Saturday, September 26, 2009

Untitled

Sometimes, we're meant to get lost, to wander off the trail that we think we're supposed to be on, just to find the one we really should be on. Or perhaps, just to run into a certain stranger along the way, if not for own own sake, then for theirs.

Riding from my house to the Virgil Gilman Trail is no easy task, especially on green legs. I'd done a little biking this year, but no serious mileage, so I was just going to see how far I could get, before calling for a ride back home.

Every trip from my house starts with a decision: Do I start from the closest access point of the bike trail, or head downtown first. The get me the same place, but one is shorter and faster; the other, still has its own benefits. I chose downtown.

Weaving through the local streets, dodging traffic gives me a feel for how my legs are responding, how strong they think they are, but it does no good for finding my rhythm. That comes more slowly when I finally reach the trail. Normally, I bike north from Batavia, or if south, then on the east side of the river. This time I decided on the west side of the Fox.

I've been hearing for a couple of years that the old quarry-turned watering hole was closed down, but until now, I hadn't had reason or means to pass it by without trespassing. It looks weary, drained and empty, and I wonder what the city's plans are for it. I can't watch it pass too long, for there, the path below my tires is rough and uneven with roots beneath the concrete. Once clear of the quarry property, the trail calms down and I settle into a rhythm.

~

When the forest breaks away into the swampier land, where the river floods its overflow into, and the path meanders close to the river again, it looks all wild and untamed--exactly as it should be. By now I know I've left Batavia behind and am growing closer to Aurora, but right now, all that matters is all that I can see. This is true nature to me, not the tamed and constrained parks. Down in that wilderness, it was the trail trespassing, not the other way around.

Unfortunately, even civilization will creep in and and institute its will, approaching the I-88 bridge. I have a certain weakness for architecture, so I took the opportunity to stretch my legs. They feel good, but I haven't been pushing myself, merely coasting at a set rhythm.

I propped my bike up in a small clearing, opposite the housing and just before the construction fencing, drop my feet and bag to the ground, and dig out my camera.

A few shots, a short walk around my bicycle, and an easy drink of water later, and I'm on my way again, feeling like I'm pedaling uphill despite going downriver. Soon, I'd reentered the wilderness.

~

At Aurora, you have no choice but to ride through cityscape. The bike trail disappears for two and a half miles, before appearing where you least expect it, despite watching closely for it despite watching worryingly closely for it for the past half-mile.

Two and a half miles down North Lake Street, and I know I should be worried about the neighborhood, but I'm not. Everybody today has been nodding back or smiling when I pass their way and politely nod my own head. Even a motorcyclist done up in black leather honks and smiles as he speeds past. Some even say hi, but I just smile and conserve my breath; I know that I've gone too long without saying anything but whispered commentary to myself, and my voice will croak when it comes out, if it comes at all.

The Gilman Trail suddenly crossed beneath me, before I realize I've gone over a bridge, and I circle through a park before picking it up. Heading westward, it suddenly disappears, and my map is no help at all. At Rathbone Avenue and an obnoxiously white industrial park, I wander first the the right, but after a block or so, I decided to turn around and follow South Lake Street a bit, because it feels like the right direction. At the next intersection, I recognize Jericho Road, but think it's pointing the wrong way, so I turn left and head down Arnold. I cross the Fox, thinking I'm heading west and can't figure out how I got onto the wrong side of the river. A quick spin down onto the island thinking I've re-spotted the trail, and I pass another biker heading the opposite way.

"Is this the way to Montgomery?" he calls out.

I shrug, calling back, "No idea. I think I'm as lost as you are."

I pulled to the side of the path and pull out my map, before turning behind me and noticing he's at a park table I'd just passed with a map of his own. I walked my bike over and found his map to be the same as mine, just a different edition. We compared notes and landmarks, still having some difficulty.

He shouted out to a runner passing by, and asked which way was north. The runner pointed out the direction I had thought was south, and asked where we were heading.

I said I was trying to go west on the Gilman Trail, and he gave me directions, circling back in the direction I'd come. I'd been on the correct side of the river all along.

We thanked the runner, and the biker thanks me, us both getting our bearings from the one set of directions.

Before we part ways, he asks me a question.

"Did you go to Batavia High School?"

I did, and say so.

"I thought you looked familiar. I think I was a few classes behind you, though."

I ask his graduating year.

"Two thousand five."

Me too.

"I'm Andrew Olsen."

Andrew Edmonds, though I wonder I should have said Ace.

"Nice to see you and thanks for the help. I didn't expect you to come back and help me compare maps. Have a good ride."

You too.

We parted way, opposite directions, each aided and with new memories despite losing our way.

~

I ended up back on Rathbone and the bleached industrial park, and this time called for directions.
Turns out I should have either continued up Rathbone farther than I did, or turned right onto Jericho instead of left onto Arnold, and I went that way now; and from there onto Terry where I picked up the Virgil Gilman Trail.

I followed it westward a ways, over Orchard Rd and through the VL Gilman park, and still further, before the ache in my legs grew too great and I couldn't find a new rhythm.

I called for a ride, turned and returned to the VL Gilman park, and laid in the parking spot closest to Prairie and Orchard, and waited.

~

So I wonder. Getting lost is a car is often a panic-inducing experience, but as I've read and felt and kept reading, when you're part of the world as you are on a bike, getting lost is nothing less than a new adventure.

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