04 August 2008

Another Journey

Turns out that Mom hadn't gone to church after all. She'd gone to the store, and after she got back, she and Dad and I had blueberry pancakes and sausages.

I ate more than I planned, but it turned out to be a good thing: I went for a bike ride immediately afterward.

Some might call that trip a sentimental journey. Others might think I'm living my own version of Au recherche de temps perdus. One problem with that analogy, of course, is that I ate blueberry pancakes, not madeleines. While those little butter-cookies are nice, I still prefer the pancakes--maybe because, well, Mom made them, just as Proust's mother made those madeleines.

Probably the best literary analogy I can make to yesterday's ride comes from the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet: Things I Didn't Know I Loved.

I had indeed forgotten how much I love the riding over the long, arching bridge from SR 100, over the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, to the Coastal Road in Flagler Beach. Turn left, and you can go to Marineland and almost to St. Augustine. Turn right, and you ride along ocean that's about the same color as this typeface, down to Ormond by the Sea and Daytona Beach.

In a way, it's reminiscent of the ride I used to take when I was living with, or visiting, my parents when they lived in New Jersey: over the long (at least in my memory) drawbridge from Highlands to the narrow strip of land between the Shrewsbury River and the Atlantic, from the southern end of Sandy Hook down through Sea Bright, Belmar, Elberon and into Long Branch. If I felt so inclined, I could continue to Asbury Park.

On both of these rides, to your left there's nothing but a few thousand miles of ocean between you and Portugal (from Jersey) or Morocco (from Florida). And, if you time either of them right, you can ride into the wind and let it blow you back home.

The differences, of course , are in the color of the ocean (darker and more grayish-blue off New Jersey) and how much hotter the ride from the Flagler Beach bridge was than almost any ride from the Sandy Hook-Highlands bridge. At least, for most of the ride down, I had a breeze off the ocean, which cooled me off a bit.

For yesterday's ride, I used a bike Dad borrowed from a neighbor who'd bought it for his wife. Even when I pulled the seat out as far from the frame as it could be raised, the bike was too small for me. It is an old Ross 3-speed with a coaster brake--you know, the kind that you back-pedal. I hadn't ridden a bike with such a setup in longer than I can remember: probably my childhood. So, imagine my surprise when I shifted back on the seat and backpedalled slightly!

It's actually not a bad bike, if basic. But it probably wasn't intended for someone like me riding as far as I rode it yesterday: about 60 miles in total.

Most important, though, is what the ride meant to me. I know I've ridden harder and longer, and in much more difficult conditions. However, I can't remember the last time a ride made me feel somehow more complete, as yesterday's ride did.

The last time I was here, nearly five years ago, I rode to near Marineland--a much shorter (and possibly easier) distance that seemed like an eternity. It was the day I "came out" to Mom and Dad; he suggested I go for a ride because he and my mother needed time to "take it in"--meaning, the news I'd just given them.

Even though I knew that at the end of that ride, I'd come back to this house, I had no idea of what would follow. Although, realistically, I didn't expect them to pack my bag and leave it outside their door, that possiblity was in my mind. I just wanted to see what would happen next; I can't think of another time when riding my bike--just being on it!--was so agonizing.

But this time I had nothing to do but ride and come back for dinner. And we'd talk and watch TV afterward. Just like old times, more or less. Of course, we are all different now: we have all aged and, well, you know about me. And I'm not in the kind of shape I used to be in.

Still, I love that ride, just as I always loved that Jersey ride. Those rides have helped me to think, to feel, and more often than not, simply to survive. So have those dinners--yesterday, it was Mom's lasgana, which I hadn't eaten in years. Even though she used ground turkey sausage rather than the chopped meat she used in the old days, I wouldn't have wanted anything else.

However, the best thing of all may have been that I wasn't running from anything or anyone. Hence, no loneliness or alienation. On a narrow, shoulderless stretch of I-1A (the road along the ocean), cars steered around me and drivers didn't curse or honk their horns. In fact, one even yelled, "Go, girl!" And, when I stopped to get something to drink, use a bathroom, and to hang out at the Daytona Boardwalk, people greeted me with "good morning..." or, later, "Good afternoon, ma'am." Teenaged boys held doors open for me. One man at the CVS store in Ormond asked about what I was doing and wanted to be sure I was not having problems.

What else would a courtly Southerner do for a middle-aged woman wearing a straw hat and riding a bicycle in the midday heat?

I don't remember who told me--probably long ago--that the world would become a more welcoming place when I began to accept myself and live as that person. What that person didn't mention is that even if I were slow and my moves were inelegant because I'd gotten flabbier, a journey would be more satisfying because, while I may not have known its purpose--if indeed there was one--when I began, I would have every reason to do it.

Why? If not to learn about the things I never knew I loved, then to admit that I loved those things.