I’ve just returned from vacation in the Pacific Northwest. As it turned out I did not get a chance to ride out there, though I was prepared with helmet and light gear. Envious feelings passed through my soul whenever I saw a rider, or a group, on the beautiful winding country roads among Douglas Firs, vineyards, ocean vistas, salt marshes, or wheat fields. Especially evocative of a crie de coeur was the group of riders doing a benefit, I think for breast cancer, on the flats and hills along the Puget Sound between Fairhaven and Everett, along the Chuckanut Bay road. They were cranking up some pretty good hills, and I would have enjoyed the challenge, at least my mind would have, if not my body. In Seattle and Eugene alike the bicycle is in widespread use for all sorts of things, from commuting to recreational riding to local errand-running to serious competitiveness. Eugene is noteworthy for its bizarre bikes, constructed in a welding shop from old frames. A number of them are double-decker, with two frames, or parts thereof, welded on top of one another, with the chain running diagonally upward to cranks that are a few feet above the road. Some have cowcatchers or barbecue grilles attached to the front in flamboyant displays of fantasy.
We had left home in the throes of a terrible heat wave, day after day in the 90°+ range, and humidity enough to choke your lungs. We returned to a gracious climate of mid-August, worthy of New England. Bright, sunny air, low humidity, downright cool overnight temperatures. We came in Monday morning on the red-eye, having given up our seats on an earlier non-stop for $400 each in vouchers, plus an upgrade to Economy Plus, which gave us the leg room necessary for actual sleep on the return flight. Instead of cycling Monday afternoon, I napped. But yesterday I was out there, in the intense blue sky, the warm sun, the cool northwest breeze.
I know this weather. It is New England in August, somehow displaced to Virginia, the place where the Pilgrims in the Mayflower thought they were headed, until the stormy North Atlantic winds blew them off course and delayed their arrival until early November, when they anchored in what later became Massachusetts Bay near the outer arm of the Cape. Riding yesterday on the W&OD, I could picture myself on the road near Sudbury, or Barnstable, or dozens of similar towns. The angle of the light tells you it’s not mid-summer any more, as does the firm coolness of the air. The sun may make it feel warm, but underneath there’s that breeze saying “enjoy this, because winter is on the way.” Yet every nuance of landscape and atmosphere sings of the carefree openness of summer, a song we all pray will never end.
My birthday is in six days, and I know the omens. The local tomatoes are at their best, a far cry from “those hard round orange things they strip-mine in Texas,” as Garrison Keillor once put it. the local corn is at its peak of sugary goodness, and you don’t even have to run in from the garden and thow it into already-boiling water to preserve its goodness. But the shadows lie longer, even at noon. Isabelle, our cat who loves the sun, can find a good rectangle of it inside the front door by mid-day. The Trail is less protected, ironically, because the sun shines from a more southerly direction and shades the pathway less. At the same time, I have a bit more discretion about when to start off in the morning. The sun rises later, and nights, because they’re longer, tend to cool down more. Not that we can’t have more hot spells, but in less than five weeks the nights will be longer than the days, and the heat can’t win that battle.
Meanwhile, I’ll revel in the glory of late-summer pleasures, the best balance of summer and moderate heat the year has to offer.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.