I have been riding my touring bike for over a decade, and what my rides look like have changed in that time, because I have changed. It has always been my daily commuter from day one, because I love traveling by bike, and I hate parking cars. Seven years ago I used it to train for and ride my first century ride, and five years ago I used it as it is meant to be used–for a self contained tour of the Adirondacks. I asked my dad how to train for that tour. He told me to go on longer and longer rides, and then go on the two week tour, because the best way to get in shape for bike touring is bike touring. He was right.
When I was training for those longer rides I spent most of my weekends riding the paths around BWI airport and then out to Annapolis. City riding is always stop and go, and I needed practice not only with straight up mileage, but also with riding without stopping. I have logged so, so many hours out there, but I hadn’t been out there in a minute until this weekend.
One of my favorite things about my ladyfriend is how good she is at planning the best surprise dates, always so attentive to something I’m into. Sometimes it’s a bit obscure, like the time she surprised me with a tour of the QVC headquarters in West Chester. That’s a total dream trip for me, but only if you know me.
Saturday was our first surprise date in months. We’ve mostly been staying home, like we’re supposed to, which feels increasingly strange as I watch most people in my life take summer vacations. Thing is, people have different risk tolerances, and they also have different access to vacation days. The ladyfriend is currently serving on a grand jury, Monday through Friday, so we can’t even take a three day weekend camping trip. Tiniest violins, because we are currently healthy and both still getting paid, but I also miss her surprise dates taking me to the train museum in Hagerstown or the lighthouse at Turkey Point and then shopping in North East.
This time she told me we’d leave at 3pm, and to make sure I ate enough lunch because we were going to do something “active,” and I’m not fun at all when I haven’t had enough to eat. The time came and went, and she was still working in the backyard, but she called me at 4pm to come down. She hadn’t been working on the deck she’s building, like I thought she was doing. She was putting a hitch rack on our tiny car to hold our bicycles! We were driving somewhere to just pedal! I was–and am–so excited.
It was already late, so we reverse ordered the date, starting with dinner at the Steak and Shake in Millersville. This is a midwestern chain that I only learned about on trips to St. Louis. It’s a nostalgia meal for her, and I’m on board. We ordered inside and ate at tables outside, watching traffic race by and talking about how if $600/week is “too much,” we need to rethink what “too much” is, because working at the Steak and Shake out in Millersville right now should pay way more than that. Why do the richest people think everyone else should live at poverty levels while serving them? It’s scandalous.
We digested our milkshakes not even close to enough as we drove to that park by BWI. The last time we’d been there together we went after dark, pushed our seats back, settled into watching planes take off and land. High romance, until a cop knocked on the window with his flashlight to tell us kids to skeddadle. So this is what it’s like to date somebody with a car, I thought.
This time we couldn’t even get a parking spot. Everybody wants to ride their bikes around the airport these days, and who can blame them? So we headed back the other way to Sawmill Creek Park where we found a spot, unhitched our bikes, and headed out for a ride. The park was packed, too, with busy basketball courts and a pavilion party. The trail toward Annapolis was surprisingly empty, and it felt so good to just ride.
I hadn’t been on the trail in honestly a couple of years, I think, but it all came back to me, the way I’d sectioned it off in my brain, the neighborhood parts, the ice cream stand, the solar system section, the part after Jumpers Hole Road with the Luckie’s sign and the lush overgrowth, all of it. It felt so good to pedal and remember, again, why I love the way bikes feel like freedom.
I snapped this picture at a water break in the “mall parking lot” section of the trail. If I hadn’t ridden this path a zillion times I might be blogging right now about the sad empty state of this mall’s parking lot, another sacrifice to COVID-19, taking out retail one mall store at a time. But the parking lot has looked like this for a long time. The economy is certainly in free fall right now, and the personal economies of most people in serious risk, but that’s not just since March. There’s a danger in seeing everything through the lens of the most recent catastrophe, when the catastrophes of capitalism aren’t recent at all.
It’s not that I miss malls, or the LA Fitness that appeared to be shuttered, or the Luckie’s, where there’s just been a sign and a vacant lot for as long as I’ve lived here–which is nine years and counting. I just wanted to remind myself not to lose all historical perspective, even as this current crisis is “unprecedented,” because maybe it’s not, depending on who and where you are.
We rode for 45 minutes before turning back to ride the 45 minutes back to the car. We stopped at a 7-11 so the ladyfriend could get a slurpee on top of her milkshake. She acknowledged this might not have been the best choice, but sometimes you’ve just got to try. We put our bikes back on the car, drove home, and now we can pop our bikes on the back of the car anytime, a whole new date world opening up before us. I’m really lucky.