Breakfast chatter reveals that a storm of considerable ferocity passed through during the night. Many who had remained in their tents moved to the hockey rink in the middle of the night. My tent mate and I look at each other in dismay. Apparently both of us slept through it, unaware of the intensity of the thunder, lightning and downpour outside our fabric walls!
I finish breakfast and start out alone on the 50 mile ride to Rome, NY. I need solitude to sort out things in my head. The sorting quickly shifts to the back of my brain. Yesterday’s sense of awe completely blocked my most feared riding challenge. Back down the hill, brakes fully engaged to resist the speed that gravity demands, I enter four lanes of rush hour traffic on Erie Boulevard. Awe is buried under panic. I have never ridden in a city-much less during rush hour! And I am alone, no one riding nearby, practically invisible in the metallic milieu. Spotting a small group ahead, my legs pump into high gear to catch up. I tail them for forty minutes of forever. When the safety of the off-road trail appears, I stop to regain my breath and let my heart find the beat of belief again. It takes a while. Several people stop to ask if I am OK. Apparently, I look as shaken as I feel.
The path is quiet despite the number of riders on this trip, much as it has been each day. Remnants of stone walls curtained in moss and vines line the trail. Opportunities for lessons in history and camaraderie are abundant, but my focus turns inward, entwined in my own past. Today the trail passes within fifty miles of the house I grew up in. A home tightly sheltered from the outside world by thirty-seven acres of surrounding woods and warnings of the dangers that lurked beyond. I always did what I was told – my obedience wrapped in fear of my father’s disapproval and reinforced by my mother’s whispers not to make him mad, words that still secretly inhabit my thoughts and actions. I remember learning to ride a lavender second hand bike as a little girl. Our driveway was gravel and the country road off limits despite light traffic, so it was while pedaling across the lawn that I remember the first time that sense of balancing between 2 tires occurred. I rode little. There were no sidewalks and the uneven lawn of grass and weeds ended just past my grandmother’s trailer that sat a few yards to one side of our house. Senior year of high school, my close friend and I took a bike trip of about 20 miles and needed to call her mom to come pick us up. A bike traveled to college with me, but it was soon stolen and never replaced. The next bike was the one I purchased 35 years ago and used to start training for this trip. Who would ever have imagined that someday I would be here riding a bike across the state. A long stretch of time spans the experiences, lessons, people, jobs, and emotions between that 18-year-old girl who left home in search of freedom, and this 60-year-old woman still searching.