Staying Safe

 We’ve been on the road for nearly a month, two guys who don’t really ride bikes, so all this pedaling on the straight, flat roads of Ohio and Indiana gives us plenty of time for deep thoughts. Forgive us if this one gets a little philosophical, but the brain goes to interesting places when you sit on a bike seat for hours each day. Plus we’re getting a lot of Canadian wildfire smoke out here now…maybe it’s going to our heads! 

One day as we slid alongside yet another cornfield, Tommy made this observation: “All these people we meet or pass by, they all have their own lives…they’ve never even heard of us and then there we are. We talk to a few of them…and then we’re gone.”

And all of the people we chat with tell us the same thing as we leave: “Be safe!”

A few days earlier, we had been dodging thunderstorms in downtown Dayton. The cloudbursts were swirling in at about twenty minute intervals and we were moving along the city bike paths next to the river, hiding under different bridges when the heavens opened up. The undersides of bridges are cyclists’ best friends, offering a place to stay hidden and dry for a bit. For others as well, we soon discovered, based on the little fire pits, clothes and debris we saw. On this day we had the shelter under the bridges to ourselves, but in four weeks on the road we’d seen so many people living outside, pushing shopping carts and strollers crammed to overflowing. In Camden, Philadelphia, Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Columbus, Dayton…rail trails usually run on the outskirts of towns, through rail yards and behind warehouses which offer places to put up tents or hide. The sadness of it all is stunning. Other times the bike trails pass by walled mansions and gated communities: the contrast isn’t lost on us and it’s equally stunning. Everyone, no matter where they fall on the socio-economic spectrum, trying to “be safe” in their own way, I guess. 

On one mad dash between downpours that morning in Dayton along the Wolf Creek trail, we saw the heron, standing near some falls in the creek. Perhaps sensing danger, he took off before Tommy could get his camera out. We left our bikes and walked down the trail to look for him, and just as we were about to give up, we caught a glimpse of a beak, a head, a neck, almost completely hidden in the reeds on the near bank. In a second he saw us and flew off, but this time Tommy was ready and clicked away. 

We met a different “rare bird” later in the week. 

“Velo-travelers!!! I call people traveling on bikes ‘velo-travelers’…I’m a traveler, too, but I hitchhike!” shouted the bearded man with the huge backpack as he sat down at the table next to us in the Burch Tree Cafe in Knightstown, Indiana. “Sometimes I stay here in town with my dad…but last night I slept by the creek.” By the dirt in his hair, on his hands and face, we believed him. 

“I’ve been to 39 states…all hitchhiking! I write books…let me show you! You can put your names in one!” We looked around to see if anyone was going to say something, to call the cops or kick this guy out, but no one moved. Apparently, they all knew him. The waitress called him by name. The retired postmaster told us later that he went to high school with him. The community seemed to have absorbed this character, and I’m pretty sure he and everyone else in the cafe realized that the guys from out of town would buy him lunch, which we did. It was a play they’d all seen before,  and Tommy and I were the guest actors who’d just learned our lines. He told us between bites of his hamburger that he was an angel. We signed his book and as we rode out of town, he yelled, “Be safe!”

All the pictures on this update are from that one rainy morning in Dayton. The last one I  took of Tommy. At first glance you might not even see him, but zero in and there he is down by the river…seemingly so small and insignificant, dwarfed by the clouds and the landscape, yet the only person there…a 22 year old guy with a camera chasing a duck. On one level, so silly. On another, one of the coolest moments so far. The duck, clearly oblivious to Tommy’s presence, doing whatever it is that ducks do. And Tommy…let’s not forget this kid has spent the better part of his life confronted by things he was told or thought he COULDN’T do…but there he is, after bicycling hundreds of miles, unafraid, blocking out the world, trying to get the perfect shot, feeling completely at home…safe. We all want each other to be safe, don’t we? Every time I look at that picture I’m so proud of my brave son I could burst like the clouds did over Dayton on that otherwise normal day. 


Popular posts from this blog

"Five More Miles"

Maybe we should have trained more...

Countless Blessings