As a child, my two favorite pastimes were flying kites and riding my bike. I pursued each in solitary. They provided release from the noisy tension of my family and were consequently a tad suspect in a family that stressed team activities over the individual. I don’t recall ever announcing an afternoon of kite flying at the school field or meandering my bicycle through the streets of Toms River. I simply slipped out of the back door and disappeared.
In adulthood both pursuits still hold sway. In my novel, Weekends in Holy Land, the protagonist is an avid kite flyer, and an untethered kite leads him to his muse. In real life I own a trio of gorgeous long tailed kites, the most treasured gift I received from my mother, who sent them one Christmas for Abby, Andy and me. They ascend with ease and dance over the breeze with grace.
Bicycling is a more integral, practical part of my life. Ever since I took a job in downtown Boston in 1996 and understood that a regular subway commute would drive me mad, I have bicycle commuted; a seven mile ride along the river and through the Common. Fifteen years ago I was an anomaly; but in these days of green speak and four dollar a gallon gasoline, the route can get crowded on sunny days.
I am a determined cyclist and ride when the weather of the moment allows, not by the anticipated forecast. If it is not actively raining in the morning, I ride. If there is no snow on the ground, I ride. If it is above ten degrees outside, I ride. If I ride in the morning and the world turns stormy in the evening, I can always leave my bike at work (covered parking!) and subway home. Many are the days when the forecast is grim but the morning merelyovercast. I ride to work, and toil while a wicked storm rages outside only to clear in time for me to ride home. Those days leave me feeling triumphant over
the anxious weathermen whose advice would have me scurrying for the claustrophobia of the underground train.
About ten years ago I expanded my notion of commuting to include virtually all trips within the 128 beltway. Unless I have to transport something bulky, I do all my travel by bike. It may take a bit longer, but the time is well spent because I not only get from point A to point B, but I do it without stress.
The favorite part of my daily commute is the turn across the bridge from Cambridge to Boston. A line of cars queues there. I see the faces of the people behind their windshields, one person per vehicle, frowning at the light, applying makeup or gripping their wheel. They are not a happy bunch, oblivious to their display inside their rolling steel. I downshift to take on the rise of the bridge and whistle, happy in my lot.
Bicycling is meditative and restorative for me. Not as conscious as yoga, perhaps, but still significant. Bicycling does not require the same concentration as driving. I don’t channel my brainwaves by listening to headphones; I am aware of what is going on both beyond and within me. When I arrive at work I am usually in a cheerful mood, which is not my status when I lug out of bed. The bicycle does that.
Even though bicycle commuting is positive in all regards, it lacks the poetic arch that leisure bicycle travel can offer, and so, when I reached this point of wanting / needing an experience that transcends my routine, I decided to make a grand bicycle adventure.
On July 19, I fly to Denver with nothing but a shopping bag of a few clothes, a book, and a netbook. Over the past few weeks I have trialed a number of bicycles, found one a
like (Surly Long Haul tucker) and ordered it from a shop in Denver. When I arrive I will pick up my bike, outfit it with saddle bags and lights, a new helmet, clip shoes, an odometer and other paraphernalia. Then I will spend a few days acclimating to the altitude before participating in the Courage Classic, a three day bicycle fund raiser to support the Denver Children’s Hospital with my brother Tim and brother-in-law John; a hundred miles or so and two major peaks.
That is all a preamble to the main event, as on July 26 I will head out of Denver to ride East, hopefully all the way back to Boston. I have sketched a conceptual route – down to
Oklahoma to visit my brother Pete and his family, up through Historic Route 66, across the farmland of Indiana, diagonally through Ohio (who know Ohio had the most elaborate network of rail-to-trail bike routes?), up to the Great Lakes and across New York State on a route that parallels the Erie Canal. Close to 3,000 miles in total, and if I average 70-80 miles per day I will be back in Boston by Labor Day. If not, I will have to catch a bus wherever I am in early September so I can report back to work on the 6th.
Without the pressures of work, I anticipate that the Awkward Poser will be pondering and writing during the route, both trip updates and the mental musings that are the true gift of sustained time with one’s thoughts. Everyone is invited to follow along for the ride to find out what happens. Maybe, somewhere along the gusty Kansas prairie a strong wind will pull me up and I can be both bicycle and kite, nourishing each of my childhood fascinations.