The other side

It was the first time I thought I could die here, now. I wasn’t wrong, I suppose I could have died, but I I’m still here. From the beginning.

A friend posted a couple of stories on Instagram about a ride on the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail. The trail follows the former path of an electric trolley that worked so well it had to end (as do all good things).

Historically, the Albany-Hudson Electric Trolley operated along the proposed trail corridor. The trolley was an interurban third rail system that operated along 35 miles from the City of Albany to the City of Hudson from 1899 to 1929. The trolley was powered by electricity supplied by the Stuyvesant Falls hydro-electric power plant. The 12,000 volt output of the dam was converted to 600 volts at three substations located in the City of Hudson, North Chatham, and East Greenbush.

The trolley line transported millions of passengers over its three decades of service. In the late 1920’s, railroads saw a decline in ridership due to the growing popularity of personal automobile travel. This, coupled with the beginning of the Great Depression, led to the closure of the trolley line in 1929.

The ride, starting in Valatie, New York (pronounced, I think, Valacia), was to follow the trail to Hudson and return. Fifteen miles each way. I haven’t pedaled much further than four miles at a time in the last couple of years and we’ve quarantined pretty strictly so my only thought on seeing the invitations was “how nice of him to organize this” and “they’ll have so much fun.” Even though it was the perfect ride, just when I needed it most, I was sure I wasn’t going.

Saturday morning at 8:40 am. I had finished the NYT Spelling Bee (not queen bee, never once queen bee, but genius, which is good enough for me), I looked at the time and thought I should do the ride. Map said I needed 25 minutes to drive there. That left 25 minutes to pump up some tires, throw together a rudimentary tool roll, grab two Clif bars and a bottle of water, put the bike on the car and go. Lacey said go, she’d take care of Violet, so off I went. Unplanned adventures the best.

I arrived at 9:28 and was the second car in the lot. My friend wasn’t there, but he can be counted on to arrive 15-30 minutes late (which I consider a superpower–it would be easier for me to lift a locomotive than to arrive after a stated time). As the minutes passed, more people showed up. Since the lot was designated for use in connection with the trail, I wondered whether folks were there for the organized ride or just showing up on their own, until I noticed the bicycles. Rivendells, an Ahearne, an All-City, a Bridgestone, a Vigo, a clunked Bontrager, most with big front packs or trunk bags from the fashionable makers. These were people in a particular bicycling clique. They were here for the ride. I was sort of in the clique for a time, but I haven’t kept up with it. I was on a Rivendell, but I lacked what I consider to be the hallmark–a fancy waxed cotton front bag. Easy to remedy. Just follow the maker or designer on IG, they announce a drop, you pop onto the site within the first few minutes and grab one of a dozen or so offered for sale. Twice I have almost bought one, but I have resisted for no other reason than I rail against certain specific kinds of conformity. I had a red and white vinyl seat bag from the 50’s that held only a small tool roll and two food bars. I love being my own person but I sort of wished I had the cool bag.

We rolled out. I was second behind the organizer. We were on a sidewalk and a sign showed the trail going in two directions. We wanted to go south and he proceeded to travel what I was sure was north, so I popped off the curb, crossed the street and waited for everyone to follow me on the other side. No one did. I watched the group pedal away with the leader and I was left to recross the street and fall in at the back. No one even hollered to me. I had the new kid in the lunchroom feeling which I don’t as a 54-year old very often feel. Maybe if I didn’t have my weird bag.

Well, shucks. But it was fun pedaling slow at the back. I lowered my mask. I couldn’t get it tucked just right to stop my glasses from fogging. I looked at the new sites. Sometimes part of the group would stop to fiddle with this or that on their bike. I try to not offer advice unless asked, a maxim I had already failed to follow twice in the parking lot. I had pointed out an unseated tire bead and a chainring pin installed in the wrong location (so that it would keep the chain from dropping behind the crank arm). These violations of good order were on bikes owned by two other good friends who showed up, but still. Not how I want to reconnect with friends after a year apart. I hovered above myself saw myself offering unsolicited advice and thought “what a dick.” I will try harder.

The ride to Hudson was beautiful. Slow. Mostly on trail. When signs led us onto roads the traffic was light. I spoke with a couple of folks. One guy had a new puppy that was driving him nuts. I did my best to reassure him that while puppies are nuts, they aren’t so forever. I suggested he settle in for a year of nuts, though. He seemed both encouraged and discouraged, but sometimes that how truth lands. I also got to talk to the two friends I hadn’t seen much of during quarantine. A couple of short hangs on the lawn with masks. Nice but not the same. It was great to catch up.

