I rolled out of the woods, crossed a concrete bike path and watched the path disappear into a four-foot-high jungle. For the next hundred yards not a single tree rose into the humid Southern air; rather, power lines passed overhead, their metal trees standing sentry to my left and right.
I admit my pedal stroke hesitated as I looked at the greenery bridging the path’s corridor. My pause wasn’t fear overtaking me, but me trying not to overtake my vision; reading the trail without the aid of that brown line was a skill that had languished in the years since I left the land of Faulkner.
My pace wasn’t especially quick, but it was too quick to identify the greenery I was zooming through until I saw the unmistakable magenta of thistle. I waited for the sting but felt only a splash of water. It was incongruous as an elephant chirping with the voice of a parakeet. Lost in the background behind my focus on where the ribbon of air twisted between the verdant growth was my wonder at what morning dew could leave behind. This wasn’t a universal damp; it was a shower that never reached the ground.
A gap between two trees loomed. The surge of relief I felt embarrassed me. Such are expectations and shame. I took the last of the morning wet from the leaves and passed into woods which seemed expansive and open by comparison. As I rose for a short, sharp decline, I looked down my arms. They glistened from moisture to which an extra coating of pollen clung, like so many Jimmies on a frosted donut.
The itch began before I finished the singletrack, before I’d bothered to recall the years of allergy shots. You can take the boy out of the allergens, but not the allergies out of the boy.
I’ve written of the way cycling puts us in touch with our senses. However, when I think of skin and cycling, I think of the feeling of air rushing over my body, how that informs my sense of speed, or of how when I hit the ground I’m reminded of the millions of tiny nerve endings buried under the thinnest coating of skin.
In the shower, I washed my arms three times, then took an antihistamine. Even so, the fire lingered for another hour, a brush fire that smolders.
As I ponder tomorrow, I wonder: Can I go hard enough to drown that itch from my present? How hard do I need to go to exchange the burn on my arms for the burn in my legs?