Wet, muddy, happy.

Trading a warm bed on a lazy Sunday morning for the promise of legs burning with exertion in wet 45-degree weather, I stand, slightly chilly, in the parking lot as the rain comes down and he gathers the last of the gear. Riding to the lake, in slightly-nervous anticipation, raindrops pattering on the windshield that never seemed to rid itself of the fog, the old Toyota rumbling along, belts occasionally squealing in the cold, damp air.

Those first few pedal strokes, cold muscles, unsure of what the ride will bring. Feeling strong or tiring quickly? Mental pants go on. Muscles warm up. The first hill is conquered, and then I’m flying downhill, committed to the ride. The soggy trails throw mud at my face, in my eyes. Soon my entire body is covered by a thin layer of wet dirt, kicked up as I roll through every puddle, slide around every turn.

The trails weave up and down little mountains and valleys, each uphill section pushing my legs and lungs, the feeling of relief at the top. Then ripping downhill over mounds of dirt that send me slightly airborne for a second before softly landing on fat tires that cushion my impact. I’m intently focused on the ride, yet keenly aware of the world around me. I’m at one with the bike. It’s no longer a foreign object I am trying to control. It is an extension of my body, like a new limb that is a little awkward at first, but as time goes by, with each ride, it slowly becomes second nature, something I can begin to use with grace and ease.

We stop, walk up the hill away from the trail, into the field of multiflora rose, whose tiny thorns sting my shins below my spandex knickers. I look down to see blood oozing down my leg, blending with the river of mud. Looking up again, taking in the blanket of fog hanging over the lake, the mountains beyond, not yet touched by spring and the lush green life that it brings. To the left, my companion, my partner, both of us taking in the beauty, loving the moment, appreciating.

Another wet, slightly-rockier descent and we’re down by the lake, feeling like I may slide off the hillside on clumps of wet leaves. Then it’s time to go up again. A slow, gentle climb, sitting and spinning. It goes on and on. The legs begin to burn. My stomach begins to growl. I pop a Shot-Blok, sucking on the sweet cube of energy, waiting for it to kick in.

Over a rock garden, delight that I nailed it, and one final uphill push before we’re back to where we began 25-miles-ago. High-fives and exuberant smiles are exchanged, and IPAs are cracked open. I am cold, covered head-to-toe in the wet earth. But I couldn’t be more content.

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