Fatigue Limit – 12

Freddy Maertens races horse at Amiens, July 1977. Notice the broken wrist. He was supposed to be racing in the Tour de France. Cyclist vs. Horse Duel

I rode north on El Camino Real, quiet as always on a weekday morning. As I passed Mr. Olson’s home I saw him entering the road in his carriage, pulled by Jenny, his faithful mare. She had a healthy-looking chestnut coat offset by a long blonde mane. I stopped to greet Jake Olson, who owned the county’s largest cherry orchard. “Good to see you, Mr. Olson.”

“If it isn’t Tab. You plannin’ to pick cherries again? Sure can use those long arms of yours.”

“You can count on me Mr. Olson, if it’s a buffet picking.” Mr. Olson chuckled.

“If’n you don’t mind the bellyache afterwards, eat all you want.”

“Say, Mr. Olson, want to race?”

“You still think you can beat Jenny? She whupped you last week. She’ll do it again.”

“Half a mile, same as before. And I get thirty seconds head start.”


I lined up with Jenny on the boulevard that ran straight as a ruler through orchards on its way to Mayfield and beyond. “You can begin counting Mr. Olson.”

The aging farmer looked at his pocket watch. “Go! Thirty, twenty-nine, twenty-eight…”

I pushed down on the pedals as hard as I could. Last week he beat me by five seconds. I knew how fast I needed to ride this time. Within the first hundred yards I was out of breath and my legs hurt from the sudden acceleration. The bike’s heavy iron rims slowed me, but loose gravel and dust made matters worse.

I heard Mr. Olson crack his whip after a half minute and looked back to see him coming. “Darn you Jenny, I’m going to outride you this time,” I said to myself.

I rushed past another wagon hauling farm equipment. The driver turned to look at me and then Mr. Olson. “Harder!” he yelled.

Seeing the road intersection we used as our finish line renewed my determination. Already gassed, I reached into my reserves and spun the cranks faster. I heard Jenny approaching, her hooves pounding the hard ground at a gallop, Mr. Olson yelling for her to catch me. I glanced back a last time and saw his mare only a few feet behind.

Jenny nosed me by a foot at the line, so claimed Mr. Olson. “Beat you again,” he said after we slowed down.

“I’m not convinced she won Mr. Olson. Too close to call.”

The cherry farmer patted Jenny and said soothing words. She snorted in response while she caught her breath. “All righty, me and Jenny will give you a draw. You’re gettin’ strong on that bike of yours. Why don’t you try racin’ over at the track?”

“I might Mr. Olson. I happen to be headed to Mayfield to interview a bike racer.” We waved goodbye.

Fatigue Limit home

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