Essay: On the End of Summer
This past weekend in Bucks County was some of the finest weather in quite a while. Daytime was comfortable and bright; nighttime was crisp with a hint of fall. In a stroke of luck I was able to get out both days and explore the late summer light in the northern sliver of the county. What I found was more than I expected.
Both rides were purely for enjoyment purposes. The weather, the solitude, the pleasantries of the few afternoon cyclists I saw was too much to ignore over hammering certain roads. As luck would have it, the weekend was also a car show. Several vintage cars passed us by both days. Yet there was restraint to both rides. It started with an encounter.
Saturday’s route was the old standby quick-hitting route. I have highlighted it as the reliable circuit when time is of the essence. I wanted to go farther, but constraints pushed the route to the reliable loop. At about halfway I closed in on a rider who initially looked like our often-mentioned hero: Mike. The cyclist was perched on a dark frame, wheels adorned with gumwalls. He also had a white helmet like Mike and bright white cycling shoes. It could have been him mostly, but it wasn’t. When I pulled alongside he was a bit shocked by my presence. He apologized, though I could not figure out why initially. He developed his apology to say he was sorry for yelling. Family stuff. He was sorting it – hopefully all – out on the bike before returning home.
For the remainder of my ride Saturday his approach stuck with me. I knew I was going to need it for Sunday if I was able to get out. The beautiful weather was slated to hang around; I had spent many days avoiding a particular thought.
When Sunday evening offered the chance to get out, I nearly refused. Low motivation was the result of an end of a long time off. Monday was the return to the time-honored tradition, but I had hoped the script had been written differently. Where I was going in twelve-hours time was cancerous on my sunset ride through the glacial-carved hollows of northern Bucks. I put thoughts to words as I apologized to approaching riders in my imagination for yelling. Career stuff that would not get sorted out before returning home.
For a couple of hours I descended ribbons of winding road. Sometimes the steep descents were followed by absurd berg-like ascents. I lost count how many times I put faith in the bike, the road, the wildlife, and traffic to maintain momentum to climb a heavily forested narrow climb. With roads like these comes solitude. Dozens of minutes elapsed without cars, cyclists, or even people. It was a beautiful day and everyone seemed to be elsewhere. Meanwhile I tried to capture feelings of inadequacy, failure, defeat, and disappointment by pushing on the pedals along each gradient.
The route was originally supposed to visit old mileage but the setting sun put it out of the contention. The route became impulsive. It became rewarding. I stumbled onto an old road I had made a point to revisit but forgot. I sawed through the thick trees along the undulating narrow path. I admired the sleepy hidden houses, no doubt hinting at keeping a distance. I inhaled the cool early evening air along Rockridge Road, unsure if I had come the opposite direction last time. Only one other person knew where I was and it echoed in solitude. I looked for salvation, came close to finding it, but then returned to the developed world and ripped a descent toward the Delaware River. I wondered if the road were just a little longer, would I have found the secret to success?
I have run into the same riders on the stretch I encountered Saturday’s cyclists. His apology was not necessary, for I now owe him a thank-you. Next time I see him I want to thank him for refocusing the purpose of a bicycle, whether it’s in a city, suburb, or in rural farmland. I tried to learn his name by using Strava’s FlyBy but concluding two things: I did not learn his identity, and according to Strava, for the entire Saturday afternoon, no one was riding a bike near me. I doubt I was the only one with problems to smooth out.