Rendered Fat Content


M. C. Escher: Waterfall (1961)
"I seem to be SettlingInto a place that's actually DownhillBothWays …"

I finally found a wrinkle in my schedule a couple of weeks ago and engaged in a few minutes of recreation. I pumped up the tires on my old coaster bike and took it out for a spin. I'd found an original front wheel bushing while on exile, so the nearly sixty year-old thing runs smoother than silk. I coasted down three blocks to the park, hung a downhill right which, three blocks, later left me at the big park. I hung a reluctant left onto what was once a road but is now a path and circumnavigated the central band stand before taking backstreets back to The Villa, a short and very sweet ride. The Muse asked how it was and I reported that it was DownhillBothWays. She wouldn't buy my story, but it was true to my experience. Riding these streets on this same model bike I rode as a kid, I remember torturous uphill stretches, usually encountered on the way back home after a particularly lengthy ride. Now, the city seems essentially flat, with no street steep enough to warrant any but my ride's single speed.

I might have gained some perspective and experience while on exile.
I used to ride this bike down to the Library of Congress, an eight mile, definitely downhill trek. The ride back was just as definitely uphill, so steep that I'd resort to walking the bike for lengthy stretches. Still, I managed to ride all over that city, up and down through Rock Creek Park and the Capital Crescent Trail, along the Potomac and around The Mall. Most riders rode more sophisticated modern bikes featuring many more than my one speed and complications like hand brakes and multiple sprockets. I felt a little like I was riding a horse through motorized traffic, but I swallowed my slight embarrassment and pretended like I fit right in, feigning oblivious to my own backward appearance.

Colorado was not a friendly place for riding bikes, at least not bikes like mine. While DC was reliably downhill one way, Colorado was uphill both ways. Any direction one might choose to ride would offer a long walk at first, followed by another long walk at the end. Long stretches of stunning downhill might appear, but each promised a malevolent uphill slog after. Narrow switchback roads made for harrowing experiences. I rode little there, not even over to the village a short mile away, uphill both ways along narrow blind curve blacktop where drivers seemed compelled to speed. I came to wonder if my memory had failed me, if I might have never lived, much less grown up, where the roads were essentially flat. Now that I'm back, I see that my reverie then was not a fantasy here and now.

Yesterday, I had to drop off Elizabeth, our second car, at the mechanic's shop which is located clear on the other side of town. I stuffed my bike in the back, figuring that I could just zoot home on it rather than beg The Muse to drive down and shuttle me back or, heaven forbid, walk. I didn't just zoot back home. I'd imagined again that the ride back to The Villa might prove a tad bit torturous, but it seemed downhill. I decided to take a detour to the right to see if I might find an uphill stretch in that direction. No dice. The road was as flat and smooth as ice. I meandered through one of the older neighborhoods, thinking that if anyplace, they might have a rise. No, again. I decided to deliberately target an old nemesis, a street that in the old days, fifty and more years ago, often served as my long uphill slog back home. I sensed some slight resistance, but even that street proved to be essentially flat in practice if not in fact, perhaps even slightly downhill. I coasted home well rested.

I might have a magic bike, one which only works when it wants to work. It IS, after all, a coaster bike. Here, it seems to flatten every street and leave me feeling as though I'm really riding DownhillBothWays. I might be dazed and delusional, but I don't think so. In Colorado, the bike knew better than I might have and worked to convince me that I had no business out on those roads and trails, however exhilarating the downhills. In DC, it agreed to transport me but exacted a toll. The climate there was generally disagreeable and I often opted to ride the Metro back home to avoid the uphill slog. Here, no barrier to riding exists. Traffic's minimal. There are no hills. Like anywhere, some have taken to turning humble biking into its extremes, outfitting a simple frame with so many gizmos a guy like me could never operate the danged things. Some even consider bike riding a competitive sport and hold races! Others wear special pants and suicide shoes that somehow snap into the pedals. I suppose that all those gears might flatten out most any hill, but not quite in the same way that my 1963 Schwinn American will. I seem to be SettlingInto a place that's actually DownhillBothWays, whatever The Muse might think.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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