Into the Light / Into the Dark

Transcontinental flights play tricks with your body’s sense of time, and with your mind.  Flying west, I can leave at 9:00 a.m. and magically get into Denver just a couple of hours later.  In the Denver airport, having eaten only a sausage biscuit before departure, I fuel up on a nice sandwich, conceived by Wolfgang Puck (or staff) and executed by airport food service folk. Then on the (relatively) short flight to Eugene, OR, I “slip” another hour, so that when my son Matthew picks me up at the airport he wonders if I’ve eaten lunch.  “Of course!” my body replies, “it’s late afternoon.”  Actually, it’s 1:30 PDT, the sun’s out, the air is dry, cool, breezy: pure West Coast. My body really doesn’t care how screwed up its sense of time is as long as it’s out of eastern August heat and humidity.

Airliners going west are chasing the daylight.  They catch three hours’ worth by the time they hit the Coast.  Sipping wine in the beautifully landscaped back yard, we lounge in the warm afternoon sun and chat about plans for the looooong weekend.  Granddaughter Winnie (how nice to be grand-parental with someone named after my beloved mother!) has a birthday Sunday, and I have one Monday.  It’s Oregon, so winery visits are a must.  But surely some bike rides can be fit in too.  I brought my helmet, using my new Rudy Project equipment bag to carry on board my only luggage.  It’s shaped just right, and has myriad useful pockets, straps, and other features.  Having found a couple of spots in the schedule, we drive to Winnie’s school to pick her up.

Our first ride is the next day.  Winnie’s with her local grandma, Angie’s mom, and we have errands to do.  The first step has already been taken: borrowing Matthew’s brother-in-law Olin’s bike.  He’s on Orcas Island in WA doing construction; his bike’s at his house down the street.  It’s a Specialized MTB bike of the Old School–no spring dampers bisecting the frame.  It has turned-up hand grips at the ends of the flat bars, 700-38 tires inflatable to 35 pounds, and sports a bit of dust and mud.  Matthew’s on a Trek 7000, more of an urban hybrid bike.  It has mud guards, a hitch for a kid’s transport trailer, and a flat rear tire.  Last time the tire blew Matthew replaced it and the tube, and the tube had a pretty dramatic pinch flat, one that blew the tire off the rim.  So we change the flat, wipe off the Specialized, adjust the brakes and oil the chain on the Trek, inflate both tires, and we’re off.

It should be stipulated right here that Eugene is a lot like Amsterdam in several respects, one of which in the bicycle-to-people ratio (what did you think I meant?).  No Heineken factory, it’s true, but everybody rides bikes.  There are a commensurate number of bike shops, including one just a few block away from Matthew and Angie’s that specializes in comically odd custom bikes, including one with a reel mower instead of a front wheel.  So when you’re on the road drivers generally expect you to be there, and extend a “share the road” attitude.

Our first destination is Angie’s office.  Eugene has multiple bike trails, some of which run along the Willamette and McKenzie rivers.  So after a few blocks that include multiple stop signs, railroad tracks, and a “walk your bike” area in a park, we reach the riverside trail.  After riding along seeing beautiful views in a calm, park-like atmosphere, we cross a pedestrian/ bike bridge, go a little further on the trail, cut across some other streets, and land in her office parking lot.  We lock our bikes, take her car, do our errands, and return to switch transport again.  After getting a lecture about using the bike racks of the wrong building (not that there were any other users) we do quite a bit more trail cruising, down the river, across another bridge, back up along the home-bound river’s edge, and home.  There are a good number of walkers on the trail, a place where people fish, a guy taking close-up photos in a field full of flowers, and a modicum of riders, none of whom look like the serious power-rider, at this time on this day.  Just casual folk out having fun on the bike.  Just like us.

Our main errand?  Getting Winnie a bike with training wheels for her birthday.  Winnie’s a tall kid for her age (where could she get that from?), so I (acting also as Grandma’s agent) got her a bike she could grow into, a 16″ wheeled, purple “Hello Kitty” model with training wheels.  We eschewed the ultra-commercial imagery of Dora, the Princess, and such ilk.  It has white tires, which inflate to 35 pounds, just like Olin’s.

On my birthday we rode again.  This time Winnie went with us in the trailer.  The trailer is red and black, German-made.  It has instructions printed on it that begin with “Achtung!”, something that resonates weirdly with me, who can remember WW II (“Don’t mention the war!  I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it!”).  It has all the comforts of home, or at least of a car.  Winnie has a cushion to sit on, a place to store her drinks and snack, and great vision on three sides.  She has a plastic cover for the rain.  It’s so comfy that she can and does frequently fall asleep in it.

So off we went with a picnic, stopping to do another errand (needed a Bota Box), detouring around construction, doubling back to the river trail, and exploring at greater length.  Our first stop was at a playground where Winnie demonstrated her agility and bottomless energy reserves.  Master of the biggest slides, she can also handle lots of the other equipment with verve and skill.  There we ate our sandwiches, featuring the last of Matthew’s trademark grilled leg of lamb.  Going farther downstream and crossing another bridge, we found dessert in an abundant blackberry patch along a boat landing ramp.  And on the homeward bound leg we were asked by a photographer to cross our bridge and then return to be photographed.  Matthew thought it was the carrier and his “Oregon” shirt that made us seem so picturesque.  When we got home we all agreed it was a great ride, with perfect weather and fun for all.

And one of my birthday gifts was a silkscreen-printed bicycle tie.

Airliners going east are rushing to meet the night.  Leaving San Francisco on the last home-bound leg, it was already twilight even as we passed over Lake Tahoe.  It is as if the flight home is a time for drowsy memories of vacation, a quiet interlude before rushing into the maelstrom of six days of missed emails, impending fall schedules, and household chores.  When we landed at Dulles my body thought it was just mid-evening, but it was 30 minutes into the next day.  Too late even to email the Eugene folks with the news that the trip was uneventful.  But it was great to sleep again in my own bed, no longer by myself.  Dark can be good.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.

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