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Texas Country Cycling

January 1, 2017

     Such a cool morning for the first day of September in San Antonio. The humidity leaves a haze on the dawn horizon and the non-existent wind does little to clear it away. Some consider eighty-three degrees hot. Not a Texan. It’s a relative cold front coming through. I wonder why there aren't any cars in the parking lot. It's a great day for a bike ride. I guess I'm the only one who had the day off.

     It’s been awful, all cooped up. First the rain, making the low water crossings impassable. Then the ankle flared up, for God only knows what reason. It's been ten days of no activity. Today, I ride. Who needs a bike-buddy or group? I know these roads like the back of my hand.

     I need to stop dallying, and suck down this pre-workout drink. Plus those electrolytes so I don't cramp up. Send a text Jenn to let her know I'm out on the road alone, then I can get out of the car and unload the bike. I love the foot-activated trunk opening feature. My hands aren't full, but it's fun to use it anyways. Interesting, that unusual popping noise in the distance. Stop getting distracted and stick with the ride-prep routine--headlight low-beam on; taillight in red blinking mode; water bottles seated in the cages and valves turned open; food, keys, ID, and phone in jersey pockets; helmet tight enough to not fall off when I bend over; car locked. Ready to go! Start by snapping my shoe into the pedal and pushing off, nice and easy. Falling in the parking lot, even with no witnesses, not cool. Wouldn’t be the first time, though. Did I lock the car? Better circle around to double check. Coast to a stop, yank the back door handle. Yes, locked. Okay, start over.

     Take it slow on the pot-holed warm-up road. Put it in a low gear and spin to loosen up the legs. Sounds like a Fourth of July fireworks finale off in the distance. Funny, I didn’t know there was a shooting range nearby. It's 10-minutes since I got out of the car, and they are still going strong. Reminds me of qualifying on the 9mm on the range. Obviously not a military operation, the tempo indicates more than three rounds at a time. Those guys are just lettin’ it loose. Glad I don't have to worry about that anymore. Much better to spend my mornings on a bike.

     A quarter-mile in, ankle feels great. Guess it was a good idea to stay off it. But, man, ten days of nothing sure did a number on my fitness level. I'm already a bit gassed. This ride is to test the ankle, so need to get over that. Turn onto the café route, and amp up the speed. Head for the turn-around at the stop sign, make it a twelve-mile ride. If the ankle holds up, then I can do the normal twenty-six-mile route this weekend.

     Strange, sounds like I’m getting close to that range. Wonder if there’s a competition? Sure is a lot of shooting. I think it’s down the farm road with all the trees and ear-splitting cicadas. I don’t recall anything resembling a range on that road, just a couple of farms, a creek, and a glade of oak trees where the creepy song of the cicadas comes from. It’s a great road to ride, no cars, but those bugs make the hairs on my arms stand up with their eerie wailing. Getting close to the left turn for that road. Slow down and check it out.

     Wow, look at all the trucks parked on that road. Not gonna turn there, so get back up to speed. Think I will keep on this one, since there hasn’t been any traffic. Which is odd. Usually a dozen cars have passed me by now, in a rush to get to work, barely giving me a few feet of clearance. I'd love to trade places with them, scare them so they understand their rush isn't worth my life. But I bet they can barely waddle to their parked cars from their front doors let alone turn the crank of a bike more than a few times. Still hear the popping noise of gunfire. I wonder why I never noticed the firing range? I've been on that road a few times, so it must be tucked back past the creek. I hope it’s pointed away from the road.

     Plink, plink. What the fuck? That sounded like bullets hitting the side of the metal shed on my left. Maybe that range is closer to the road than I thought. Speed up a bit to get away, because that was too frickin’ close. Crack. What the hell? Gunfire on my right. What’s going on? Get the fuck away. Stand up and mash it. Sprint mode!

     Good God, I'm outta shape. Can’t sustain twenty-miles-per-hour. Not the first day back on the saddle with a bum ankle. Bring it down to fifteen miles-per-hour and get my bearings. Breathe in, breathe out, lower the heart rate. Shooting still going on at the range, but I’m a good distance away from it now. So, why am I hearing shots from all of the small farms I’m passing? There’s one coming up now. Check it out.

