Let the sweat rain down on me (Part 2)

The moment his head cleared, Turner realized that he still had a long way to go; he was halfway to school at best. Pushing as hard as he could, his legs got weaker the more he willed them to pedal. “I can’t lose this stupid race,” he said, and the mere thought of it made him desperate and angry and hungry all at once.

He hit Congress Avenue, steered right, and began the long descent to the river. The speed he’d reached flying down Burton was nothing compared to the velocity he was hitting now, and the sound of the tires spinning over the asphalt moved him from thrilled to surreal to terrified. The first two lights were green and he wondered how he would have stopped for them if they hadn’t been.

Turner held the bars with a sweaty death grip as he went faster and faster. Finally a light turned yellow. “I can make it,” he told himself, and jumped out of the saddle. His overweighted backpack shifted up on his shoulders and caused the bike to wobble. In a panic he sat back down, barely bringing the flying machine under control just as he hit the stoplight, which was now red, red, red.

Cross traffic honked but he barely heard it. He’d committed to either death or making the light or both, and the fury of a fool in a pick-up meant nothing. On he raced to the river. Once he crossed it, the road began to go gradually up again, and the confluence of exhaustion, the slight grade, and intersections barred by completely red lights and cross traffic slowed him to a crawl. Turner thought about the school bus and tried to estimate where it was. He couldn’t be too far ahead or too far behind, even with the mishaps. It would be down to the wire.

Speeding by the capitol building he hit Lavaca, then MLK, then Guadalupe, and then he was on campus, still giving it everything he had but feeling the listlessness of the bike beneath him as he mashed the pedals with spongy legs. He’d given it everything he had, and somehow, from somewhere deep inside, he’d given it something that he didn’t even know was there. A more drained and empty feeling he’d never had in his life, until, that is, the moment he reached the bus stop and saw Will standing nonchalantly by the fountains, chatting with a frat brother.

“There he is!” said Will.

The other guy was just as neatly dressed as Will, down to the blue jeans with a sharp crease in the leg. Their polo shirts were dry and looked as crisp as their neatly combed hair. Both had the look of the happy, relaxed college man who was on the cusp of success and in control of a wonderful life.

Turner pulled his feet out of the pedals, his bedraggled hair flat against the sides of his head, and sweat pouring off his face, arms and legs. “How long you been waiting?” he asked.

Will grinned. “Oh, I’d say we’ve been waiting about five dollars.” His frat brother laughed. “But don’t worry, man. You don’t owe me. You almost beat me here, anyway. We hit all the stoplights on green once we got off 1-35. I couldn’t believe it. That never happens.”

Turner had already fished out his five-dollar bill. “Bet’s a bet.” His face flushed from the humiliation.

Will shrugged and took it. “Okay.”

The friend started laughing. “You gotta take a look at yourself in the mirror. If that won’t convince you to ride the bus, nothing will.” They walked off.

Turner got back on his bike and rode over to Waggoner Hall, where he locked his bike. He still had a few minutes before class, so he went to the men’s room. Staring back at him in the mirror was a mess. His shirt was sopped with sweat. His hair looked like it had been washed with vegetable oil. His shorts had a big smear from the chain oil, and his sock was stained with a large, ragged blot of blood. Now that he’d stopped moving, his legs ached and he was light-headed.

Turner got his face up to the mirror so closely that his nose was almost touching it. He could see the pores in his skin and the rivulets of sweat that were already starting to dry up in the air conditioned men’s room. He looked at his eyes, and blinked from the sting of the salt. He wasn’t burning from embarrassment any more, and he wasn’t even concerned about the dinner he wouldn’t be getting to eat.

Instead, a heavy satisfaction started in his gut and radiated outward until it filled him, reaching the tips of his fingers, the ends of each strand of hair. “So that’s it,” he mused, surprised and pleased at what he’d found.

Then he lifted up the backpack and went off to class.

24 thoughts on “Let the sweat rain down on me (Part 2)”

    1. Absolutely. I’m thinking I should number them, since it won’t be a series of continuous posts. What do you think?

      1. Great idea in case someone catches it late. And I can relate to the story a bit as I lived in Austin and attended UT from ’85 to ’88.

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I will — may have a couple of other things I need to post, but I’m already working on #3.

  1. The Pink Panter

    Replace the the frat boys with football jocks and make it a BMX bike and you’ve just written one of the most important chapters in my life’s history. Reading it brought back a flood of memories and sparked a sense of urgency to share those life lessons with my teenage children.

    Once again, bravo.

  2. The Pink Panter

    Ps. Lesson 1: Sprint to the finish. Always give it your all. If you have anything left, you didn’t leave it all out there. That’s one thing that separates winners from wishers. Don’t “wish I would have”. Do it.

    Lesson 2: Winning doesn’t always mean that you got first place. You can win by contributing your best, helping others to gain, and how you conduct yourself.

    Getting first place doesn’t make you a winner. See above and add “acted like a jerk”.

    I am grateful for the lessons my dad taught me, my bike taught me, and the ones I continue to learn. Thanks for the reminder and the opportunity to share.

  3. Grumblyoldguyonabike

    We all have had the same epiphany at different times and places, but the similar endorphin release has caused us to all have the same addiction.

    Thanks for taking us along for the ride.

    1. The story’s different for everyone, but always the same. Thanks for coming along!

  4. Great stuff men. Reminds me of the time when I raced my late grandpa home from Safeway. He was in his 64 Impala and I was on my 82 Peugeot. I drafted him and ran the lights and when he got home he ripped me a new one.
    I could see that he was still proud of me because he walked away with a smile.

    1. That’s classic! He was proud of you, for sure, and only yelled at you because he loved you and because he got beat!

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