That other kind of ride
Originally posted in a motorcycle forum
Pondering something I won't remember, I missed my turn. Backtracking, I passed two girls, almost women, that looked up and smiled. The air was that kind of perfect cool where you only know it's there by its sound and the pressure as you speed up. The seat said hello to my backside as I chattered over asphalt swollen and cracked over tree roots. Five young kids with mahogany skin raced each other down an embankment on flattened cardboard boxes. They laughed and waved as a I sped by.
Dusk was coming soon. It was my turn to smile. I sped up. Ten miles in, a one-percenter on a cheap hunk of bouncing steel caught up to me as I relaxed on a easy down hill. With his thinning brushed hair billowing in the wind, he complimented me on my bike. Maybe he was being sarcastic. At a crossing as we chatted about the mean drivers, four cars gently stopped and waved us through. Maybe the drivers aren't so mean I said. He laughed and, dropping back, wished me a good day. He wasn't being sarcastic. I offered him the same good will and pushed ahead.
Turning the corner, a small bony man, old with a beard big enough to cover a porch, looked up startled from behind a too small tree. His drawers were around his ankles, a hand down between his cheeks scrubbing up from his bowel's work. I didn't need to see that. But on this ride, you always catch a glimpse of something. These paths aren't just for me, they're the not private enough corridors of people who won't ever find their way.
Four young and plump black girls with confused faces wait at a slow light. Each had a pink shirt on. They asked how far the trail went. All the way to Boring. They didn't understand. Boring, a whole other town. Eyes wide, they nervously discussed the ramifications of going further. We just wanted to see how far the trail went they said. We don't want to go any further they said emphatically, their heads shaking. Thanks Mister. I waved, smiled, laughed, and continued on.
Part of the trail is closed. I cut through Sellwood, once a vibrant competitor to the bigger city of Portland. Older homes once rescued by aging hippies line the streets. Now antique shops and boutiques can be found where once strip clubs and dank bars were the norm.
Mile fifteen or so (I never really pay attention). The people keep coming or I come upon them. Old and fat, with oversized pants and the cheekbones of a gorilla. Young and strong, skin still supple, trying to never turn into an old fat ape. Every shape. Every age. Coming or going or escaping every kind of life or job. A couple of wide ones astride ancient and heavy red schwinns blissfully hog the entire trail. They jog, they walk their dogs on trip wire leashes, they chat and run, they meander on old bikes and new bikes too. With the grind of knees, I shoot past all of them. Maybe not all. A steely eyed racer with crisp sideburns and perfect form shoots by almost silent on a bike of carbon fiber and money. The ones you see face to face, the ones that aren't lost and hiding, nod and smile. Thankfully there are many more of them, those with direction, especially down here, down near the river.
There it is. I find it with the headwind that's always waiting on the river at night. My speed drops finally settles in at a hard 19 mph. Fighting the wind, my thighs roar. The last bit of sunlight slips over the west hills and splashes across water from behind the buildings and trees of downtown. Carved into the light, the piers and struts and roadways of bridge after bridge across the Willamette. A scull slides along the water with a coach yelling unheard from a powered dingy. The city is settling in for the night. This is my favorite stretch of the ride. You get to know your knees, the thirst as the air silently sucks you dry, the fatigue as the wind picks up.
I stop for a breather above the esplanade at the end of the Steel Bridge, it's black stern industrial hulk nearly a century old. The east side is a fantasy land of trees, proud houses hugging the hills, and green lining parks, streets, and dreams. A woman runs by flashing me a smile from under a perfect little cap. Maybe I'm cute in my spandex shorts. Or more likely she's like this town I've adopted as home - beautiful, quiet and almost always friendly.
An easy 25 miles and I'm home. My reward, a chocolate milkshake.