A Quilting of Goldfinches. By Stephen Barnes

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My cycling distances increased through the summer in preparation for Mont Tremblant, and I felt pretty comfortable with the routes I’d chosen. Mostly oriented northward, they took me off the beaten path often enough that I felt relatively safe for most of the way and at times the seclusion was downright sublime. It was great riding, punctuated only by the occasional anaerobic chipmunk or indecisive squirrel, and that one time a couple of deer sorely misjudged my rate of descent on a steep grade, nearly swapping me my aerobars for antlers.
On a beautiful Sunday morning in July, just past the T intersection on #3 Sideroad at the railway tracks, I turned up 1st Line, destination Fergus. No sooner had I slouched back down into my aero position than a commotion rose up behind me to the right. It was the unmistakeable lilting four-beat contact call of the American goldfinch – what bird watchers have likened to them singing po-ta-to-chip, but this sounded more like a party-sized bag of potato chips; I looked over and saw what seemed like hundreds of them (goldfinches, not potato chips) taking wing from the low bushes in the narrow strip of land beside me. I laughed out loud, thinking first of how unthreatening their quiet chirps were, then of how – aboard my yellow, black and white bicycle – I might have resembled that eccentric inventor in the film, Fly Away Home, trying to get these tiny geese to imprint me as their father by leading them on a flight.
Instinctively riding the crazy roller-coaster hard-wired into their brains, the finches collectively resembled a giant yellow, black, and white quilt that had just been ruffled to spread out across some invisible bed beside me. This brief commingling with nature almost took a turn for the worse when the chirping quilt then abruptly tacked diagonally across my bow, so close that I instinctively clamped my mouth shut.
The finches then kicked it up a notch and promptly dropped me, as so many things do…
I hunched back down to work and got back up to speed. As my heart rate and breathing approached the pointy end of my Lactate Threshold, I recognized that while my smile was morphing into a grimace, my facial expression itself hardly changed – a smile is uncannily close to a grimace!
What has this got to do with triathlon, you may ask?
Just think back to every race photo you have ever been in.
If you look past the flushed skin, the head rolling to the side, the clenched fists and cramping muscles, the foamy lips, the sweat glistening and the tears streaming down, there’s actually a smile there. Clearly, on some level, we must really like what we are doing; there are finches flying beside us. They wear no number bibs, personal bests mean nothing to them, but all of us are celebrating the pure and simple gift that is the joy of moving.