The trip south to Hudson took some time. Longer than the 15 miles would suggest. My quarantine-inspired love of home alarm bells started going off. I tried to lobby my two friends to skip the trip into town and pedal back, but they wanted to continue. I relented. This ride was supposed to help me reacclimatize. We dropped down the hill to the river-front town. But I wasn’t excited for coffee. I haven’t had a coffee out in public for more than a year. Hudson is a busy place on a Saturday. Tourists flock there for fancy food, mid-century antiques and art. We were at one end of the main street. It looked fine. Not too busy, but I need home. I said a quick goodbye to the leader and the two friends and started the 15 mile pedal to my car alone.

I stopped in the woods to pee. Then I opened a Clif bar, a really old one it turns out, and got back on my bike to eat and pedal. It was a steep hill. I was winded. So much so that I dropped into my rocking chair ring and the easiest gear in the back and started cartoon pedaling and slowly inching up the hill. I’d take a bite. Chew. Choke. I couldn’t grab my water so I just tried to swallow it down. It wasn’t working. It hurt. Breathing was tough. I was getting scared. Obviously I could have stopped, caught my breath and drank, but I didn’t. Too stubborn. I wanted to keep making progress toward my car and home. So I spun and wheezed and choked, waiting to respirate a huge chunk of Clif into a lung. I wondered if, after a nice lunch in Hudson, the group would find me dead on the side of the trail. Then I was at the top of the hill and put the last third of the bar in my pocket and instead drink. And swallow. And shift to the middle ring. And thank heavens that I didn’t choke to death.

All that remained was to pedal back to the car. I’d been in the saddle long enough that my butt hurt. The wind was light but in my face. I was tired. All of the uphills on the way to Hudson morphed into uphills on the way to Valatie but all the downhills on the way to Hudson remained uphills on the way to Valatie. I was suffering. It was cold. I was tired, hungry and thirsty. Storm clouds were forming. A slog!

I was thinking about the tendon I tore a couple of years ago from walking. Probably overuse from walking so much everyday with Violet. Between five and ten miles a day, everyday, for three years. It popped when I jogged uphill a block form home. I couldn’t put any weight on it. I found a stick on a lawn to use like a crutch and hobbled home. I wrapped it and used crutches for a couple of days. Watched a couple of rehab exercise videos on Youtube and did the exercises and stretches faithfully until I was healed. I didn’t go to a doctor so its hard to be sure it won’t just pop again if I do too much. Like pedal seven times further than usual. So I pedaled evenly and watched the movie of the scenery replay in reverse until I finally saw my car. An hour back. Kind of like I expected, but tough. Maybe my days of easy 15 miles an hour are past (or maybe I just need to pedal more).

I rolled across the street from the parking lot to a bike store. Having not been in a bike store for so long I thought it would be fun. Mask up, glasses fogged and the place was kind of busy so I turned and left. The vintage trophy bikes displayed along the ceiling would wait to be appreciated another day. I went to get a bagel with hummus, toasted, and a seltzer from a drive through. Then I loaded the bike onto the roof of the car and drove home. Sometimes being alone is so easy and nice.

I feel good today. My leg is fine and my butt has healed. Happy to be back in my quarantine home with my quarantine pals and rituals. Three home cooked squares, walks with Violet, training with Violet, puzzles, books, tv. I love it so. How privileged to be able to work from home through this mess. My mind has been turning over the question of how to exit this mode of being. This bike ride with people, sometimes masked, sometimes not, was a good start. My men’s Scrabble group should help too. Then delayed doctor visits, family visits and a meal out of the house. It will come together. Slowly. I like to give myself as long to get out of a mess as it takes to get into it. Here, a year and a half of strange so I won’t expect to feel right for another year and a half. Maybe I’ll surprise myself.

I hope you have weathered this well and reemerge with grace and dignity. I hope you didn’t get sick or lose loved ones. How can I thank the people that worked facing the public through all of this? Helping us get care, food and shelter. How did you do it? I am in awe. I hope I can repay you. I will work to repay you. Thank you.

Picture by @hoppedbirder (on IG).

4 responses to “The other side

  1. I’m glad you didn’t die. Sorry we didn’t ride back with you, I was really hankering for that coffee. And also, thank you for pointing out that tire. Amateur move! Actually, Brad’s amateur move but I didn’t notice. If we’d’ve known you were going to be there things would’ve been different for sure. Glad to ride with you!

  2. Thank you for this. Great to have you back Randal.
    Best wishes from the sunny spring here in the UK.

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