Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Heart Machine



On Friday, August 30, four weeks into the Caravan, I passed the one hundred mile mark on my bicycle’s odometer.  Well, I actually passed the 119 mile mark.  I had forgotten to reset it before Waller Grant took off a month ago, so it was set at 19 miles from a ride way back in April, and once I got back on the bike in Oklahoma, I decided that I would reset the odometer when I hit 119.  I am old, and can’t remember anything anymore, so I have to make things easy to keep track of.   I figured this way I would be able to compute the number of miles I ride on the entire trip. Instead of having to remember to subtract 19 miles, I merely have to add 100.  Makes sense to me.  And I guess that is all that counts.

Captain Crunch at Szalay's Farm Stand

Because God likes to play tricks, or because I am careless, or because bad things happen sometimes to good people (take your pick), I will always be able to remember where I passed the first 100 miles:  at Szalay’s Farm Stand in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  At that moment, Captain Crunch and I were riding the towpath trail alone.  Dr. J. and Knightsmama were few miles behind us—that’s another story.  The Captain and I had ridden about nine miles, beginning at Akron Northside and heading north toward Boston Station.  Szalay’s Farm Stand is one of these modern re-inventions of the traditional.  The Szalays, I have no reason to doubt this is a family operation, learned that they are not just selling fruits and vegetables; they are selling the experience of purchasing fruits and vegetables.  It’s like 1950, except it is the way that we wish 1950 really was, clean, orderly, efficient, customer focused.  
At the corner of two two lane country winding roads, the stand was bustling with locals and, I suppose, a few tourists like us.  Those with cars, and there were many people with cars, could stock up on local and trucked-in fruits and vegetables—squash, melons, berries—jars of jellies, local baked goods.  And corn.  Tables and tables piled two feet high with corn.  I heard one young lady saying, “This year we have 200 acres planted only with corn.”  I noticed the “we.”  Those passing through on bikes can   take a break, rest in various covered picnic table contraptions that rocked (of course, Theo picked one of those), and enjoy a “fresh squeezed lemonade” or soft-served ice cream with fruit.  I trust the labeling because I saw the squeezing machine working away on some defeated lemons. Captain Crunch and I each got a lemonade, and then took off.
That’s when I noticed I had hit 119 and called for the Captain to stop.  Maybe I said it a bit too emphatically, because he squeezed his brakes like they were hard lemons and he wanted every little bit of juice. We were already back on the crushed granite towpaths, so first, he skidded to the right, and I went left.  Then he went down and to the left, and I rode right over him and crashed, too.   Luckily, Crunch is as tough as I am slow to react.  A couple of bicyclists rushed over to see how we were.  An employee at the farm also rushed over.  Thank goodness, we were both fine and our bikes unharmed.  Captain has trained with a youth mountain bike team back in Austin, so falls were not new to him.  After a brief moment to make sure there was no blood and nothing broken, we hit the trail again, but not before I changed the odometer.  By the end of the day, I was up to 23 miles (plus my hundred). 
One of the most important goals for this year is that I should ride the bike as much as possible. Remember, I am fat.  Fat is not good for a guy who has had a couple of stents inserted into an artery somewhat close to the heart. Granted, I should be reminded about this fact when I write about the wonderful beers that the true geniuses of our 48 contiguous states have created and I have tasted.  This is a dilemma I haven’t rationalized my way beyond yet, but give me time.  And I admit at this point that 123 miles in four weeks is nothing to brag about.  (I almost wrote “nothing to write home about,” but then that is exactly what I am doing right now.  Oops.)  But then again, these are most likely 123 miles that I would not have ridden had I still been in Austin, going to work in the morning, and returning home in 104 degree heat.  So I am taking what I can get.  For the record, I have ridden in Okmulgee State Park in Oklahoma, at Pea Ridge Battlefield Site in Arkansas, in St, Louis, in Cahokia National Monument, in Brown County State Park in Indiana, near Shawnee State Park in Ohio.  Later, this afternoon, Knightsmama and I will hit a local hike and bike trail in Milford, Michigan. 
I don’t care what the nostalgists insist, many aspects of our nation have improved since the fifties.  One of these is the biking culture that is spreading throughout the U.S.  On the one hand, it is probably not an improvement that, as Wendell Berry has pointed out, that so few of us actually do any labor during the day that so many have to find fake activities like jogging, weight lifting, and biking to provide out bodies with some purpose and means of staying useful.  On the other, the bicycle is a marvelous invention, incredibly efficient at moving a body down a road.  In the right places, like those where I have ridden so far this year, the bicycle is both a touring vehicle and an exercise machine, clicking off the miles in wonderful landscapes, pumping oxygen rich blood throughout the body.  Everything is fed--the muscles, the eyes and ears, and the soul. 

Soundtrack.  Queen, "Bicycle Race"

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