Riding to sunset doesn't feel like sacrifice. The half hour just after sunset, though, is a different story.
I climb diagonally up the side of a valley. The sun goes long through the clouds, gold bathes the trees, birds fly back to their roosts, and the world is at its most beautiful. The road shines, and my pale eyes are not made for this abundance of light. The wide volume of air filling up the spaces between the mountains is afire, energized, palpable. In those conditions, there is an inherent glory in being on a bike at all.
Half an hour later, all that has turned to gray. It's not dark enough to merit lights, but not light enough to be beautiful. Feeling alone. A sense of urgency, far from done with the ride: no time to stop, but no desire to stop either. I can ride fast enough to finish before I really need that light in the bottom of my pack. I'm still on the bike because the ride is not done. This is training.
And I know: this gray and lonely moment is what I need to remember later. Not the glorious sunset, but the solitary expression of dedication in riding past it. This is where racing takes me.
And again: ten minute lactate threshold efforts on the Mellowdrome oval. Over and over I squint into the low rays of the sun, then as the track curves into shadows, work to hold my line against a wind gusting off the river. At seven minutes into the fourth interval the sun was gone below the horizon, and that familiar dingy half-light returned. Patience. Holding my pace, waiting out the discomfort of the effort as the timer ticks down. I tell myself to remember this moment, this very moment, when I was alone in the cold dusk with three minutes to go.
In midsummer, in the heat of a race, remember this gray solitude.