Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mountain Rider

Ten o'clock rolled around at the CUP. Everything was quiet but lit up with bright fluorescent overheads. The floors, some colorless tile, reflected the light, and beyond my square, frameless window existed only pure blackness. I stripped in my office and pulled on my bike shorts and my favorite; the HooRWA riding shirt I earned last year for a 75 mile ride in the hills of New England. Black LG sleeves slid on, and cycling shoes strapped to my feet. Finally I grabbed my cycling gloves and helmet.

As I rolled down the quiet hallway to the door I shut off the lights and the put the CUP to rest for the night. I opened the outside door, heavy and metal, breathed deep the cool and damp night air. As I let the door swing closed behind me I turned on my rear flashing red lights and my forward white light...which provided very little in the way of sight. The moon, big and bright, shone overhead. Clicking into my pedals, i started off slowly, the gravel popping under my tires as I trekked slowly toward the road.

Nobody was out and about. People were in their beds with lovers or pets or both. Many alone. Houses were quiet. The very occasional car drove lazily by. My plan tonight was to bike over the mountain, over Mt. Pleasant, the highest point in Ithaca. I had moved to Ellis Hollow mainly because I wanted that mountain close and I wanted it to challenge me. It loomed in the distance, dark, silhouetted in the light of the moon.


Up Stevenson road I went, slowly, deliberately. The pungent sweetness of freshly spread manure hung heavily in the air. Large swaths of field, eerily lit by the pale moonlight, seemed alive and as one with the light wind that caused ripples as if the vegetation had turned liquid. My useless light, dulled by the moon, shone only on pavement a few feet ahead. And yet there was the shadow of bicycle and rider, pushing along, finding no difficulty riding up hills that only existed in daylight.

Onto Turkey Hill and then, oh, the steep, steep Mt. Pleasant. Leather shoes creaked and chain with metal rings strained up the first leg. Dark: Hidden in the shadows of trees, the road became an abyss. But no matter. There was no hill, only darkness. Only the distant call of a bullfrog, the rustle of leaves, the running of a deer scared by a quiet two-wheeled animal prowling the mountain. Heating up, but cooled by the night, the slow up and then down, down, down so very fast. Wind whipping by, pulling at clothes and face, watering eyes....then up...

The road up the mountain is bordered mainly by field, and the fields are low and quiet even in the wind. The moon, my god, the moon shone so bright. At the highest point I stopped. A circular rainbow surrounded that big white moon. So bright was she you could see the blue sky. In the distance, shadows...mountains...hid a storm. Orange flashes like fireworks, brilliant in size and stature, defined the dark edges and colored the horizon. Close to me, fluttering around the fields, a million fireflies flashed... green, green,, reddish...dancing the dance of spring and summer.

I never knew the night could be so colorful.

Getting off my bicycle I stood there. I stood in amazement and watched the beauty of life and color unfold about me. I watched this dance on the mountain of atmosphere and biosphere, intricately woven together, playing out an ancient ritual that will continue long past the time I am gone and done. Dust and atoms I will be to feed the future plays of our planet.

I blinked.

Then shook my head.

All people, so afraid of their shadow. Afraid to live. Afraid of the night. Hiding in houses, wrapped up, confined and consoled by a television or computer that tries so very hard to convince them that the lives they lead, the world they have surrounded themselves with is right and good, that they should be afraid of everything and listen, listen, listen to the electric preacher that comforts them and reinforces their bad decisions, their life of possessions.

In the end we posses nothing but memories and experiences. We are the culmination of those experiences at our end.

These memories, these feelings, these sights and smells...oh the smells...

Riding down Ringwood the scent of wood smoke teased my nostrils and then, the smell of skunk assaulted them. Fragrant tones colored the breeze as more flowers have bloomed, more plants have unraveled their sex and life into the air. I sang and whistled "Yellow Submarine" as my bicycle coasted down the mountain...for joy and for the ears of animals and especially deer that might run into my speedy path...

I rode on. Home.

Found my box. Put my bicycle away. Sat down.

And I remembered.

The only thing I could do is share and hope that someday, those I share this with, will have a story for me, and experience they loved or will come to love, and will enrich my life with it.