     You gotta be shittin' me. Bubba’s in a lawn chair on his side porch shooting into his back field. What’s going on? Why aren’t the cops out here? Did I miss out on something in the news? Sonofabitch! Another shot. Is Bubba shooting at me? Get out of here, to the stop sign. Just a little over a mile away. Speed up to twenty miles-per-hour again.

     For the love of God, this is the longest mile I’ve ever ridden. Is this what D-Day sounded like to the mis-dropped paratroopers slogging through the French countryside trying to link up with their platoons? Dudes are shooting all around, from every farm house and open field. I want body armor. I hated that shit in Afghanistan, but I’d fork over every cent in my checking account for some right now.  Stop wishing, stick to reality. Keep the bike moving.

     Praise be, there’s the stop sign and the houses around it. Surely there won’t be any shooting with the houses so close together. Concentrate. Stopping is just as dangerous as starting. Slow down, un-clip from the pedals, gently squeeze the brake levers, lean left, put left foot down. Stop successful. Now, listen. Good. No shooting close by. So glad I brought my phone with me. Time to do some research.

     I'm breathing so hard I weave while standing still and my hands are quivering like leaves in a light breeze. It's dorking up my search. Not that app, hit the home button to close it. Swipe down to get news alerts. Nothing breaking, so it’s not a terror attack. What about hunting? Type that in, see what Google comes up with. Lots of hits, need to narrow it down. Add in the date. Whisky Tango Foxtrot. Top line says today is opening day of dove season.

     What bizarre world am I in? I was born and raised in a small farm town in Kansas. I know about hunting. I never heard all this racket when dove season opened. Is this some undocumented Texas holiday? When every gun owner in the state goes out into the country to shoot off a year’s supply of ammunition? It says hunting goes from a half hour before sunrise to sunset. Have they been shooting like this for an hour and a half? Holy crap, it really is like a battlefield. And I'm smack-dab in the middle of it. On a fucking bike.

     Calm down. Must get back to the car. Just have faith they are shooting smartly, away from the roads. No good Texan would ever shoot livestock, or a truck. Right?  So, I should be okay for the six-miles back. The sooner I start, the quicker this nightmare is over. Clip-in, push off. Forget the ankle. Go fast, like personal record fast. Remember, they are shooting into the air, at flying birds. But, what goes up must come down. That’s what I’m worried about. If they're shooting at a forty-five-degree angle, the distance of a bullet is maximized. Which means my proximity to them needs to be greater than...no! Stop the mental physics calculations. Just get back to the car, quick. Get into a higher gear. Shift. Again. And again. Don't look at the Garmin. I don't need to know my speed. It will just make me feel tired. Can't have that. Gotta move!

     Don’t freak out at the sound of the nearby shots. Concentrate on the road. Avoid the potholes. Not a good time, or place, to crash. Pedal. Quads are burning. Ignore it.  Ankle is protesting, throbbing. Embrace the pain. Let it happen. Just pedal.

     Getting close to the firing range area again. How could I be so stupid? Firing range--it's just a fucking field. Look, on the road sign, red streamers dancing in the wind. That must be the secret mark that the fields are open shooting. So, so glad I didn’t turn down that road. Ka-pow. Whoa! That shot was way too close! Head down, get into the drops. Get as low to the road as possible. Make sure the dark helmet doesn’t look like a dove flying over the shrub tops. Step it up, just a couple more miles to go. Breathe through it. Pain means I'm alive.

     There’s the warm-up route. Get off this damn road! Turn, keep the outside leg straight so I don't skid out on the loose gravel. Gear down. Let the lactic acid work itself through the muscles. Don’t check your heart rate on the Fitbit. No doubt it's in max range. Only a quarter-mile to the car. Spin. Cool down. Look around.

     Funny. There’s not a bird in the sky. Somehow, they got the memo.

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