The Sounds of the Pacific
The Sounds of the Pacific
Mitch Wilde pedaled the river-trail intent on keeping up his heart rate. Push, pull, push, pull. Focus on the path. Ignore the burn in the lungs and the acidic throat holding back a pounding heart. Controlled breathing. Relax, Mitch’s brain reminded him. He rode a little harder than normal this morning. Today he felt like the carbon-framed bike was an extension of his body. Ironic, since the first mile, he had wanted to turn back and head home at least half a dozen times. His legs felt slug-like, unwilling to respond. Mitch knew they always took about a mile to loosen up so he kept rolling.
Mitch slowed his pace while glancing at the cell phone in the handlebar cradle. The fitness app showed just almost nine miles. One more to go. This location on the river-trail was one of his favorite spots with its serene views. The trail held a slight downward grade, a little wider than the rest of the path and packed firm, allowing for a smooth ride. Mitch placed an index finger on each brake lever in anticipation. He couldn’t afford a serious wreck, knowing his body wouldn’t heal as he approached fifty.
Irritated with the way his helmet was sitting, he slowed slightly and reached up with his right hand, which was a mistake. He should have just stopped. His brain registered something from the corner of his right eye.
"What the..." Something flashed in front of him, stung his shoulder and tore the fabric. It distracted Mitch for a nanosecond. His front tire caught a tree root a touch wrong and then stuck in a small rut in the compacted clay soil. He broke one of his biking rules—pulling on the left brake lever only, which controlled the front brakes. The front wheel locked for a fraction of a second. That was all it took.
“Fuck me,” Wilde blurted, preparing for a wreck.
All he could do now was try and minimize the fall he was about to take. The whole incident lasted seconds, at most, but played like a slow motion movie in his mind. He had wrecked enough over the years to learn the art of the fall. He’d developed a more deliberate and attentive riding. Not attentive enough this time though. What the fuck flew by him?
Mitch landed on his right side with the bike on top. He laid on the ground laughing in relief that he hadn’t been hurt. Mitch broke his right foot free of the pedal attached to the shoe cleat. He pushed the bike off and sat upright. He brushed off his right side, checked the phone for damage, found none, and paused the Endomondo tracking app.
Why had he wrecked? Something hit him, but what? Leaning to investigate his condition, he heard something across the river. It sounded like a horse, which was odd. He’d never seen a horse on this trail. Mitch peered through the bushes.
There, across the river, on the opposite bank downstream was a horse. Next to it stood a large figure. The unknown river visitor was too far away to tell much, but it appeared to be a man. It seemed to be staring directly at Mitch. Mitch turned and looked over his shoulder thinking someone was behind him. He hoped he wasn’t the target of the stranger’s eyes. No such luck—nothing but empty woods and an occasional varmint. Mitch glanced at his cell phone and turned on the camera app. He positioned the cell phone, but even with the pinch zoom maxed out, the bodies were too small. Frustrated, he turned off the app and watched the riverbank’s stranger another couple of minutes. At least now, he could tell it was a man with the horse. The duo left the river shore and headed back into the woods. Mitch plopped his ass back down on the hard, cold soil. He rested his head against a tree, swallowing hard; wishing the water bottle in the bicycle cage was closer. Mitch looked across the river again. The beautiful riverbank was still empty. There was no easy way across the river and therefore no way to investigate. Hell, did he even want to? He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, and reached for his bike. As he placed the cell phone in its cradle, a low thud and a sting followed a loud whoosh near his left shoulder. He spun toward the tree, and then peered across the river, seeing nothing in either place. Mitch touched his shoulder and found a small tear in his shirt. His mind replayed the morning’s ride with no recollection of hitting a twig or branch. His shoulder stung. There was a slight cut and minimal bleeding. Mitch often came home nicked up. His shins wore small scars that, like rings inside a tree, showed the number of years he’d been riding. Right now, he was more upset about his favorite jersey, now with a hole. He could take care of it at home—including getting out the bloodstain. Mitch readjusted the twins underneath his bike shorts, pushed his sunglasses into place, threw his left leg over the saddle, and clipped his left foot into the pedal. He took a quick swig of water from the bottle, spit it out, and then took a bigger drink, this time swallowing. He replaced the bottle in its cage. Prior to pushing off Mitch looked around intently feeling some kind of presence.
High up in a tree, a sparrow landed on a shimmering arrow lodged deep in the bark. The energetic little bird sang and Mitch smiled as the yellow-headed creature twitched. The arrow was shiny; the fletching seemed to flutter with the breeze. He glanced back across the river. Still nothing.
Mitch returned his gaze to the arrow; the yellow-headed bird flew away. As he watched, the arrow seemed to dissolve into the tree leaving a small glowing trace of liquid trickling down the dark brown bark. The damn arrow disappeared as if the wind washed away its existence. The breeze whistled, flexing its power high through the tips of the evergreens. The unstoppable force plowed its way through the needles mimicking the sounds of the ocean. Mitch never got tired of that sound. The ocean in the trees, he always told Mabey.
Mitch rubbed his eyes, unsure of what he had just witnessed. He touched the tear in his shirt, glanced again at the tree where he was sure he had seen an arrow, and then glanced back across the river one more time. Mitch still saw nothing but an empty bank.
He straightened his handlebars, glanced back one more time at an empty tree, and chuckled at how the mind can play tricks. He pushed off with his right foot and pedaled back down the path. As he regained his rhythm, he pressed resume on the tracking app. Seconds later, the exercise app reported he had passed the nine-mile mark. He slowed his pace as usual giving his body the last mile to cool down. Probably not necessary this morning, after the unplanned stop, but he slowed anyhow out of habit. He checked his sports watch making sure he had time to mow the lawn and shower before the annual barbecue he and his wife Mabey were putting on later in the day.
He picked up a little speed, vaulted off the dirt packed trail, and landed the 29-inch wheels on the pavement. A hundred yards or so and he was home. He nodded to his neighbor Jasper as he cruised past at about eleven miles an hour. Mitch wanted to wash the bike but had a yard to prep first.
He wondered if he should call Mabey and tell her what he had seen. For now, he figured to hold onto this little incident—at least until he knew what he was talking about. He laughed as he felt his nerves twitch while thinking a dissolving arrow had grazed him. “Yeah, right!”