Commentary: Fate on Wheels

The “Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse” from left, Barry Reed, Curtice Cornell, Jim Settles and Chuck Hughes. Reg Green writes, “As the photo shows, Pestilence has ruddy cheeks, Death is bursting with health, Famine looks as though he has three square meals every day and War is suffused in benevolence. Maybe this old world can stagger on for a bit longer after all.”
(Reg Green)

On my daily 6 a.m.-ish hike on the Mt. Lukens fire road in the Angeles National Forest, I’m almost always alone. Surrounded by that bowl of mountains, it’s a never-failing stimulant. I make my way slowly but steadily uphill in complete silence broken only by heavy breathing (mine) and sometimes, at this time of the year, an owl hooting mournfully in a small grove of trees that I pass by.

Occasionally I see a small animal or a bird, but mostly not even them.

Twice a week, however, I can be virtually certain of having company for a few minutes and it’s always on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Who would have expected such regularity in that wild place?

On those two days, somewhere along the way, I become aware of a faint but continuous vibration in the air from a couple of hundred feet below.


However many times it happens it catches me by surprise until in a moment I recognize it as a faint but animated human conversation that never pauses for a second. In another two or three minutes I see its source, by now quite a bit nearer: three or four cyclists laboring painfully uphill.

If they can’t see me I generally put on a spurt so I can beat them to the turnaround point a little way ahead and needle them for sleeping in late but there is something inexorable about the way they steadily reduce the gap between us, a suggestion of fate overtaking a fleeing sinner.

Coming up from below adds to the sensation of something from the underworld bent on retribution. I call them the Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse.

But when they finally overtake, they don’t look at all like the mythical horsemen — Pestilence, Death, Famine and War — who stalked across Medieval Europe, terrifying kings and peasants alike with their warning that Judgment Day was near. Instead they resolve themselves into a bunch of cheerful, high-spirited guys, puffing slightly from the exertion.


Generally we chat for a moment or two, then they go on, their voices gradually fading, but never once stopping.

You’d think that after doing this ride literally hundreds of times they’d run out of subjects to discuss. But, no, the conversation never flags, though dying to a murmur and ceasing only when the mountainside swallows them up and I’m again alone again.

I’m left with a feeling that despite all the talk of the world rushing toward destruction, the four biblical scourges may instead be much more benign than legend suggests.

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