Cycling Stories

Col de L’Egaré

June 3, 2020

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Col de L’Egaré

Basque Pyrenees  – February 2016 

Egaré means lost, astray, wandering, 
Far from home, 
Out of the pack, 
Alone. 

No one comes up this road. 
One of my colleagues once told me he couldn’t drive his car up it: 
Too steep, 
And it doesn’t go anywhere  
That the winding valley road can’t take you, anyway. 

He was half right, 
I suppose.  

Col de L’Egaré 
It’s a right-hand turn 
Past the white Basque farmhouse 
With its pretty red beams and sills 

It bucks at the start 
But I know I can delay it. 
If I cut wide around the apex of the first corner 
I’ll save my strength 
For the bit the car can’t handle, 
The real kick. 

This climb… 
Every pedal stroke 
Is the drawing back of a bowstring 
Where the arrow is pointed at you. 
Turning pedals here 
Is cranking a thousand pounds of tension 
Into a bow that bends to breaking point 

And only when the cracks have come 
And the bow is shaking 
Quivering to hold 
The sharp tip of the arrow is loosed 
To find its mark in failing spirits, 
Glazed eyes, 
Heaving lungs, 
Lungs that can’t. 

They can’t. 

I ask again.  
I insist. 
They can’t.  

The arrow finds its mark.  

I can’t.  

I can’t.  

The summit is receding. 
The asphalt will engulf me. 

There’s nothing in my legs, 
And something I’ve not seen before 
Is coming out of my nose. 

My left foot betrays me. 

Click 

I have one foot on the ground. 

Basque Pyrenees  – June 2017 

Egaré means lost, astray, wandering 
But I know exactly where I am going. 

Past the white Basque farmhouse 
With its pretty red beams and sills 

I take that apex in two strokes 
And I’m away 
Back in the saddle 
In the turning of the pedals 
The rolling of the wheels 
Back in my body 
In my breath  
Inhaling the summit 
Exhaling the metres behind me 

I’m drawing back the bowstring 
Relishing the tension 
Eager for the bow to crack 
Daring the arrow to fly loose 
And seek its mark in hardened spirits 
And tempered limbs,  
Knowing that,  
if it meets, 
Then I am lost 
Col de L’Egaré. 

And so, I rise to meet the road 
And defy the arrow to test me  
My legs and lungs ten thousand miles stronger 
Yet suffering 
Burning 
Begging to put just 
One foot on the ground 
Before the arrow finds its mark again.  

I’m out of my saddle 
Out of my body  
Out of my mind 

Out of my doubt 

And over the summit. 

No one saw me slump 
And start to roll down the other side 
Of this road that no one comes up. 

No one. 
Except, perhaps,  
a crow in the trees that line the road. 
And if he was watching 
He would probably wonder 
About the hint of smug glory in the smile  
Of this strange man slumped over his machine. 

He wasn’t there the first time.  
He didn’t see me put my foot on the ground. 
And even in the silence of this lost battleground 
he didn’t hear me think 
“I can’t.” 
“I can’t.” 

So what could he know 
About arrowtips, 
And out-of-reach summits, 
About bows 
And heaving lungs, 
About the arrow and the mark it seeks, 
And growing stronger after those two meet?  

And slumping. 
What could he know about slumping, 
With a hint of smug glory  
in my smile? 

Sam figures out marketing for anyone having a positive environmental impact. 🌱 Performing poet, outdoorsman, inflexible yogi, recovering cycloholic. Say hi: www.samnattress.com

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