Tuesday, August 03, 2010
daily bliss: bicycling
Tires crunch on gravel.
Warm pine needles send up their distinct fragrance.
A self-generated breeze envelops me as I pedal down our country road, pumping fast, and then coasting, hands-free, down the hill by the creek.
If I'm lucky, I remain upright, soaring through another summer day. Other days, my wheel catches small stones and I topple over, knees scraped and stinging.
Growing up in the country, we biked along bumpy streets, long before bike paths stretched out in endless parallels. Long before mountain bikes or hybrid bikes were popular, we tore through the woods on kid bikes with banana seats, or thin-wheeled ten speed huffys or schwinns. My brother and his buddy fashioned hydration systems out of two liter pop bottles and tubing, long before camelbacks were standard.
In graduate school, I tried to avoid the daily costs of parking in city garages by biking to class. My apartment was on the southeast corner of campus; my classes met on the northcentral part of campus. At Michigan State, this was a considerable distance. And quite challenging, as pedestrians, rollerbladers, and renegade squirrels vied for sidewalk space. More often than not, I left my bike at home and drove, paying a few dollars for parking. (and a cup of coffee and lemon poppyseed muffin at Espresso Royale Cafe).
For the past three weeks, I've eagerly awaited G's arrival home from work. "Biking?" he asks. I nod, and strap on my chaco sandals. I grab my amphipod, stuffed with a few dollars, a house key, benadryl, and an epi-pen. As he slips his speed-distance-weather computer on his bike, I buckle my helmet, toss a water bottle and amphipod in my bike basket. We're off.
For the first few blocks, we go slow. We assess the previous day's soreness. We test the wind. As we fly/brake down the big hill leading us to the lake and to the multi-use trail that curves the lakeshore, I feel the day's stresses drift away.
We take turns leading, pedaling into or against the wind. We weave through neighbors and tourists, who walk, bike, roller blade, or jog along the popular trail.
"Hey guys! You should try my tandem sometime," our friend N shouts as we wheel past.
My bike bell comes in handy, as couples, groups of women, and families crowd the trail, impeding the flow of two way traffic.
The trail curves close to the lake in places, with flowering weeds tumbling out of the wooden guardrail that saves us from a rocky precipice. Waves ebb and flow, boats float at a distance, a forked tree branch bobs toward shore, and a red buoy marks the site of a century-old shipwreck.
The trip from our home to the end of this trail and back measures 11.8 miles. We're steadily increasing our speed. Next, we hope to increase our distance, and hook up with another trail, leading us through a state park, up and down hills, and through cool forest.
On weekend afternoons, we pack beach essentials into my bike basket and G's backpack, and ride just past the trail's end to a city beach of vast expanses of sand. We prop our bikes along dune shrubs, spread our towels, and rest after a good ride. When the sun becomes unbearable, we brave the water. On this side of the lake, in particular, the temperature is unpredictable. One Saturday my ankles were instantly numb, and the next weekend I somersaulted through the waves, frolicking like my younger self.
When hunger starts to rumble, and the sun lowers in the sky, we're back on our bikes, ready to fly through the breeze, challenging quads and hams and calves, reaching for that moment of delicious summer outdoor exhilaration/exhaustion.
We climb the hill near our home, shifting into lower gears. We take turns encouraging each other, riffing on Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It." A woman walking down the hill joins in, shouting "pedal! pedal! pedal!" At the top of the hill, we bump fists, and shift back into a higher gear, counting the blocks until we're home, where cool water and snacks and air conditioning await.
Tires flow on asphalt.
Lake water send up its distinctive fragrance.
I'm lucky; my favorite lake glimmers beside me, G steadily pedals ahead of or behind me.
I may wobble, I may tumble. But in the next moment, I'll soar.