Dreamin’

Rainy fall afternoons on the East Coast get me thinking about other places I would like to be. Not now, necessarily, because I’m happy here. But sometime in the yet-undetermined future, sometime before I’m too old or dead to see them. Lately, most of these visions are tied to the bike trip I’ve been dreaming up with Autumn, one that would take us around the United States in a sort of six-month circumnavigation. I don’t know when we’ll be able to do it–we’ll have to quit our jobs, store all of our belongings, figure out health insurance, have some sort of a next step in place.

But from where I sit now, those logistics don’t look so daunting. They are overshadowed by the (surely romanticized) tug of the open road, by the joy and liberation we would feel spending each day at once away from everything and a part of everything, seeing all the contours of this brawny country at twelve miles an hour.

sign
Put me on a road somewhere 

I think about rolling along a stream in the Montana prairie beneath clouds more impressively sculpted and bulging than anything in a Bierstadt painting. I think about the starlit desert sky. I think about seeing the Pacific from winding seaside roads in California, seeing the Atlantic through a film of mist on the rocky Maine coast. I think about warm dinners in the tent and luxurious-feeling motel rooms and shade trees and tailwinds and wells pulling clear water from aquifers deep below the plains. I think about not having to work, not having to answer to anyone, not having any deadlines or objectives besides riding 50 or 60 miles each day. I think about experiencing it all with my best friend.

Our dreams don’t just happen. We make a choice whether or not to pursue them, whether they are worth the sacrifices necessary to achieve them. Basically, we decide how important they are to us, and act accordingly. This trip is really important to me. I want it to happen. But I can’t do anything about it. Not yet, not right now.

So, for at least the next year or two, visions will have to be enough.

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Harrisburg Gets a Bike Share

Well, my city has taken the next step in its revitalization, one I speculated about earlier this year but didn’t think would happen anytime soon.

Harrisburg has a bike share.

bike share

This is the kind of thing big cities like New York and D.C. and Denver and San Francisco have. Like microbreweries in repurposed industrial buildings, it’s one of the hallmarks of an up-and-coming urban environment. To see it in Harrisburg, a small city of 50,000 with plenty of problems left to tackle, is encouraging, to say the least.

Strangely, there was no hype. Or at least none I was aware of. The bike racks just showed up on Saturday at prominent locations around town. Along the river at the Market Street bridge. At the Broad Street Market. In front of the train station. At the YMCA. They aren’t as fancy as some of the big city bike shares I’ve seen–it looks like you have to use a cell phone app because the docks are pretty basic and don’t have credit card capabilities. But the bikes look sturdy, and judging by the amount of empty racks, they seem to already be getting lots of use.

I don’t know how much these things cost, or the role the corporate sponsor (in this case Zagster, whatever that is) plays. But I can’t imagine they are too expensive, compared to other city expenditures, and I think the image they project may be more important than any financial costs or benefits. Like murals and greenways, they are an expression of a city’s vision for itself. They reflect as much about where it is as where it wants to be. They show residents and visitors that the city is moving in a sustainable, and for lack of a better word, trendy direction. Considering the prevailing wisdom in urban planning and design these days (pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, environmentally friendly), I think trendy is by and large a good thing.

Even if Harrisburg hasn’t alleviated some of its other problems like blight and debt, it is clearly moving in the right direction. The bike share is another piece of that puzzle. Yes, it’s a usable feature, an addition to the city’s infrastructure. But it’s more than that. It’s a symbol.

Parents

My parents are in town visiting. I love my parents, love spending time with them. Living across the country, as I’ve done since going off to college, means that I see them once a year at best. In the past, reunions were comprised of barbecues, walks, discussions at the kitchen table, that sort of thing. Typical parent-adult kid stuff. But then I started biking, and that has changed everything.

My mom, you see, is an avid cyclist. In her mid-fifties, she’s still on a crazy training and racing schedule, and has won a few master’s national championships. So when I started riding, we suddenly had a common passion, something else to talk about and do together. I’ve relished the reunions since then even more than past ones. Instead of waiting for mom to finish her morning ride before the rest of us can proceed with our day, the ride is now something we look forward to. In Colorado, North Carolina, and, now, Pennsylvania, we’ve taken each other on our favorite routes, up our favorite climbs. There’s a fair bit of competition, because both of us hate losing, and that makes it more fun.

My dad is no stranger to cycling either. In the 70s, his ponytail decade, he completed some long bike tours, including one from Denver to Salt Lake City. For my parent’s 10th wedding anniversary, they rode the 1,000 miles to our the communal meeting point in Wisconsin. And he still commutes to the library and local fishing spots, and does leisurely road rides a couple times a week.

So now I ride too, and cycling is our shared language. Though we each relate to the sport in our own ways, the fact that we each relate to it is significant. I ask my mom about her racing and training, ask my dad maintenance questions. He faux-brags about his 12 mph average rides and my mom offers ride food recipes.

I’m grateful that, as an adult, I’ve arrived at a place where I have more in common with my folks than I used to. It’s nice to see them as peers in a way that’s not possible when I was younger. That would have happened with or without cycling, I think. But I’m glad the bike was involved.

Riding Angry

I didn’t want to ride today. I slept poorly last night–again–and woke up feeling thick-headed and unmotivated. I haven’t done a ton of training this week, around 11 hours of running and cycling combined. I should have felt relatively fresh. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t. Still, I kitted up and forced myself out the door to get a couple hours in. With weather this nice, it’s a sin not to ride.

Usually when I force myself out onto the roads on days like this, halfway through the ride (or earlier) I’m grateful to have gone. The legs loosen up, my mood improves, the beauty of full lungs and beautiful scenery overcomes any lingering frustrations from my daily life. Not today. Ten miles in the road turned slick and black, wet from an apparent overnight downpour that I had no idea happened. I was riding my brand new bike, which I vowed to never ride in the rain, plus white socks and my favorite non-black jersey.

Long story short: I cursed (mostly out loud) all the way down 443 through the Fishing Creek Valley. Instead of dissipating, all my anxiety and nerves and annoyances from the pats few days came boiling to the surface in a puddle-drenched pity party. I’ll spare you the details, but basically things got pretty dark pretty quick. Suddenly I was venting about things having nothing to do with cycling, things that were apparently dammed up for a while. Throughout my 15-mile internal tirade I repeated iterations of “Jesus fucking Christ” like the chorus to a bad (and definitely blasphemous) pop song.

Towards the end the sun came out, but the damage was already done. My once-shiny, nearly brand new cassette had lost its innocence and was tarnished in grime. My socks were a soaking grey mess. My jersey, somewhat miraculously, was not speckled with black dots. I was more tired than when I left. My headache was still throbbing.

Honestly, this is probably the first ride I can remember like this. It wasn’t fun, or relaxing, or a good workout. But I guess that, by bringing some things to the surface, it was productive, in one sense of the word. I’ll deal with them, but preferably off the bike.

I want my time on two wheels to be an escape.