“I just lubed up my chain too,” Smith said to Julie, the squeak of each peddle grating her nerves.
“Why would you lube up before a trip?” She yelled back, wondering if any of her words would get drowned out by the strong rain pattering off of leaves and branches. “There’s always a layer of filth left behind that would make you need to lube up right after anyway.”
Julie looked over her shoulder and saw Smith mocking her, and she laughed. He was virtually covered in mud from waist to shoe, and she imagined she was too. Thankfully, the path they were currently on was rather overgrown, and fallen leaves had covered the dirt.
They’d had to stop four times before reaching their current path, and each time it was to scoop away the mud caked into the grooves around their wheels. The more mud there was, the more they had to work for every inch they pedaled, and since they were on their return trip every drop of energy was needed.
“Remind me again why I let you convince me that it was a good idea to ride through the woods this close to winter?” Smith said, annoyance dripping from his every word.
“Because you love me and want me to keep you warm when we get back.”
Smith started belting out the Meat Loaf lyrics, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that!”
She laughed again. “Too late!” she belted back, trying to keep the same tune he had sung but failing. “You would be more of a man about these trips if you had done that charity bike ride with me.”
“Um, maybe you forgot, but I enjoy long naps on the sofa and Saturdays filled with nothing but Netflix and Nirvana.”
“Remind me why we’re together again?” Julie said, looking over her shoulder to make sure her face could convey her lighthearted intentions even if the noisy environment robbed her words of the same.
“Because this beard is the best thing you’ve seen since forever.”
She giggled, and they pushed onward. The mountain they had visited was more of a large hill, but it was high enough that the final few portions of their ascent were difficult. Toward the top, the incline steepened to a grade 6, which would normally be easy for Julie. But in the rain, it was like trying to pedal up a brick wall.
The couple took a break before finishing, and Smith took a long swig of water from his bottle. They were both all huffs and puffs, but Julie still felt great being outside.
“Even with all this water, you’re still thirsty?”
“Screw you,” Smith started with a smile. “Not everyone can say they’ve pedaled across the country for charity. Some of us are normal.”
“I told you like a million times. Bike and Build are nowhere near as hard as people make it seem. We took lots of breaks.”
“You’re right. And Oprah is a part of the middle class.”
After the quick breather, they both hopped back on their bikes and muscled through the rest. It was still early enough in the day that when they got to the summit and could see the sky, they were thrown off with how dark it was.
Thick storm clouds blanketed as far as the eye could see for miles around. Rain bothered her only when she was dressed professionally, but lightning was a safety concern, and she hoped none crackled through the air on this day.
Aside from the dreary forecast, the valley that was before them was beautiful. A small river ran parallel to the mountain, and the sight of a hundred ripples on its surface was magnificent.
After taking in the sights for a little longer, they both ate an electrolyte gummy and headed down the mountain. They took it slow, but mainly because Smith pointed out that falling and breaking a bone in the rain would be as terrible as all the worst things, so they kept a little brake applied at all times. The path down was easier to spot. As if the path’s creators had this very occasion in mind when they dug it out, the path zigzagged to allow them to keep their speed to a safe level.
At the bottom, the couple pedaled as fast as they could toward the car as the distant rumble of thunder reached their ears. But, as if laughing at their anxiety, the rain ceased, and they pedaled the remaining distance in relative quiet.
By the time they reached their vehicle the sun had cut a spread of rays through the clouds like fingers reaching down from heaven. No more thunder reported, but as the sun revealed itself again, the sound of hundreds of birds singing praises to it could be heard, and the couple stopped. They were still surrounded by trees, and had it not been for the asphalt it would have felt like they were still in the woods. They saw very few birds, but there were so many singing it felt like there were two sitting on every branch around them.
“Well, I can’t say it’s all bad when you have a farewell like that,” Smith said, popping the trunk and pulling out a pair of blankets for each of them.
“I’m telling you, if you would do the charity ride with me you’ll have so many experiences like this that this one will seem like just another day.”
Smith chuckled. “I can’t say I would look forward to that. I appreciate days like this because of how rare they are. It would be like being a rich guy and winning the lotto. Wouldn’t feel the same.”
“You should still do the trip,” Julie said, helping him spread out the blankets on their seats.
The back seat already had a large blanket covering it, and they shoved their bikes inside the spacious area. They hopped in their respective seats, and Julie looked out the window as they left the area, soaking up the beauty and wishing she could be out in nature every day of her life.