Last time I rode up along the Susquehanna to Millersburg it was August. The ridges were green then, impossibly dense with foliage, and the valleys were thick with cornfields swaying in the breeze, heavy with cobs waiting for harvest. In August I was there to watch a race. The downtown was full of lean people with shaved legs walking in cleats like high heels. There were sidewalks lined with lawn chairs, stop signs protected by hay bales, side streets cordoned off. There were carbon bikes, each worth more than 10% of what the average townie earns in a year, pretty much everywhere. I wore my most breathable jersey, zipped down, and drank cold seltzer to stave off the heat.
Yesterday Millersburg was quiet. Everyone was at home or in church and the streets were empty and the stores were closed and nobody was thinking about biking. Not in December. When we crisscrossed up and over Peters Mountain the forest was gaunt in the first stages of winter, all browns and grays, thin enough to look through to see the land spread out down below. When we bombed across the valley the corn was either down or brittle like old paper left unprotected. I wore gloves and oversocks and there was no sweat, only condensation in my glasses when we stopped.
One of the beautiful things about cycling is that it returns you to the same places, season after season, year after year. In our cities and suburbs we don’t notice changes as easily; we are absorbed in private dramas for which the landscape is a backdrop, a movie set we are too busy to look at closely except when it invades our stories in some striking way.
But when you are out riding there is nothing to do but look. Around at the roadside world, down at the pavement below your top tube, above at the sky and anything it might be holding. You are out in it, really out in it, with no distractions, no other occupations. You notice the way time warps everything, the difference a year or a hard frost or a fire makes. On bikes, you do is move through the world with your eyes open. That is all you do.
The landscape is the foreground, the middle ground, the background. It is the backdrop, the stage floor, the house lights, the seats, the theater itself. The ridgelines layer into the distance, going on forever.