A few days ago, I got on a bike, and took off down the trail alongside Lake Champlain. The water flashed on one side, the woods or houses eeked by on the other. I pumped hard or glided, stopped slow or sped by, loving the way the wind rushed by my face as the path meandered through woodlands and housing, the wind or sun taking center stage at various intervals.
As a kid, I lived on my bike, a daily ritual of pouring down the hill where I lived or trudging back up when it was time to go home. My bike was my horse, and I rode her from the time the snow and ice receded enough for clear streets until the first fierce rains of late November. My bike was an extension of my body, my vehicle for wind-making, my vessel of small journeys and big dreams. Rounding corners and coasting down stretches, I soared past my problems at home, home and beyond, and imagined great love, abundant community, brilliant work. Biking was a way of dreaming and praying at once.
As a 20-year-old interning for a labor newspaper in St. Louis the summer of 1980 (when the temperature, and subsequently, death toll, rose), I knew no one outside of my highly-dysfunctional workplace, and my only transportation was bike or bus. All summer, I rode that bike at twilight along grimy highways, skirting traffic, aiming for shade. It was one of the loneliest summers of my life, but while on the bike, I had traction and motion. I sweated myself into some sense of peace.
In the years since, I’ve had bouts of bike-love, but living in the country for the last 20 years, time on the bike diminished although occasionally, I do load the bike into the car, drive to the river, and hit the trail.
Hugging Lake Champlain, the trail couldn’t have been more scenic. The temperature rose or fell depending on shade or proximity to the water. By the time I found the Causeway — a three or four mile stretch of the trail surrounded by water on both sides of this crescent of thin land in the big lake. The way back was harder than I expected, and I wondered if I would have enough energy to get myself back, and get back in time for my ride to Goddard. The miles back stretched out before me.
Then I was there. Red-faced and covered in sweat, I turned my bike in. 19 or so miles in 2.5 hours — a leisurely ride according to most standards. The first glass of ice water was heaven. My legs wobbled, my butt ached, and my thighs were a tad numb. But happiness swept over me just like the wind that welcomed me back as I biked slow or fast through the bright air.