I overwrote it, I know, but I haven’t much used the landscape in my writing this way before, so here it is. I like it, though I can see that it doesn’t work, gets too tangled in itself, misses the turn it needs.
I got jammed up on a phone call and missed the lunch ride, a little on purpose, I think — though I didn’t know that until I was out there alone, climbing easy up the hill into Vera Cruz but not so easy that I didn’t have the concussing of my heart to listen to. Under the lazy, heavy beats ran the sawing of my breaths and, high on top of it all, poking in here and there like a jazz sax trying out openings, were the chilly-ride sniffles of my nose.
We have all these lunch loops here — the short, climby ones for when time is tight, and the long, flat ones, and the little epics with sprints or hilltops that somehow have become important to us over the years, and the ones we do when it’s windy, or the ones that are great on cold days — maybe fifteen in all. I didn’t ride one of those. I didn’t know where I was going. I just listened to myself, and was glad that pedal stroke after pedal stroke I didn’t have much to say beyond the sound of my body working.
Sometimes it’s better not to know: The sign outside the Vera Cruz Tavern used to say “probably the oldest in the Lehigh Valley,” but a few years ago someone painted over the qualifier. It’s not as good of a sign now. I rode past it and up the next hill, past Jasper Farm, where a sign on the colorless but somehow colorful weathered boards of a barn advertises the sale of brown eggs and peppers.
A little past that is the Vera Cruz Evangelical Church, gravestones a couple hundred years old bleached and crooked, the inscriptions unreadable even if you stop. And I have stopped sometimes. The trees are gnarled and more branch than leaf, looming dark against the blue sky like giant decorations set out for Halloween. Houses of fieldstone and paint-peeled wood sit far back on big fields, with broad black ponds behind them butting into the slopes of the hills that rise out to the horizon. In other places, gravel driveways twist off into the woods, the homes they lead to out of sight, for the most part only presumed to exist.
I never meant to live here. But now, though I travel the world for my job, these roads right here are where I often feel most alive. Alone, on a breezy fall day sunny but fit for armwarmers and embrocation and wool socks, I’m aware of how strange my home is. And how at home a cyclist is here.
Left, off the hill out of Vera Cruz, a falling road little used by anyone but residents slices through the undulations of the land. A dog sits scratching at one ear as it notes my passage. A crumpled old man in bright blue overalls lifts his head as I tick by, then droops his neck again and watches his hands holding the can that waters dead flowers.
Me? I have flown to Madagascar, Australia, Egypt, in less time than it takes to drive across the country, but I persist in experiencing my home on a hundred-year-old vehicle little changed in its century of life aside from carbon in the tubes or ceramic bearings in the wheel hubs.
Scorchers, they used to call us when those gravestones were still readable. I stand. I pedal. I ease back onto my seat and move my hands from the hoods into the drops, and I blaze across the land my bike has brought me to.
Originally published in the Oct. 24, 2008 Sitting In