This is a first draft, but not too bad for a first try. I intend to go back and refine it further.
Legalities: copyright Tien Chiu, 2005. Duplication not permitted except with written permission of author.
The road that leads to Quadbuster is long, and deceptively flat-looking. Cyclists climb the first few miles with ease, loping along, rising out of the saddle from time to time to take pressure off the sit-bones, enjoying the shade of the small junipers and dwarf pines. But just past the creek, the woodland gives way to rock and scrubby brush, and the grade abruptly steepens. The sound of shifting gears clacks as riders round the steepening bends. Four cyclists pull off the road, clipping loose from their pedals, swinging black-Spandex thighs over the burgundy, aqua, black tops of their bike frames. A passing vehicle watches carefullyâ€”trouble?â€”but they give the thumbs-up signal as they reach into their saddlebags and start munching. A woman in a U.S. Postal jersey slings her Camelback off her back, fills it from a water bottle, and takes a long, slow sip to make sure itâ€™s OK: halfway up Quadbuster is no time to discover a pinched water tube.
The road steepens again. Cyclists labor up the curve, gripping the handlebars, raising themselves out of their seats for added power, rocking the bike back and forth with their pedal strokes. The burst of energy passes; they sit down again. One rider in black helmet and brilliant polka-dot Wonder Bread jersey pulls off suddenly and bends partway over, clutching at his knee. Three other riders immediately pull over to help; one holds his bike, the other two help him ease to a sitting position. He rubs at the sore knee. The Webcast team comes by in a minivan; spotting the cluster and the thumbs-down signal, they pull over to see if they can help. But thereâ€™s not much they can do for a knee problem, so they call for help on their walkie-talkie, and move on. Minutes later, a sweep vehicle arrives. The injured rider climbs into the cool, air-conditioned cab and is immediately offered water, icepacks, trail bars, and red licorice candy. The other riders get back on their bikes, and move on.
One more corner, and the road straightens into a wall. Gears click again and again, the chain slipping steadily down the front and rear cogs, until they enter â€œgranny gearâ€. This is it; there are no lower gears.
A large woman, breath puffing out, stands and pedals briefly, then sinks back down, grimacing. Mountain-climbing cyclists are small and light for a reason: every extra pound is that much harder to drag uphill. She slows. Her speedometer reads 3.5 miles per hour. Then 3.2. Walking pace. At 2.9, the front wheel starts to wobble sideways; she speeds up briefly. Her breath comes in gasps. Finally, she unclips her leg, swings it over the bike, and gets off. The road is too narrow to stop and catch her breath; sheâ€™d be blocking other riders. So she walks up the hill instead, wearing a grim look of determination. It doesnâ€™t matter how she gets up the hillâ€¦but she will get there. Other riders, passing on the narrow shoulder, wave at herâ€”fingers barely rising from the handlebarâ€”and say â€œKeep going,â€ or â€œLeft,â€ or nothing at all, saving breath for climbing.
A man in a bright jersey comes up beside her, riding easily. â€œHey thereâ€¦want a push?â€
She takes her eyes off the road for a moment, and glares at him. â€œWhat are you thinking?? Look at me.â€ She whips a hand up and down her body. Big thighs, big butt. â€œThereâ€™s no way Iâ€™m riding up that hill.â€
â€œCome on,â€ he says, slowing even further. â€œIâ€™ll push you. We can do it together.â€
â€œWell, maybe.â€ She swings her right leg, clad in universal black Spandex, over the top tube. She stands on the right pedal; the bike begins to move. The handlebars wobble. He puts a hand in the middle of her back, over her red Camelbak, braces himself on his bike, and PUSHES. He pedals; she pedals; together they begin to move. Both of them are breathing hard, his bike is waving back and forth as he tries to steer one-handed, but his hand stays solid, firm against her back as he pushes her along. They are a hundred feet up the hill, two hundredâ€¦almost level with the roadies standing by the side of the road and cheering. She looks up and sees a line of supporters standing in a row, grinning and hauling on an invisible line, â€œtowingâ€ riders up the hill. One of them waves at the pair. â€œGO RIDERS!!â€ She laughs, then squinches her face up and pushes again.
A hundred feet more. Doug, her helper, is wobbling and panting now too, struggling to keep them both moving; but they are moving at a good rate now, coming up on Mom and Dad, cheering riders on and waving a pennant. Mom beats her drum and yells, â€œGO RIDERS!!â€ She looks up and ahead. Two or three hundred feet away, a crowd of riders marks the top, and Ginger, the fabulous transvestite, is handing out candy.
Doug is spent; heâ€™s gasping for air, his thighs are burning, and heâ€™s leaning back and forth, trying to keep his balance. With one final push, he SHOVES her ahead, yells, â€œGo for it!â€ and turns his bike around, plunging down to help another rider. She leaps up the hill, riding strong; sheâ€™s gonna make it. Sheâ€™s grinning fiercely as she grinds the pedals.