When I bought a bike last spring, my intention was to use it to spin around the neighborhood exhausting my 2-year-old Australian shepherd (who never, never, ever gets tired). When I hopped on, I was reminded of how great it feels to just ride, and I started to look into ways to ride that bike all the time. I toyed with the idea of biking 15 miles to and from work. I found myself cruising around websites looking for fun trails in the area. And one day, I put the seats down in my little Honda Fit, wrestled the bike into the back, and headed toward campus with the promise of a lunch-hour trip on the Granville bike path, part of the Thomas J. Evans Trail, which stretches for more than 14 miles from Newark to Johnstown.
That ride led to a summer full of them. I managed to spot deer in the most secluded spots. I nearly ran over two snakes. And I successfully dodged kamikaze squirrels and chipmunks that waited quietly in the brush until the very moment I came careening by.
After one invigorating trip, I trotted back up to the office with a grand plan. Everybody should be on the trail, I thought, and if they couldn’t be, we should bring it to them through photos on TheDEN, our news site. In the communication staff’s hands, that idea morphed into something else: a video camera, fastened precariously to the handlebars with rubber bands, could record my trail adventure, and our videographer, Kurt Hickman, could cut it down and set it to music. So one day in July, Kurt drove me to the trailhead in Newark, and sent me on my way. I rode for 10 miles, trying not to breathe too hard into the camera’s microphone. When I got back to the office, we found that I had failed to notice that the camera had shut off just a few miles into my adventure. So the next day, back out I went, a little more sore, a little less enthusiastic. I logged 20 miles. When I returned, sweaty and crabby, I handed the camera to Kurt, who politely informed me that the footage was junk. Turns out, I had managed to angle the camera slightly upward, so we now had two hours’ worth of treetops and clouds.
By now I hated that bike. The bike trail had become my nemesis. The cows in the pastures along the trail suddenly smelled. The deer blocked my way. It was bloody hot. And if one of those squirrels decided to make a break for it just as I was about to cruise past, well, good luck to him. But after another 20 miles stretched out over two days, I was finally able to give Kurt something he could use.
For weeks afterward, my bike sat in the car. Every morning, I tucked my computer bag and lunch neatly between a wheel and a pedal. After a few more lackluster lunchtime rides, I finally parked the thing in the garage. I walked past it for weeks, unconsciously chucking it into an assortment of personal items living in purgatory: The guitar in the basement, on which I had taught myself a very slow rendition of “Friend of the Devil” before casting it off to collect dust. The half-finished blanket next to the knitting needles in my closet. The sign language book that lives on my bookshelf, half-read, half-studied. They all made up a list of activities that had started out as enjoyable, until they became, for me, hobbies to conquer or items to check off a life list.
Then, one day in October, I began to remember all of the moments during those 50 miles on the bike this summer that had nothing to do with “getting the job done.” All of the things that make the Granville bike path the perfect place to spend an afternoon: the tiny fawn on spindly legs; the little boy wearing the stormtrooper mask being pushed in the stroller by his mom; the teenager with the ’80s-style stereo strapped to his back; the older couple out for a leisurely ride; the hard-core road bikers in training; the runners braving the heat under a canopy of trees; the ravine; the graffiti-streaked tunnels under Route 16; the wooden bridges; the women wading in Raccoon Creek; the cat that snoozed most afternoons on a bench beside the trail; and my favorite part, the section of the path that opens up to reveal acres and acres of beautiful farmland. On that same day in October, I watched again the video that we posted on TheDEN and thought: That looks like fun. And then I decided to bring the bike out of hiding. Before the snow starts to fall, I’m determined to see what the bike path looks like dressed in autumn—and I’m leaving the camera back at the office.