Sometimes, it’s hard to get inspired by riding. I know, I know… GASP! But this is rideblog! I should just be pumping out quirky ride posts right and left!
Perhaps if it would stop raining for 30 seconds, I would feel more thrilled about the notion of getting on my bike. Looking out the window to see the gray skies and slanting sheets of water for days on end is, well, depressing. It just is.
Which isn’t to say I haven’t gotten out on my bike: I have. Once in the last three weeks. But even that ride was initially rather uninspiring. The weather was threatening rain on and off, so I stayed close to home, figuring that if I did get soaked, I didn’t want to spend half an hour on the freeway dripping onto my car seat. Of course, it didn’t actually rain for the two hours I was out. Isn’t that ironic? Actually, I’m sure it is, as unlike Alanis Morisette, I know the definition of irony: when the outcome is different than what was expected.
It’s sad when the irony is because the weather held out long enough to complete the ride.
Anyway, I decided the best place to ride would be the Green River Trail. Most of this trail is closed, and has been for as long as I’ve been riding around here. One of our local dams is slowly failing, and flooding is expected, eventually, to take out most of the area around the river. Therefore great swathes of the trail are lined with sandbags so big that biking around them is impossible. That leaves only the northern stretch of the trail open, and while it does twist along the river most of the way, it’s never been a trail for which I’ve held much fondness. Running between suburbia and industrial parks, the river isn’t usually all that scenic. Still, I hadn’t ridden it in a while, and some novelty is always appealing in a ride.
Okay, Green River Trail… I’ll admit it: I was pleasantly surprised. Despite all my railings about “early winter,” the leaves here are turning. When disguised by colorful trees, the urban sprawl wasn’t all that horrible.
It’s strange how different a familiar route suddenly appears when the seasons change. Looking back, I have mostly ridden this trail in the winter, when the leaves are off the trees and the ugly cement of the surrounding office parks is overwhelming. It wasn’t long into the ride when I realized that I was going to find plenty of opportunity for photography, for beauty, or just for interest.
Take this bizarre little pump station, which is on a stretch of the trail that runs past a series of casinos and a lingerie store, as well as a golf course and country club. Right smack in the middle of this wackiness, is this zigzagged, poetry-spouting tribute to Native Americans, complete with cement baskets and an unfolded “map.”
I honestly find this spot nearly inexplicable, but it’s certainly not dull.
And in the end, all humans need for inspiration is interest, right? Tonight, My Pumpkin Pie Baking Man and I finished watching one of my favorite films, The Right Stuff. I was struck by how directly the movie spoke to what I’m experiencing right now in my riding. No, I’m not about to go shooting off into space, and it’s unlikely that my bike is going to blow up.
So I’m not really comparing myself with the Mercury astronauts, and certainly not with Chuck Yeager, who is one of my heroes (especially as portrayed by Sam Shepard).
But exploration, after all, is what this movie is really about: the thrill of seeking what lies outside our usual experience. Exploration brings out the best in human beings: our curious, problem-solving nature kicks in when we slip into the unknown.
So okay, the Green River Trail in autumn is hardly the “unknown.” But the analogy holds this truth: I ride to discover what’s out there. Even when I think I already know.
For instance, will The Raleigh keep its footing if I ride it over a patch of wet eucalyptus leaves?
I know this ride would have made me very nervous on my old road bike, with its “23-inch” (more like 21″) tires. But over it we sped, without any slipping or sliding. I did not emerge from a cloud of smoke in a silver space suit, but I was still pleased to have survived.
I will admit to a certain fondness for overpasses, as well, from a photographic standpoint. Bridges of any sort strike me as examples of human ingenuity at its most impressive, even if I deplore the overall road this one is taking (metaphorically. I don’t actually know which street this is, so I can’t physically deplore it).
My goodness, how scenic things suddenly are around here! I can’t see the pollution for the trees.
The sudden defoliation revealed pokey reeds I was also excited by. They’re sort of tufted at the top, and for reasons I can’t quite explain, I’m excited by this.
Now, to be fair, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down with joy at this point. The Giant Thermometer on the Fence had read a mere 36 degrees when I left. Riding in weather that cold is always something of a shock, after a summer and fall of moderate temperatures. I was warm enough, most of the time, where I was covered. But my face felt the icy breeze, and it took nearly half the ride for my perpetually frozen fingers to finally adapt. Then, of course, they overheated and I had to ride without my gloves for a while.
It was almost fleece balaclava weather, but not quite. Note the turtleneck sweater, then the zip-up fleece, then the coat. The only really cold part of my body ended up being my rear-end. I was wearing my trusty Nordic ski pants, which are lined, but there’s something about a leather saddle and freezing weather that leads to a frozen butt, no matter what I’m wearing. Fortunately, I’m have sufficient padding in that department naturally, and no real damage was done. It did make me long for the butt-warmers my old Volkswagen used to have…
Ehem. Trees! There were lots of them!
The light was a bit tricky for photographs: somewhere between overexposed skies and underexposed land again. I just rolled with it.
I’m not sure how long the ride was. The Green River Trail is circuitous (isn’t that a great word?), and so though the straight-mileage of it is just four miles on the map, I’m sure it’s probably double that each way. It certainly felt long enough!
As I neared the end of the ride, I was cold again, and tired. I’m not riding much these days, and two hours in the freezing weather, lobster gloves or no, is exhausting.
So this wasn’t, I suppose, a ride to remember in the sense that I didn’t careen wildly through completely unknown landscapes. I didn’t find myself dazzled by glorious vistas, or challenged by towering peaks. There were a few bright spots on a route I felt I knew, and plenty of opportunities to capture a changing Earth in its rotation. Even astronauts can be old news, as the space program frequently teaches us.
Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that the world right outside our door is an open book, with new stories to tell each time we venture forth. Or at least there are pretty colors. Either way, I’m mildly inspired, and that’s enough.