Cycle St. Paul. Hills and All.

I am seated on a steel bench just after lunch: June 25 at 12:30, hot sun, and worries about my sunburn getting worse. I cycle this university campus. Indeed, I was here 18 hours ago peddling my bike up the hill to the student center. I’ve cycled over 800 miles this season getting ready for RAGBRAI, most spent on the terrain of St. Paul. I hear a lot of groans from other cyclists when I tell them I choose to train here.

No really. I choose to ride these hills.

RAGBRAI is a 7-day ride from the western to eastern border of Iowa. About 20,000+ cyclists make the journey annually during the last full week of July. It averages about 468 miles in total length, which means 67+ miles per day. I can also expect over 12,000 feet of total climb. Iowa is not flat.

Have I mentioned the corn sweat?

I frequent a coffee shop downtown. It’s a good mid-way point and I have spent many hours there in the off-season writing (not in spandex). But it is summer, and the baristas are impressed by my mileage. I got a 50-mile ride in last Sunday and plan for 55 miles the next. I come into town by way of Shepard’s Road and out again by Big Rivers Regional Trail.

I often see eagles hunting along the river. Soaring grace until a fierce dive to the fish below. I feel that way on my bike. I feel like I am flying. There is no other world besides the connection between me and the steel bike frame… the bike tires and the road… the road leading forever to the horizon. Sometimes, the meditation is so deep I really believe I can go on for days. Then I stop for a snack and a dose of reality.

I came to cycling in 2014, about a year after my back surgery.

A friend asked me on a whim, “You wanna ride RAGBRAI with me?” I knew what it was having attended the University of Iowa as an English major years before. But I had never cycled before. I thought there was no way I could ever do such a thing.

Then I paused.

Two years earlier, just after my 40th birthday, a disk in my spine herniated and cut into my spinal cord. Intense waves of pain and weakness in my left leg caused it to randomly stop working. Some days, it was all I could do to walk the few blocks from the bus stop after work and lay on the floor all night. This went on for nine months: pain, mobility loss, and isolation all stealing my life and dignity away. Then I got back surgery. I got my life back. And I got asked to ride a large, insane cycling event.

My leg was working again… why couldn’t I ride RAGBRAI?

There is something about the slow pace of 14mph that allows you to see the world in a way that driving does not: deer darting through the high grass, tiny flowers of yellow and blue, and every butterfly that lights upon them. But that’s fast enough that if you are panting, and a June bug decides to commit suicide by flying into the back of your throat, you have little choice but to swallow it.

Hey, it’s fuel for the ride.

We are so spoiled in the Twin Cities by our extensive system of bike trails and lanes. I’ve tried cycling in other cities, in other states, but there is simply not the same quality and quantity. This place is dedicated to cycling access. I feel safe here. I don’t have to ride on the streets and when I do, there are safe places to do that. Without it, I don’t think I would have taken up what has become one of the best parts of my life.

Thank you for that St. Paul… ride on!

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, October 2018

Apple Tree

Every apple
Every last Macintosh
Has a hole in it
No holes before
Dad died
Now the tree sags
Weight of unwanted fruit
Scent hangs heavy
Apples drop
Rot on the ground
Memory preserves
Harvested bushels
Apple pies, apple butter
Dad had a gift
To tend life into green
Growing things
Twenty years later
It is old and dying
Animals live off its bounty
Insects, birds, and rodents
His care gives life still

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2005

Cycle

It is a meditative practice
Physical meditation
Focus on the now for hours
Hours speed by with the world
Natural world
Patience, solitude
Flowers grow by the thousands
In forgotten ditches
Animals startled
Silent approach
Sun beats down at high noon
Heat radiates up from baked asphalt
Cracks spread
Threaten to grab tires
Threaten to throw you off
Lonely trees grow along cornfields
Shady spots to nap
To eat nuts and chocolate
To stare up at the impossible blue sky
Life passes, no deadlines
Only dandelions fields of youth

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2017

Closure

Summer promises so much
Closure, an end to many things
That churned, burned, dragged by
Some will soar away, some will sink
Oncoming grief, outgoing grief
Change again

Live for the day again and again
Find some tenderness
In the midst of it all
Ride into endless summer
To the coast, to a life saved, renewed
Settle with some age behind you

Artifacts passed along or back
To ones who had lost everything
Be the intervention
The Dutch boy’s finger in the dyke
The lighthouse bearing the crush of high seas
Love, let go

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2017

Summer Wind

Early summer
Not too hot
Strong breeze
From the south
Crosses the wide river

Through the trees
Into the window
Billowing curtains
Dancing shadows
Beige pill carpet

Wind on water
Wind swept leaves
Shimmering cacophony
Natural windchimes
Rush

Liquid against liquid
Liquid against life
Life must bend
Or break and snap
Against the invisible

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2017