Looking Out at a Cloudy Sky and Ships from Fort McHenry

Gray and cloudy skies in the background, dark water in the foreground, and two ships on the water.

I woke up early Tuesday morning–3:30ish–with my mind spinning about details, none of which would seem important in the morning. One of the things spinning around was where I could ride my bike after teaching that day. I’ve been so swamped with work for the past few weeks that finding time to just ride without a planned destination hasn’t been easy. I think it woke me up because I’ve been low key excited about that rare free afternoon for awhile now. I tossed and turned, got a little more sleep, and then was up, sending emails and writing and grading and teaching and meeting, and then the magic time came when I could get on my bike and see where it would take me.

I took the Surly rather than my new road bike, because I wanted to be prepared to be caught in the rain on a bike that knows how to ride in the rain. I headed down the hill and decided to hit up Federal Hill, because I miss my friend Amy, who used to live there but doesn’t anymore. I have ridden my bike over to her place so many times that even though she wasn’t there, for a little bit my body got to feel like we were going to see her soon. I pedaled along, using my bell and outside voice to remind the drivers, pedestrians, and other cyclists that I was there and had the right to be there, so give me my space. Riding my bike in the street with cars lets me get out a lot of my aggression.

I crossed Pratt Street and zipped around the circle up to Fort Avenue. I turned right at the park, slowly made my way up that hill, a left, a right, a left again, and then I was in the bike lane to Fort McHenry. Once I got there and was on the trail I didn’t have to worry about the gutted roads or inattentive drivers. I just got to pedal and feel the cool-ish wind off the water and ring my bell and greet my fellow not-in-cars people. I stopped at a bench and stared at the water. It was gray and beautiful, and I had that rush of feeling that I get sometimes post-cancer, the absolute euphoria of being alive. I am alive, and my body can bicycle just five miles and be in this beautiful place, and the water stretched out endlessly. I snapped this picture and then got on my bike and headed home.

I decided to do a little zig-zag around Locust Point on my way, maybe check out the Domino Sugar plant to see if I could see the remnants of the fire that took out a warehouse there a couple of weeks ago. This was a great part of the ride because the streets over there are so much smoother than most of the asphalt I’d ride on to get home. That stretch along the railroad tracks? Between Under Armour and the BP station at Fort Avenue? Like glass. If only all streets in Baltimore could be so well maintained.

And then I was back on Fort Avenue, getting honked at by an aggressive school bus driver for daring to be on the road. Whatever. I kept my distance at the red light and made the first turn I could into the condo complexes where the richie rich people live over here. There are so many different cities, just in the ten or so miles I rode on Tuesday.

And that’s what I’ve missed from being off my bike–the reminder to look up and out, to think about how these different places become these different places, and how they change. Where is the asphalt the smoothest? What contradictions in capital are temporarily synthesized in this place? Why did you forget to bring water with you when it’s 83 degrees and humid? You know–the big questions. I finished my ride, stashed my bike in the basement, and sat under a ceiling fan sucking down water. I see you out there, summer. I’m ready.

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