Month: June 2021

Riding Day #4 – Part 2

Today’s ride of 39 miles will end in Syracuse, just 30 miles south of the small rural town I grew up in. I rarely traveled there as a child and only became familiar with the area near the hospitals as my aging parents required their services. I do not know my way around downtown and never visited any of the venues for entertainment or shopping there. But then again I moved away from the area at 18 and returned only for brief visits with family. 

 The buzz of the day is the long, steep, legendary hill on the way to our campsite at Burnet Park, next to the zoo. I plan to pedal as far as I can then join the pedestrians, ignoring the “stay in the saddle” philosophy of more hard core riders, having accepted that my two feet function on pavement as well as on pedals. I begin to talk myself upward, around the next corner, just to the end of the block, maybe to the blue house ahead, and unexpectedly find myself in view of the familiar tent skyline. Engulfed in the thrill of accomplishment I dwell briefly in the awe of me.

I gather my gear, find my tent, spread wet items out across rope lines, on my bike – anywhere they might dry. Then I walk with my bathroom supplies and clean clothes to the tractor trailer with the long white container attached. There are lines outside waiting to enter the doors of the container. This is my first experience with the shower truck. Inside, stalls line two walls. Benches stand in the open middle space where other women undress, wrap themselves in the supplied towels-or not-and wait for the next stall to open up. My thoughts zoom back in time to the dreaded high school locker room. I want to turn around and leave. But my sticky, smelly body stops my feet, despite the desperate urgings of my brain. I notice the vast array of bodies surrounding me: tall, short, heavy, slim, wrinkled, smooth, droopy, toned. Some cringe and try to hide what they feel is unacceptable (even if young and thin and envied by those that recognize their beauty). Some laugh and chat as they freely display what we each possess in some form or another. I fall in the cringing/hiding group, and envy those so comfortable in their own skin that their size, shape or condition is of less focus than what lives within those boundaries of flesh. I wonder why I am so concerned about how others see and judge me, and why I judge myself so harshly. Never feeling good enough on the outside, no matter how much caring and kindness I possess on the inside.  

After showering I meet my tent mate and we head to the zoo, but it is closed. It is later than I thought. I contemplate calling a taxi to go pick up a suitable outfit for my uncle’s funeral. I discuss the situation with her and we both realize it is too late on a weekday to find a store nearby in time to purchase something to wear. Fatigue is also quickly setting in. I realize my desire to see my uncle for one last time is not realistic. I feel like I am letting my mother down. She would have wanted me to be there. But I think she would also have wanted me to do this bike trip. Not because of the challenge of the distance, but to fulfil a more personal need. The need to discover my own strengths, and to leave no “I always wished I’d….” lists behind when my time arrives. My uncle is in my thoughts and I know he has a place in my heart that will remain forever. I believe she knows too.

There are warnings of huge thunderstorms through the night. The rain starts to fall soon after dinner ends. Many move from their tents, on the top of this open hill, into an enclosed hockey rink in the park for additional protection. My tent mate and I are tired and just want to go to bed and decide to stay in our tent. We’ve slept through rain before.

Riding Day #4 – part 1

The morning dawns without clouds or rain. My usual routine—up, pack, bathroom, drag gear to truck, eat, listen to brief talk about what lies ahead, get the map for the day, check tires, gear up and head out—changes. I collect all my damp gear first so only one trip will get everything across the field of mud that has not disappeared with the rain. I am thankful the sodden tent is not my responsibility. It’s time for ‘serious Sue’ to settle onto her seat.

The morning’s ride traverses more rolling hills, but then eases into the flatter trail along this part of the canal. So far, every morning I wake wondering if I can accomplish the task of the day—so far, I have. Today’s ride crosses 39 miles to our next stop in Syracuse. My usual morning ‘fret’ seems to still be snoozing. A lightness fills its place, accompanied by a small sense of peace. More murals depicting historic scenes of the canal greet us in the next town. The July sun bears down on the rain soaked surroundings. The air feels more like slush as my lungs seem to resist taking it in. I gaze at the clear sky and pray for clouds to block the same rays I had wished for yesterday. 

Following a break for lunch, the ring of my cell phone startles me—the first call aimed my way since I started the trip. It is my aunt who has no idea where I am or what I am doing. My mother’s younger brother has passed away. It has been six months since my mother’s passing, one factor that pushed me to take this trip, to look at my life and decide to live more fully, take more risks, do things now so I am not filled with regrets like those she expressed during her final months. My uncle had struggled with severe heart disease for many years. This news should not be a surprise, but I am stunned. Another story over. I tell my aunt I am in the area and will somehow find my way to the funeral this evening. I don’t know how with no car or appropriate clothes, but I know I can figure it out. She insists I continue on, that her children will be there to care for her. I still tell her I will try-and mean it.
 I start back along the bike path and start whispering to my uncle: “Are you here with me on this path? Is your spirit beside me? Can you see me smiling at your memory? Are you with mom, who always worried about you and loved you so much?” I know a part of him is, the part I carry within me. I didn’t believe in an ‘afterlife’ throughout most of my life. But as I age and experience deaths of family and friends, I sense their presence surrounding me. I stopped questioning what I’m feeling or what it means and instead accept and take pleasure in knowing I am not alone.

  As I bike into the town of Camillus, someone is holding a sign that says ‘Half Way!’ I smile and wave. I feel accomplished! Mid afternoon we arrive at Sims Store—a replica of an original canal store containing items that were sold for use on the canal boats. There are also photos, drawings and artifacts from a time when the canal was the major route for travel west. Accounts of the history of the canal and actual tools used to build it add depth to the flavor of canal life. We take a boat ride over the Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct—a water filled bridge that carried canal boats over unnavigable areas. This restored example is one of only a few left. The captain of our boat spins a vivid rendition of life on the canal, bringing us on board as part of a family living on a boat. He describes the animals that also lived in this limited space-including goats, chickens, a cow and-most importantly-the mule required to pull it along the towpath. He verbally paints a picture of laundry strung across the roof, barrels of goods being carried for sale, young children working or playing on deck, the threat of being robbed with no place to run, the camaraderie of those traveling in close proximity, and the availability of vices not restricted to dry land. It was a life filled with hard work, adventures, and the hope for at least a small bit of prosperity. I begin to wonder if my family history contains chapters related to the early years of the canal.