The Atwater Bridge stands less than halfway through my journey, but it is the hardest part. It is the one place I must stop, in order to leave the street and get on the bridge, I hoist the bike onto the curbed sidewalk; I lose my momentum.
As I make my way across, I first pedal up a deceptively difficult incline into Los Angeles with both the 5 freeway and the L.A. River beneath me. By the end I am out of breath. I never look at the river, or the gentle hills of Griffith Park to my right.
This morning there was a bedraggled man who preceded me on the bridge. He was riding a rickety bike, very slowly. There was no room for me to pass him, so I was forced to slow down.
And that’s when things changed. Pedaling casually, I saw a nest of birds in the rushes of the river. I saw the sun rising to my left. The bike moved easily, my legs weren’t strained. I thought, “Why is it so difficult every other day?”
Because every other day I race over the bridge, competing with no one but myself, taking no time for enjoyment of the scenery or my own comfort, spoiling a joyful moment, making what should be a great ride into something with a flaw.
“Who is pushing you, Marty Barrett?” I said.
There is a rest area in the middle of the bridge, and the bedraggled man pulled to the side. Without thinking, I sped up and zipped past, soon aware of how much my legs hurt again, how I was out of breath, and how I was racing for nothing. I stopped and turned around.
The bedraggled man had resumed riding and was making his way slowly across. I got a good look at him. He was very likely homeless.
“He seems to have all the time in the world,” I thought. “He’s not straining himself. He’s probably having the time of his life.”
I thought for a moment, and decided to light the homeless man on fire. The smoke met the sunrise, and his ashes blew northwest against the line of the river. I went southwest, because the southeast is for assholes.