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Hellfire on wheels
I ride my bike on the ground, I’ve ridden through more rain than I’d like, and, since this is Kansas, I’m always riding in wind; frequently I’m suckin’ it, too.
Thus in terms of the classic elements, I figure I’ve got three of the four whipped (not including aether, whatever the heck that is; I reckon it’s to the elements like umami is to the tastes). Unless I develop a mysterious brain cloud and volunteer to ride my bike into the mouth of an erupting volcano to save the Abe Vigoda-led tropical villagers, I always assumed I’d have to leave fire well enough alone, at least when it comes to my regular commutes.
Until a couple of weeks ago, that is.
I was riding along Clinton Parkway on the multi-use trail on my way to racquetball. Because I was on the MUT and didn’t have to worry about traffic — except where the MUT intersects cross streets, that is — I lost myself in the vast emptiness of my own head.
Stumbling aimlessly through that void — “Heellloooo!!!!! Anyone home????” — I snapped to just in time to see a pickup truck parked on the MUT. I don’t think that’s one of the uses in the MUT’s multi-usedness, so I carefully rode around it and back on the trail.
A little farther, I spied a couple of cones and a two city workers, obviously blocking the trail and captivated by something ahead.
The makeshift road block extended into the street, forcing traffic into the center lane. So I hopped off the curb and into the now-vacant lane adjacent to MUT — right alongside a wall of flame like from the depths of hell itself.
It seems the city was burning off the native prairie grasses that grow along the MUT, and I was a singed eyebrow away from that broiling inferno. I pedaled on as flames leapt and ash and cinder filled the sky. My lungs burned with fiery, acrid smoke; every breath was pure torture. Flames crackled from my drivetrain. The rubber bits — tires, handlebar tape — bubbled. The sky was black as pitch, the air heavy with soot. The wall of flame, whipped by a ravaging wind, curled overhead. It seemed like I was surfing the North Shore — of Hades itself.
Then, as quickly as I happened upon this blazing hellfire, I was past it. I hopped back on the MUT, and went on my way.
(In the interest of interest, I should mention I might have exaggerated my encounter just a tad. But I did feel a slight rise in the ambient air temperature. I swear.)