I have ridden the roads so often that I can close my eyes and see them in my mind; the rise and fall, the turns and the corners, the blacktop and the dusty gravel. The roads of summer are etched in memory in fine-lined calligraphy that writes the tale of summer bicycling in the same way that the ragged old two track lanes define my memory of bird hunts and the white-frosted ski trails bring cool memory on hot summer days.
The trails and roads are all connected in my life’s storyline. The autumns written in frosty mornings behind Riika and Thor; the winter days of bitter cold etched in sinuous ski trails; my time on all the trails no longer measured in years but in decades. All memory now but all connected; there is no gap in the spool of road and trail, only a single continuous thread.
No idea why that thought rides with me on a hot July morning. I have no reason to wonder why my mind goes there, it simply does. That is a fact and a feature and a joy of meditations on days of long distance effort where the clutter of day-to-day is lost and the mind is freed to flow and go where it may. One never knows what pathways the mind will follow.
I pedal the blacktop, swing a right-hand turn and ahead of me see a road grader: road work. The blacktop is ripped to gravel and rock under the blade and I head to the far left where there is a narrow lane of firm dirt and I ride there, pass the grader, up the rise of hill.
At the top of the hill the soft mix of gravel and stone has been packed firm and I ease the bike to that, relax and pedal smooth and easy. Ahead is a flagman, yellow safety vest gleaming in the greenery, and I pull even with him and stop. I ask him when they might lay down blacktop and he tells me maybe the next day.
We talk of the weather. I tell him that every day I’ve wanted to ride this month I’ve been able to; it has rained mostly at night. He tells me that he’s not missed a single day of work in July; the weather has been perfect for road work. He seems a bit miffed by this, not having had extra time off. I, on the other hand, am pretty satisfied, not having missed a ride. The glass half empty or the glass half full.
Then we go our separate ways, he back to work, me to the ride that I know from memory and time and my mind wanders on the long roadway of rides past.
The bicycle I ride is essentially unchanged in operation since the century before I was born. Put power to pedal; rotate the front gear ring; pull chain and connect to rear gears; wheel turns and bicycle moves forward. Basic. Simple. A system; all connected, one part affects all others. Nothing has changed, only modification of basic design.
Nothing of the soul of the ride has changed from the days of my wobbly attempts on a two-wheeled kids Schwinn; nothing of consequence that is. The bicycle is still the magic carpet come to fruition in clear air on summer days.
I ride on the same roads from when I was a kid, ride on a bicycle the lineage of which I first knew on Keenan Street with my dad pushing me and telling me to pedal, pedal, pedal and then letting go and there I was, on my own, riding the bike!
I rode the sidewalks to the corner and then around the block and then across town and then to country roads. I rode to feel the wind and to feel the road and to feel the freedom.
I rode at college in Madison and I lived for Friday when I had only one class and the class was Spanish Language and I hated it, hated every minute. It was supposed to be easy; it was not, not for me. But on Friday I’d wake up and if it was sunny and mild I’d cut class and ride 40 miles or 50 miles or longer and leave the wasteland of Spanish class in the dust.
If it was cold or rainy I’d slink off to class, to the dreaded morass of foreign language and hope I could manage to make a passing grade. I took four semesters of Spanish and decades later visited Spain and remembered one word. But I remember the rides.
Now I ride a modern bicycle and wear a modern helmet. On the helmet is a tab about the size of my thumb and in the guts of it is a GPS and it links to the cell phone in my pocket. Every couple minutes it sends a signal that shows up on the computer Sally works on and an orange dot blips on a map and with that she can tell where I am riding. If I take a hard fall and don’t respond the little unit sends a signal to my phone which then calls Sally with a message that I’m down and not responding and links a GPS location so she knows exactly where I am.
I wear the helmet with the GPS device which costs all of fifty bucks and I ride a modern version of the original bicycle design which cost a lot more. I like the bicycle and the helmet very much. But I ride today as I rode as a kid, for the feel of the wind in my face and the joy of freedom on old roads on the long winding path that goes back to the sidewalk on Keenan Street when my dad pushed me off and said “Pedal!” And I did. And I have never stopped.