Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yesterday and my view from the bicycle seat...(long)

I might have mentioned here before that, as a New Year's resolution for 2011, I made the commitment to get back on my bike and ride it on a regular basis.

This bike riding is not a foreign activity for me - biking has been a big part of my life and at one time included a round trip of over two hundred miles.  Back in 1988, I rode with my significant other from Lansing to Saugatuck, Michigan.  I was riding regularly at the time, doing aerobics class and worked out on Nautilus equipment, so I was in pretty good shape and so was he.  He had gone ahead with a friend a few days before, by car, with what we would need for the few days we were to spend there (so we wouldn't have to carry gear with us) and also scouted our route for problem hills, bad pavement, etc.  It turned out that it was about 110 miles there and back.  We left on a Saturday morning early in August.  The first fifty miles flew by with no problem and we stopped in Hastings, Michigan for lunch - a Pizza Hut, probably a mistake.  And it was probably a mistake to leave for the rest of the trip that afternoon with the intent of arriving in Saugutuck for dinner.  We had friends in Hastings and could have easily stayed the night.

Michigan summers are hot and humid and there is a prevailing westerly wind, so as the afternoon passed we found ourselves riding into the wind and the sun.  As the miles crept on, we discovered that we had run out of water.  Our thirst had been made greater with our salty lunch.  We began stopping by closed businesses looking for hose bibs, which probably kept us from heatstroke.  I also envisioned Lake Michigan being high in a mountain seemed like we were never going down hill - only up.  At about the 88 mile mark of our trip, we found an intersection of a main Michigan highway and the rural two lane road we had been following - that had a few houses and a John Deere dealership.

This was the time before cellphones.  We were close enough and at a point where calling the friend that we'd be staying with and having him pick us up was a possibility.  Lucky to find someone home on a late Saturday afternoon, my partner went to a door and the resident kindly let him use the phone.  The friend responded that he knew right where we were and it would be about a half-hour or so before he could get there, but he had room for the bikes and it would be no problem.  So we waited in the John Deere dealership parking lot, expecting him in about 30 minutes.

Well, 30 minutes turned to THREE HOURS and it was getting dark.  Jerome and I were thirsty, hungry, tired and achy.  And when I say achy, those who bike know that after a long ride like that and not moving, your muscles become painfully stiff - especially if you don't keep properly hydrated.  We tried to call again from the house where we had made the first call and the people had left.  We tried other houses within walking distances and no one was home or answering their door.  We contemplated waving down passing cars, but discarded that idea due to memories of abduction stories, etc.  We had a map and the next major road looked to be about 6 miles away - if we went just 6 more miles we'd be that much closer and maybe find someone home and could try to call our "friend" again.

Those last 6 miles were the longest of the entire day.  We were both so stiff, it seemed like it might have been faster to walk our bikes than ride them.  It was dark now, so we didn't have the sun and the wind had calmed, but that didn't make that much difference.  As far as we could see were farm fields and no houses.  And there were hills too.  Finally, after about an hour or more, we made it to the next major road and there was a house with lights on.  We didn't have to convince the homeowners of our plight; it was quite obvious by then.  We used the phone and it turned out that our "friend" had fallen asleep and lost track of time.  He was very apologetic and appeared in about 20 minutes.  I just remember drinking lots of water back at his place and dropping in bed.

We stayed there a couple days and had a great time.  Saugatuck is an artist community (conservative western Michigan slang for "gay people live there") and we met up with a lot of people that were on vacation from the Chicago area.  During our downtime, we did think and talk occasionally about the ride back. Was it worth it?  How to get the bikes back if not?  When it came time to leave, we decided to get up early and head east toward Lansing on our bikes.

It turns out that heading east was a cinch compared to heading west.  Maybe our muscles were in better shape and after resting we had more energy.  This time we were going with the wind and those hills were going down, not up.  We made it all the way back to Lansing by 5 p.m. and celebrated the fact that the return trip was so easy.

I biked a lot yesterday.  I did my usual ten mile route through Lake Worth.  I attempt to do it everyday and have increased the pace from every other day when I began at the beginning of the year.  On the last leg of my loop, I was on North Palm Way.  A white pick-up truck passed me and I recognized it from previous campaign/election times.  It was Annabeth Karson.  She lives off of the street and when I passed her after she parked on the side of the road, she was busy gathering cabal paperwork and either didn't recognize me, didn't want to or was too busy to notice.  I just kept riding silently by.

When I got home, I brushed up the PowerPoint for my history talk at Parrot Cove.  Around 5 o'clock I was getting hungry and thought about how to best satisfy that.  I decided that I would mount my bike and head to White Apron for a take-out sandwich.  From there, with my back pack filled with my netbook, camera, cellphone, food and things, I headed toward City Hall.  Just after arriving there and locking up my bike, Commissioner McVoy pulled up on his bike.  As he was securing his, he said, "I'm glad to see you riding your bike."  I told him about my New Year's resolution.  I told him about my ten miles a day and he looked me up and down as if to assess if I was telling the truth - reading his mind I could hear him thinking about my body size.  And then he asked if I had been able to incorporate biking into my everyday routine.  And he answered his own question as he noted that I had ridden to the Commission meeting tonight.  I told him that I try to bike when I can, especially when in Lake Worth.  We then preceded to talk over each other for a minute or so which confirmed that neither of us wanted to hear what the other had to say.  He went in to City Hall and I sat on one of the benches outside and had a picnic dinner.

The videos show essentially what I was able to see while at the City Commission meeting.  I had to leave to bike to St. Andrews around a quarter of 7 for my talk at Parrot Cove.  When I got there, word had gotten out about what the Commission was talking about and I filled people in on what I had witnessed.  We had trouble finding an extension cord, but that problem was solved and the meeting, along with my presentation, went well.  According to Teresa Miller, it was one of the largest crowds that they could remember.

When leaving, I passed another person who was unlocking her bike and she said that she bikes everywhere in Lake Worth.  She has a car, but doesn't see the point of using it in town.  We rode together on North Palmway for a while until she got to her street.

The point of this long post is that having the bike so involved in what went on yesterday reminded me about that trip a long time ago.  And, in thinking about it, the trip west back in 1988 was probably a lot like Ms. Stanton's time in Lake Worth.  It was harder than she thought it was going to be, conditions were worse, communication was poor, people she thought she could count on weren't there when she needed them and her mistakes/missteps made things worse.  A trip against the wind, uphill and in to the sun.

Ms. Stanton - may the wind always be at your back.