“This wind,” he said to no one. It was just after dark and he knew he still had a long ways to go. He was barely moving, pushing into the wind and the snow. There were taller, dark, and more ominous peaks than North Mountain but everyone knew which one was the most dangerous. He gnawed nervously on his beard, thinking about that common knowledge for the hundredth time. He was one of the few people in town who was crazy enough to ride his bike to the summit of North Mountain during a blizzard.
This wasn’t his first trip up north mountain, though. Every night since early August he’d scale the summit for exercise. Tonight, he knew the risks; he’d listened to the weather before he had left, so he was as well prepared as he could be. He had on his windproof rain jacket, windproof snowpants, underarmor under both, his balaclava, earmuffs, helmet, scarf, two pairs of gloves, hand warmers in both, and hand warmers stuffed into his hiking socks underneath his bike clips. He knew that he would need power bars and Gatorade too, which he had plenty of. For as well off as he was, the wind was destroying his confidence.
He knew he couldn’t be moving faster than one or two miles per hour. The slope and wind made sure of that. He wasn’t used to it being this windy and this cold, but even in the height of summer this was a tough climb. He certainly wasn’t used to the snowflakes stabbing his eyeballs.
Yet for as brutal as it was he knew that he had a self imposed mission to take care of. He didn’t have much of a choice whether or not he got to the summit. It wouldn’t count as a complete day if he didn’t make it to the top and back down again. He couldn’t back down, he couldn’t give up, and he definitely couldn’t go home until he touched the summit.
There was another set of tire tracks in front of him. From what he could tell, they belonged to a mountain bike, probably a little smaller than his own road bike. The tracks gave him something to chase through this whiteout. He thought about how his counterpart was probably a bit more prepared than him; this guy had a mountain bike, something with a little bit more tread than he had. He had to assume that they had all the same warm clothes as him, at least, and imagined that this mountain biker probably would have ski goggles. He laughed a little, suddenly more than a little jealous of those ski goggles. “I’ll pick some up in the morning,” he said out loud, laughing a little as he did, keeping his head down and pushing with his tired legs.
There wasn’t much else to focus on besides the cold and the wind and his phantom companion’s tracks. His headlight attached to his handlebars helped him see directly in front of him but the light was so bright that it was illuminating the snowflakes ahead of him. He had never seen snowflakes so white before. It was stunning how white they were when blasted with bright light. There were trees all around him that he knew were there but couldn’t see, and he couldn’t see the stars due to the cloud cover. His house and his town were both far behind him.
When the tracks in front of him disappeared, he almost didn’t notice it. They just disappeared and it registered to his brain as some nameless thing. It took him a while to connect the sense of panic he was feeling with the disappearance of his companion. He grabbed his breaks and tried not to fall off his bike as his front tire took him wherever it wanted to take him. He suddenly noticed once he was stopped that he was sweating even more than in the summer. His legs were more tired than usual, but his rescue mission made him way more focused.
Facing downhill this time, he began to search for the spot on the road where the tracks stopped. He didn’t have to do as much work now since the wind was behind him and the grade of the mountain pulled him forward. This time, stopping would be the challenge. There was too much snow on the ground to simply slam on his breaks without falling.
The tracks reappeared about a hundred feet down the mountain and they lead directly into the forest. He threw his weight to one side and pulled his rear break in order to fall in a way that he could control. He slid another 30 or 40 feet before he stopped moving. He pulled his bike up off the ground and walked it to the side of the road. He removed the headlight but flipped his bike upside down and pointed the tail light towards the road, towards traffic coming down from the peak.He figured someone was likelier to be leaving the mountain than driving to the summit.
The tree cover blocked a lot of the snow coming down, so the headlight was able to shine farther than when he was riding into the snow. The tracks finally lead him to a the wreck of a mountain bike, crashed and inoperable, next to a tree. The footprints and red snow next to the bike showed that the biker was injured.
The mountain bikers footsteps headed back towards the road, generally, but didn’t follow the tire tracks. The bike itself didn’t have any lights on it and without lights it would have been nearly impossible to find the road. He guessed that with the injury and the dark, it was just luck that the mountain biker picked the right direction.
The footprints and dripping blood wiggled through the snow in a pattern that demonstrated the injury as clearly as the crashed bike had. He followed the trail, not sure what he hoped to find. He still had all his supplies with him, but no first aid kit. If he found his crashed companion, there wasn’t a lot that he could do to help.
At least the biker was moving. If he was moving, he was alive, and the farther the tracks went, the greater the chance was that he had gotten to the road. He thought about how jealous he was of the imaginary ski goggles and felt a twinge of realization that the imaginary goggles probably weren’t even real.
The road began to come back into view and with it the heavy snow. He turned off his headlight so he wasn’t blinded by the snowflakes and looked around. It was absolutely silent and dark, the only sound he could hear was the wind. Despite his situation, for a second, he got the feeling he always did in the winter, one of calm and solitude. He always loved winter, regardless of how miserable he would tell people he was when he told them the story of tonight.
His thoughts returned to the mountain biker and followed the footprints along the road for a few feet. He barely saw his own bike in the distance. The mountain biker obviously saw his bicycle too; the footprints walked their way to the blinking red light. He ran when he realized that the mountain biker was likely looking for rescue at his upside down road bike. With effort he got to his bike in a minute only to find that the blood drops stopped at his bike, and a different pair of footprints lead back towards the road.
His curiosity brought him to the side of the road, where the fresh white snow was cut through by a pair of thick treaded truck tires. What direction they headed wasn’t clear but in the time that he was searching for his mountain biker friend, someone had rescued him from his own road bike beacon. He never saw the mountain bikers face, but his tail light had likely saved his life. Relieved, he flipped his bike back onto its wheels, took a sip of his now ice cold Gatorade and pointed his way towards the summit of the mountain. This rescue mission was just a break; he still had his own journey to accomplish.