion. I had been traveling by myself, conversing with strangers, exploring a variety of mid-western states as well as parts of Canada, and eating dinner in the company of my two iPhones. I was spending some quality alone time.

I found myself in Chicago, unable to work through the weekend. The area rep had offered to ride with me and gladly accepted. Family intervened (a child’s birthday party) and instead of leading me through the barren corn fields of Dekalb, he sent me a GPS route along with a warning to bring everything I’d need: this ride was truly in the middle of nowhere.

One of my phones rang.

“don’t go, the conditions are terrible”

“It’s like riding through a cloud”

“terrible visibility”

End call.

Any doubt I had about riding that day evaporated. Riding in terrible conditions is my bread and butter. The easiest way to polish the opaqueness of solitude is to go riding alone in nasty weather.    

Dekalb is out there. As a city boy, from the West Coast there are places in the Midwest that boggle my mind in their remoteness. As I sped down the 88 I was grinning like a maniac. Visibility was terrible. I couldn’t see anything but the highway and the cars therein. On either side of me stood barbed wire fence and the occasional snow drift. I was out there.

I found a parking lot that I thought wouldn’t tow me and suited up. It may have been the misty fog but I was shivering. I’m always filled with nervous excitement before riding, this was no different. I velcroed my damp Mavic cycling shoes, filled up my water bottle (in a perplexed McDonald’s dining room) and set off down the road.

After a block I had to stop at a railroad crossing. There was a train bisecting main street and I couldn’t see either end of it. Freight trains have always struck me as lonely what an omen.

I couldn’t see shit and within 30 seconds my beard was filled with gritty limestone, and I was soaked to the bone. And smiling cheek to cheek.

I was lost deep in the clouds of Dekalb without a single human in sight. As hard as it feeling OK about being alone on the weekend, after a full week of meeting and glad handing strangers this was just the break I needed.

The conditions sucked. Brendan was right about that, they sucked bad. I haven’t ridden on anything like this gravel. It was wet, it was sticky, it was like riding through pudding. Plenty of days I would have hated these conditions but it was just the shock I need to amp me up, I was riding like a bat out of hell.

Before long I realized I needed to turn back. Without lighting, without really knowing where I was it was going to get dark. I stopped at an intersection of two gravel roads, with ramshackle farm buildings in the fog-covered distance. I paced around the intersection, kicking rocks, laughing, breathing deeply.  

Strutting back into my downtown Chicago hotel I got some looks. Not only was I still dressed in lycra, but I wore the smile of a crazy man with a beard to match. I was still soaking wet, covered in silt and mud head-to-toe and strutted straight to the elevator. I think I scared some of the tourists.