Published in the 2012 Anthology “My Wheels.”
by G.E. Gardiner
Oxygen, my brain demanded! My heart responded, generating rhythmic sounds of blood, gushing upward, pounding against my inner ears. I thought my brain would explode. Sweat cascaded over my forehead, stinging my eyes with salt and grime. A steady stream of vehicles passed by, filling the air around me with toxic gases. I spit the acidic taste from my mouth, grabbed a water bottle and squeezed the liquid between my teeth.
The endless switchbacks meant long, steep uphill climbs ending in 180 degree turns that led to more uphill climbs. It became an incessant chore, to push on the pedals hard enough to keep the bike balanced. Stopping short of the top would have been a humiliating experience. It would have meant failure, witnessed by dozens of people, as their bikes drove past.
On a highway that traversed the Appalachian Mountains, I was about to conquer that mountain. A euphoric feeling of triumph consumed every molecule in my body. Once again, I was a winner. I had proven it to myself, everyone around me, and anyone who knew me. I was once again whole. I was the man.
No one wanted me to try this ride, at least not yet. My family thought I wasn’t ready. Who could blame them? Not long ago, I was a patient in intensive care. The victim of a severe stroke, a ruptured vessel in my brain stem, fueled by an overactive life style.
I visited death, knocked on its door, and survived.
My thoughts raced back to those terrible days and the dreams that haunted me, nearly every night, for two years.
I stood in the desert next to a deserted road which had two lanes separated by a wide yellow stripe. A woman wearing a white nurse’s uniform hovered over me.
“Where are you going,” she asked.
I took several steps forward, towards the yellow line. “I have to go to the other side,” I responded.
“You can’t cross the road.”
“Why? Who are you?”
“I’m your nurse. You’re in Intensive Care. You’ve had a stroke.”
“I’m okay. Really, I have to go.” I had to cross that yellow line.
I was so close… The yellow line was only a few feet in front of me.
“I have to go now.”
“Stop,” The nurse yanked my sleeve.
“I have to give you your medicine.”
A burst of fresh air slammed my face, bringing me back to my journey, to the mountain. The wheels of my bike crested the hill. Gravity, my former enemy, propelled me down the other side of the mountain. The three-mile ride to the valley would give me time to relax and let my body reenergize. At the top of the mountain, an incredible, brisk breeze fanned my sweaty skin. Adrenaline raced through my veins, cooling my burning muscles and clearing my mind.
The ride was exhilarating. My eyes fixated on the vista that unfolded before me. Yellow, red, orange, green and brown foliage dominated the landscape. Soon, I flew down the mountain, traveling faster than I had ever ridden a bicycle in my life. The handlebars became an extension of my arms. I leaned the bicycle from one side to the other as it careened around switchbacks and zoomed along straightaways. The ride was my first since my release from the hospital. I didn’t realize that my stroke had left me with inabilities that would surface when stress heated my brain. My high rate of speed filled me with excitement, sending energy and heat coursing through my body and to my brain. My brain froze with fear. Then, weightlessness, I reached another drop in the road.
The descent steepened. It dropped off quickly into what seemed like an almost vertical dive. I watched an eighteen wheeler exiting a lower switchback. He headed up the hill. The thought of screaming past a large truck made the hair on my neck stand up. Visions flashed through my mind of the truck driver swerving into my lane; or even worse, if I puncture a tire? Thoughts of impacting his windshield, like an insect, were terrifying. We closed on each other. The rig downshifted, lugging like a heavy beast up the mountain. I traveled way too fast. Too late to stop. My brakes would never hold.
Swoosh. He passed. I saw the switchback up ahead and squeezed with both hands on both bake levers. There was a popping sound, followed by the vision of parts tumbling along the asphalt. My brakes were gone. I glimpsed down at my speedometer. Eighty-six miles per hour. I still continued to accelerate. The centrifugal force of my wheels created two gyroscopes, which prevented me from turning. I felt a bump in the road. suddenly realized I was no longer in the moment. I looked down to see the tops of trees as I sailed through the air. When I landed I saw my front wheel spinning, then I blacked out.
Again, I paused in the desert next to a deserted road with two lanes separated by a wide yellow stripe. A lady wearing a white nurse’s uniform was with me.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
I took several steps towards the yellow line. “I have to go to the other side,”
“You can’t cross the road.”
“Who are you? You look familiar.”
“I’m your nurse. You’re in Intensive Care. You’ve been in an accident.”
“I’m okay. Really, I have to go.” I took several more steps, towards the yellow line.
So close. The yellow line was in front of me. When I touched over the line, my body felt lighter. My second foot crossed the line. A familiar fragrance surrounded me. Its scent seized my Spirit and dragged me back over the center point of the road. My wife, who had always been there for me. Someone grabbed my arm and yanked backwards. My guardian nurse.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“You need to take your medicine!”
© 2012 GE Gardiner