It was 60-something degrees outside. Sunny, but a bit windy…25 mph gusts. I’d been up studying since 6 a.m. I watched the sun rise, I checked the weather a million times on my phone, and I thought about Bike. I’ve been eyeing her every time I pull in my garage the last few weeks, wondering if she misses me as much as I miss her. Bike needs a tune up, no doubt. But did she have enough oomph from last year to get me through a late winter ride?
My mind was making me nuts. I had to get OUT of the house, and the only place to go that made sense was the Butler-Freeport Community Trail: 21 miles of personal peace. I worked out a whole lot of arthritis angst there last year. It was the place I said no to sciatica and yes to my thighs when they said, ‘Are you sure?’ while pedaling up a 2-mile incline along the outer edge of a gun range.
I had to go there. So I slathered Vaseline on my face to protect it from the wind, and dressed in two layers of shirts, a jacket, leggings, and tennis shoes. I backed the car out of the garage and loaded up my bike on the rack. I felt strong and in control, even though it had been five months since I’d engaged in the bungee cords and straps ritual.
My body felt good hugged in form-fitting clothes. The snugness reminded me that I had one. A body, that is. It wasn’t lost in the perpetual layers of winter. And while I’ve gained 20 pounds since my lowest weight, my body feels stronger than it did at 125 pounds. I’m no longer afraid I’ll break. I felt so fragile back then.
With the sunroof open and the tunes cranked, I drove to the trailhead, wondering if I’d be the only car in the parking lot. I didn’t think so, but since I didn’t know the answer to question 17 of my MNT test, I figured what the heck did I know about anything?
But when I pulled into the lot, I discovered several people felt the same way I did.
Fortunately, Creepy House Owner, who lives in the house at the entrance of the parking lot, was not outside. (For more info on him, read “ItSeemed Like A Good Idea: The Best Worst Bike Ride Ever.” More on him later.)
I took my bike off the rack and examined it. It was encrusted in last year’s mud and I wondered if it would carry me for the simple 40 minute ride I had in mind. I’d pumped up the tires before I left, and I had a tube and tire levers in my pack along with a pump attached under my seat, but it had been a year since I learned how to use them. What if I got a flat?
I stood there with my right hand on the saddle and my left hand on the left handle bar. The sun was warming my back, the air smelled so spring-like, and…ahhh!! I figured I’d walk the damn bike back if I had to. Nothing was going to stop me from riding. I had to. It was calling me. It’s like my body and the weather and the trail were a holy trinity offering salvation. Not riding was not an option.
I hopped on Bike my favorite way: with my left foot on the pedal and my right leg swinging over the seat like it was the back of a horse.
Hello picnic table! Hello campsite across the creek! Hello shelter that kept me and another biker I’d never met before and haven’t seen since dry in a torrential thunderstorm last year!
Hello ice and mud and the bug that just flew into my eye! Hello rapids!
Hello really tall bridge across Route 28 whose foundations are built like the legs of the Empire’s Imperial Walkers and scare me every time I ride under them!
Hello mile markers that remind me how far I’ve gone and challenge me to decide how far I’ll go! Hello Monroe Road that I pedal like hell across because people drive around the bend like they’re racing in the Daytona 500! Hello couple walking their dog off leash! Not cool, by the way!
Hello wind and sun and 65 degrees! Hello faint smell of woodsy western Pennsylvania! You’ll be in full smell soon.
I rode 20 minutes and turned around. While I wanted to go further, I knew my body and Bike needed time to "tune up" into the regular summer rides. I loaded my bike on the rack and drove home in the closest thing to a perfect state of mind I could achieve: Whatever happens, happens. School, weight, relationships, life. I'll figure it out. Maybe not on the trail right now. After all, it’s early. It will rain and it will not doubt snow. But I rode Bike in western Pennsylvania on March 7, 2012 with no repercussion or consequence other than a lot of mud sprayed on my backside.
Bike will be going in for a tune-up next week. She deserves it and needs it. We have a lot of stuff to figure out this year!