Mud-smeared bartape offers the final layer of protection for the rigid, aluminum handlebar but provides little in the way of damping as the washboard and stone-littered service road descends out beyond my front wheel into oblivion. Extending away at 5...8....no now 15%, the opposing valley of Walla Walla floods my view, despite the setting sun's best efforts to curb my sight with deceiving shadows, flying out laterally like a bat spreading its wings before flight, and the sting of its red brilliance, creeping into between my cheek bones and the end of my sunglasses.
The night is coming and the snow-lined gravel trail is far from over, in fact I still cannot see the palousian hill which comes before that other palousian hill which leads to the paved road home. Suddenly my rear wheel grinds to a halt. Broken spoke? Flat tire? I am not far from sunset but still 2000 ft above home and 20 kilometres. I quickly but carefully dismount and flip my winter steed on its end. Mud fills the braking mechanism and makes removing the wheel an arduousness chore my thin cyclist's arms trouble with. Bike vacant of one leg, nothing seems the matter but upon close inspection the fender has become caked with mud. Yet at first sight, it seemed inmplausible as the color of the mud had stolen that of my tire, black as the approaching night.
Removing my glove I scrap my finger along the inside of the plastic full-rear fender. Whenever I think I am done and that the rest of the surface is merely more fender, I double check and find that it is in fact more hardened Earth. Fingers stained, white bibs stained, white frame stained, I cleanse my machine of such retched Earth, alien and unappreciated when layered upon my model of efficiency and progress. Upon its careful re-install, my iron-horse is once again fitted with its two legs and I continue down the mountain, leaving only a small stain of 2 thin indented lines amidst an otherwise hardened landscape.
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