My one night over the mountain ends...with the thought of many more to come teasing my mind.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, Same Goals

2010 was one of those crazy years in this place we call Ithaca, NY. I ended up homeless for a short while, then found my way back into a couple of different roommate situations, neither of which panned out, and one that turned sour very quickly. I started working for Gimme! coffee on Cayuga street and soon found myself working for Cornell as an assistant curator with a three year contract. I almost didn't end up living here, pointing my nose in the direction of Northern California and the Pacific North West, but Ithaca, small as it is, is a beautiful spot if you can find a job that allows you to enjoy it beyond the draw of Cornell or IC.

The riding was spectacular this year, and in August I went back toward my home state of Massachusetts to do the HooRWA benefit ride. This was one of the most spectacular rides I've ever done. 75 miles through the states of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York. HooRWA stands for the Hoosic River Watershed Association. The cost of our jerseys and entry went to helping support the conservation and health of the watershead and the people, animals, and plants that live there. The watershed itself is home to some of the most beautiful New England and New York scenery. Mountains, farms, rivers, and beautiful small towns were all a part of the eye-popping beauty that we explored on bicycle.

I was consistent in riding and exploring until my second roommate situation soured and I had to put my focus into finding a new place and moving for the fourth time that year. Before that I had an amazing commute from Freeville, NY to Ithaca. Roughly 20 miles of riding a day. I had a chance to explore more back roads on the eastern side of Cayuga Lake, and found spectacular views with the help of fellow cyclists who, through the FLCC, had wonderful suggestions on routes...all of which I modified to suite my need for discovery. Every weekend I found myself doing a 50 to 80 mile ride, and with most days providing me with a 20 to 30 mile ride I was in excellent shape and really enjoying the world around me. Unfortunately, the last move forced me out of riding for nearly a month and a half, and with that I lost a lot of my stamina for the 100 mile Ride for Life.

The RFL was, however, awesome. I didn't do it as fast as I would have liked, but I did the first 50 miles with little issue and no break. Little did I know that I did have a "break" of sorts. During the ride I thought I threw a rock with my tire, hearing a loud "ping!!" as I was riding. Turns out out blew a spoke. I didn't realize it until after the ride was over, but my whole rear wheel was warped. I figure I rode 50 to 60 miles like that and, perhaps, that's what slowed me down a bit. This was the first year I rode with Team Gimme! and, while it was a lot of fun, I was bummed that they didn't do more training rides. I offered many times, often showing up to no riders for simple 20 miles rides. The few time riders did show up, it was a close friend or two and they were pleasant rides, with a brutal hill here and there. But always the reward of a beautiful view across the Cayuga Lake valley or some other place.

The new year has brought new goals along with the rehashing of old. The three year contract I've scored with Cornell means I'll live as simply and poor as possible to try and pay off as much of my college loans as possible. I have also decided that this 5th year will be my last, for a while, riding in the Ride for Life to raise money. I bought a motorcycle recently and may volunteer as a helper, but in the near future I'll be riding it for pleasure only. New goals have arisen, I need to get the GRE's out of the way, and I need to do well at my current job and move on to whatever comes next. Grad school or a job that is more permanent, deciding research goals, and getting to be a better naturalist all top the list of educational goals. I want to continue to explore Ithaca and surrounding areas, and I want to push myself physically and be better at riding while getting my hiking and running legs under me. I'm also trying to make music a bigger part of my life and hope to have my own little recording studio someday, with lessons for instruments planned for the short-term. Artistically I'm also planning on getting more tattoos this year, some of which will be designed by me, and others designed by my brother if I can twist his arm into doing it.

Of course, it would be nice to have someone to share all this with, but discussion on that is the topic of another blog...still it is a goal and should be mentioned here.

And finally, I want my work at the CUP to be highly successful and, if I don't get a permanent job at Cornell, I'd like to make sure I have great references and add to my CV for future projects. One of the huge goals associated with that is the McLean project: A biodiversity study I started in 2006 with a local Naturalist that needs to be completed. With some help I should get a publication out of it. But it's slow going.

I don't know what the future holds, and I know there's a lot of craziness out there that we as humans keep perpetuating, but I hope that your little circle of life is full of good people and good times. Maybe if we shoot high enough with our goals, the ones we actually achieve will still make life sweet. Good luck with the New Year!!