FROM LEFT TO RIGHT:
4. Calgary, Alberta, Canada
5. Minneapolis, Minnesota
6. Hinesburg, Vermont
7. Baltimore, Maryland
8. Boulder, Colorado
A cyclist’s most hazardous obstacles are the polluter commuters fully armored in
unwieldy craft. I observe them as I wait to cross the street at the Falls Creek Bridge.
In a long row, one after another, they make a right turn onto the bridge. They are hurried and anxious. They are invariably alone, each sealed in a thermostatically, stereophonically controlled can. It would cost nothing for one to pause for me to cross; the
lost ground would be regained at the tra;c congestion visible ahead. But while most
are probably decent enough—surely, they’d hold open an elevator door—they are
entrapped by circumstance.
On another morning, I stop at a red light on Belmont Avenue beside a cyclist in
his early twenties, maybe even in college, wearing sunglasses and a backpack and
riding a rundown mountain bike. He is nervous on this new venture of riding into
town. His name is Matt, and he asks whether I am headed for the path along the
river. I explain something of the route. When the light changes, he follows. I caution him about crossing the entrance to the expressway, which he negotiates successfully. The next light, at the intersection that meets the Schuylkill River, turns
yellow as I go through.
Suddenly, I hear a shout and a screech of brakes. Matt is on the ground when a
high-strung driver thrusts his head out the window and asks if he is okay. I cannot
hear the answer, but the guy drives away, almost hitting me, as well, on the escape.
Matt gets up and starts to walk. On the grass beside the river, I do what I can to help.
He is lucky—he has only a scraped knee.
I check his bike. One of the stays on the rear rack is bent. I use a Swiss Army knife
to remove a screw so that it no longer rubs the tire. Cars race along the road beside
us, and rowers pull steadily down the river.
An October ride home begins in the shade of the urban canyon but returns to bright
sunlight on the river, a painter’s light of intense color and long shadows. The green
grass glows. A splash of autumn auburn marks a tree.
Everyone is out to enjoy the end of a day and a season—joggers, bikers, walkers,
moms with strollers. I weave in and out. To my left, on the western horizon, is the
bright face of the sun. It is hard to imagine it will vanish in a matter of minutes and
I will reach home only at dusk. The day lingers like an Indian summer, warm with
remembrance but suddenly snapping cold.
Later, while climbing the hill rising from the Schuylkill, I think I hear an owl. I
stop to listen. Just beyond the run beside the road is an inadvertent preserve—a