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  • Yesterday I rode up a mountain gap. On my bicycle. How preposterous.

    As I pushed into the final steep climb (Really, me?), my mind finally unlatched itself from the ridiculous spectacle of me to this:

    A memory of an old man, weathered and grizzled, a fixture along the main road threading down the west side of the state. For years he marked my commute home just as surely as that faded farm, this crumpled motel, those fields of corn, of cows.

    He rode an ancient banged-up bike, or walked it. He walked and rode, rode and walked. On and on, back and forth along the hilly miles, day after day, day after day, day after day. His bike was heaped with bags and sacks and boxes tied all willy-nilly, and he was heaped with clothes, topped by a long drover's coat, matted and messy. He wore no helmet. His hair stuck up on end. A local character. Sisyphus.

    I never knew exactly where on the road I would see him, but knew he'd be there somewhere no matter the season, no matter the weather. Even in snow. Day after day. On and on.
    I counted on him. Felt affection for him, or the figment of him, of him recognizing and accepting the absurdity of his journey. Just doing it because that was all there was left to do.

    I never stopped to talk with him, never saw him close-up. I had no idea of him beyond this walking and pedaling, beyond his bike and his clothing and his hair on end.

    All I knew--all I know--is that this lone wanderer, someone we would label crazy, I suppose, touched me. He helped me through unbearable moments when driving home from work I felt all I had done that day was throw myself against a wall, when the news pointed to the unspeakable undoing of the world, of the earth.
    Again and again. He gave me hope.
    Again and again. He restored my joy.

    And so how fitting that he should return to me as I creaked up this steep climb--an act that had no purpose other than to see if I could do it-- past the place where a man was learning to shoot a pistol at an empty pond, past the place where Hurricane Irene had eaten huge pieces of road and river and humans had put it all back again, past the place I thought surely the roaring pick-up truck, the howling motorcycle, the minivan would hit me, past all those places to the top--the top!--and saw the verdant valley stretching out below as in a dream, from the vantage point of a bicycle, I felt him nodding, saying this, this is all we need to know.
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