Tracks
August 26, 2003
Soda Springs, Idaho
 
 

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I could never do anything like that. He says. And maybe he never could. Maybe he couldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 left behind.

I’m never really sure what to say to the people I meet along the way, those who don’t understand why someone would get on a bike and ride hundreds of miles. What I should say, I guess, is that it’s 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 I’ve 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 I’m 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 day’s sweat.

As slowly as I travel, it’s 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. I’ve flown alongside arctic terns. I’ve run beside cottontail rabbits. Flocks of yellow butterflies and I have flitted past purple-blossomed fields. I’ve 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 I’m 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. That’s what I’ll say to the next person who asks. Why do I do it? First, because I like it. And it’s a great way to travel, for all I get to see and experience. But more, it’s 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.
 

 

 

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