A cloud of warm air forces its way through the loose loops of yarn on the crocheted scarf covering my mouth as I pull my bike out of the shed. What doesn’t make it past my mom’s needlework fills in pockets of moist heat around my face, providing a comforting sensation in contrast to the dry freeze that’s stinging my uncovered eyes. I’m wearing enough layers to regret the extra hoodie after the first hill, but if I’d tensed from a single shiver walking out the door, I might’ve changed my mind and stayed in. Besides, the only humans awake at this hour to witness my pit stains and matted hair are busy with someone’s hand up their skirt in the back of a cab. As I secure my shoes into my custom Velo City straps, I wiggle my toes for what may very well be the last time: No matter how many pairs of socks I stuff my feet into, I will always end the night wincing in pain as they slowly prickle back to life under the covers. It’s probably because I only ride in Vans, but that’s me: stupid and stubborn.
I huff my way up and over the North Temple bridge heading east, leaving behind the muted lights and mumbling, blanket-wrapped junkies who walk my neighborhood day and night, and I move into the crisp, white glow that emanates from the heart of the city. My riding is slow and tense at first––I haven’t been out on the road for a good six hours, and the temperature has dropped enough to solidify the melting snow into sheets of black ice. I’ve decided to forego the helmet tonight. I don’t think the beanie over my ears will keep my skull from cracking against the asphalt if I slide out once I pick up speed—but this night isn’t about safety. It’s not about rules or reprimands.
The wide, empty streets of downtown Salt Lake seem to curve with the Earth as I wind my way through them. I turn my music off for a moment to enjoy the apocalyptic silence. This is some people’s nightmare––finding themselves completely alone––but it’s my solace. I take my hands off the handlebars and let the frame veer into the middle of the road, balancing over the yellow double lines. Closing my eyes for a moment, I let the metronomic pops of a bent spoke card lull me into meditation until the faraway sound of a siren forces my lids apart. I move back into the lane and stuff my earbuds under the beanie––it’s time to race.
There’s only one band I’ll trust to bring with me on these solo winter night rides: This Will Destroy You. Their lengthy, instrumental tracks begin almost inaudibly soft and build to a heart-pounding crescendo, leading my thoughts from strangling despair to liberating hope, and coursing notes of energy into my legs. Tonight, I’m working out some anger, so I put on the darkest and latest TWDY album, Tunnel Blanket. I smile at the subconscious syncrhonizing. Perched at the light on 100 South and 200 West, I ride in circles as the guitars get louder and the drums pick up speed until my eardrums are ready to burst. I spring forward, rip off my scarf and let a primal scream tear from my guts as I fly down into the tunnel, bathing in the stagnant, yellow light, pedaling as fast as I can as I go under and up. Reaching the top, I run the light through South Temple, laughing and crying and laughing some more. I turn around, wait for the music, and do it over twice more until my face is numb from the cold air on my wet cheeks and my chest starts to squeeze my lungs into cloudy gasps.
I switch over to TWDY’s Young Mountain and make my way back to the West Side, letting my breath warm up my face with satisfied pants under the scarf again. In a few hours, these streets will fill up with cars and people and bikes, and I’ll have to share the lane and stop at lights and wave hello. But right now, it’s my time.