|I could never do anything like that.
He says. And maybe he never could. Maybe he couldnt load up
a bicycle and ride, no plan, one general direction, day after day,
each night spent under stars and clouds and rain.
And maybe I couldnt live in the same town for 30 years, work
the same basic job, day after day, each night spent under a roof,
stable and solid.
But there we were, paths crossing, politely showing interest in each
other, and behind us, his tracks, my tracks, crossing, small impressions
Im never really sure what to say to the people I meet along
the way, those who dont understand why someone would get on
a bike and ride hundreds of miles. What I should say, I guess, is
that its a great way to travel.
If my reason for traveling is to see and experience new things, then
I say, I get more of everything by riding my bike. Sure, it would
be easier to travel the same route by automobile, but it would be
very difficult to travel as slowly as I do, to see as much as Ive
seen, to hear the sounds. The great clatter and whoop of sandhill
cranes. Dark thunder on distant moutains. Coyotes under night blue
light. Tight choruses of crickets from deep within yellow afternoon
grass. Clear water that trickles through small walls of moss.
The layers between me and that which Im trying to experience
are thinnner, softer, more permeable. The rain is more than something
I see through glass darkly. Bare skin takes drops that touch and glide,
or bite and chill. Morning sun pours life into cold fingers, while
afternoon sun taps the back of my neck with red hammers. Winds and
breezes push me, pull me, warm and cool me. An icy water splash peels
away a days sweat.
As slowly as I travel, its easy to stop. I do it often. Anything
that interests me is reason enough. I stop to watch the shadows of
clouds pass over green meadows. I watch black flocks of small birds
line fence wires. I listen to wind in trees. I gather small colorful
rocks from where they lay in brown dirt.
When I am in motion, it is a motion close to the nature I ride through.
Ive flown alongside arctic terns. Ive run beside cottontail
rabbits. Flocks of yellow butterflies and I have flitted past purple-blossomed
fields. Ive let the wind float me and milkweed fluff along fences
and ditches. Soared for long minutes through wide open skies with
eagles and hawks.
These are the places I like to ride. Small, slow roads through wild
or gently nurtured lands. But to be fair, there are also times when
I run out of back roads, when the highway is all there is, when I
see little more than the white line that signifies surrender to speed
and distance, to trucks, cars, campers, trailers, mobile homes swooshing
past, to the hundred yard swath of nothing, pavement and bare,scrapped
land, cleared of all small things that would be interesting enough
to slow down for, to stop and look at.
On those days Im bitter. I ball into tension above my handlebar
and my eyes lash out at the dominant paradigm, the thick roll of fast,
oily grease that moves our wheels from one side of the country to
the other, the dark track our progress leaves on the land, on blackened
ocean, on brown, acid sky.
A great way to travel. Thats what Ill say to the next
person who asks. Why do I do it? First, because I like it. And its
a great way to travel, for all I get to see and experience. But more,
its a great way to travel for what I leave behind: a very thin
track, a small impression. If I get a chance to leave my mark on the
world, let it be this: none or very little. Or this: a small impression,
borrowed from nature, left on those I meet along the way.