By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
There are places where gravel is loose and deep and swallows the bike tire as shadow pulls light into darkness; there and then gone. The road is old; packed gravel and dirt and it’s been there for who knows how long, a relic of the logging days long past. The road remains even as the big trees do not. Now the road is mixed shadow and light and on this dry day the dust rises as memories.
In open areas the blue sky is a dome overhead. Where the trees grow there is shadow and an arched tunnel of green over the dirt and gravel firelane. It is July Fourth, mid afternoon. The heat is rising.
I’d worked until 1 p.m., walked home, told Sally that I was going for a bike ride.
“Couple and-a-half, maybe three hours.”
“Make sure you take enough water.”
I filled two water bottles for the bike and grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and put it in the handlebar bag. Then I rolled the bike out of the yard and started to ride.
I was out of town in five minutes into a stiff southerly wind. Traffic was light. I rode 20 minutes on blacktop then made a hard right turn onto gravel. The first mile was in the open; I could feel the sun on my arms and back. Then into the trees and I rode in dappled light in a canopy of summertime green which is a rich and lush shade of green, different completely from the green of springtime.
I’ve ridden blacktop roads all my life, from kid on a single speed to adulthood on bikes lighter and modern but united in the one thing that counts over all else: They were all a joy to ride. Now I ride the mix of blacktop and gravel.
I like the solitude of gravel roads. I like the places they deliver me up to. I like the intimacy of roads being close to the trees, the privacy of roads less traveled. I love the twists and turns and rises and falls, the jazz-like rhythm of old roads.
I like the demands of the dirt roads, the need for constant focus for potholes and ruts, of washouts and divots. I like the challenge of it all. It is different from blacktop. Not better, not worse, just different.
I ride for an hour on the gravel; I do not see another soul. At the outer edge of the long orbit I am riding I take a section of blacktop, two, maybe three miles, then turn back into the woods on gravel lanes.
The temperature is rising to 85 degrees. I keep drinking water which is what one must do in times of heat. I finish one of the bottles on the bike and pull off next to a lake. I take the bottle from the handlebar bag, have a long drink and then use it to refill the bottle on the bike.
The sun is high and the lake is very blue. It is not a large lake, simply one of the hundreds of small lakes scattered across the countryside as if blown like blue leaves off a giant tree that landed where they may. It has a name but the name has no importance. There is nobody on the lake. There are lakes on this day that are alive with activity and sound and motion. This is not one of them.
I stand in the sun and the heat. My back is achy from the bone jarring potholes on the gravel road.
I stretch out best I can. It is a small price to pay for the ride. Then I get on the bike again.
A bicycle ride is like a series of snapshots taken from the saddle; one never has time for a full view of things. I see flashes of blue/violet irises in the marshy areas; rich green moss on the low lands; a pair of fawns that run across the road and bound into the green woods; a turkey and a grouse; wood lands that seem to go on forever. There are images, momentary clicks of a camera shutter: a turtle in the dust; a pileated woodpecker in flight; thick roots of pine embracing rock, as if growing from the stone; small flowers, large trees; and always the blurred greenery of Wisconsin woods.
I do not question why I ride: I ride because it is summertime. No reason more than that; no reason less. I ride because on a hot summer day it is what I do. I ride because it is part of who I am, forged in the heat of a summer day decades past and now solid and unyielding as will power and desire.
I ride with the thought of the title of this column in mind: Outdoor Adventure. And I think there is hardly adventure in this. There is, really, adventure in very little of what we do these days. I know a man who last week took his one person canoe into Canada for a month and when I looked at the map to find where he was going there was very little information.That is an adventure. An afternoon bike ride is not.
Sometimes the best adventure is one that does not happen. Sometimes the best we can do is simply spend time outdoors doing what one does. One is foolish to wish for more.
I ride back into town on blacktop. There is a sharp boom; fireworks. A shroud of smoke in the air where it exploded.
I coast into the driveway; the dogs run to the gate.Sally asks, “How did it go?” and I tell her it went well. In the distance is the snap of fireworks. Independence Day. I sit in a chair in the yard, put my feet up and close my eyes to the sun of the July day. All is good.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.