Saturday, December 21, 2013

Terrapin Station

Another Trip to the Vet
At a little after ten in the morning I gotta stop for a moment and pull off a couple layers. The morning started chilly, maybe forty-five degrees, but the sun is up and running now and it is warming up just fine. This ride was planned as an intermodal bus/bicycle combo fast run, but due to the lackadaisical schedules of the local mass transit and my general lack of patience it turned into a fast run by bike only. Fine with me, except for my persistent yearning for some kind of Pony Express style rapid transit that has me swinging down from the bus or train with my bicycle already half launched as I leap into the saddle and barrel off to the next station.

While I stuff the layers of fleece and cotton into my Goodwill Messenger Bag a glint from some bright reflected light catches the corner of my eye. My first bus stop of the morning is across from our little airport. We are a quaint and artistic tourist trap and quite humble. But we also got one of these:

Is that thing gorgeous, or what?! Man. I have another twenty minutes before the terrapin bus is due, so I walk across the morning highway for a closer look. Wow.

Return to Forever
Going back to the bench, I notice an advert for bi-plane rides. Being an inveterate bi-cycle junkie I pause to reflect on the whole Wright Brothers thing. Seven minutes have passed and the bus is still a ways off, behind me. I notice that Little Miss Dangerous is looking a little less ladylike than when I did a full rebuild and paint over a year ago. But what of that? Like her owner, Little Miss lives close to the street and is a bit of the rough and ready kind. Plus, neither of us is getting any younger. Also, as near as I can tell, that damn bus ain't getting any closer.

I grab my rag-tag single-speed antique, swing my bag over my shoulder and hit a lick. My goal: Beat the bus to the Transfer Station, ten miles away. I'm headed for my bi-annual checkup at the VA Clinic. They are convinced I am borderline cardiac-bound; (at least their charts and machines say so) but when I tell them I just rode over twenty-five miles in traffic in under two hours they get a little confused, then close my folder and send me on my way.

I'm stroking North and I'm weak as hell. I have not ridden even two or three miles a day since starting work again and my butt is reminding me of this fact, but my legs are strong. I spend a lot of my work day standing in a hi-lift installing the framing on these McD's that have taken over my existence. There is no walking involved, but in that basket you are like a sailor at sea; there is a constant subtle movement and you are always balancing and bobbing about and also, we lift very heavy sheets of plywood using only our upper bodies and we attach these sheets with a multitude of screws that do not want to go in all that well. It's hard and goes on for ten hours a day and as I pedal firmly and with malice over the three bridges north of town (on my way to be told that I am old and tired) I feel pretty good. My legs are good and I am breathing pretty good and except for my butt, we're getting there just fine.

The Truth Cannot Be Escaped
But I am an experienced cyclist and I know the truth: I'm strong now but as a cyclist I know: it won't last. I'm secretly weak as hell but I'm out in front of the bus with a thirteen minute head start and I'm kickin' hard and if I lose it, I can always get on the bus. It is early and the bridge fishermen are pulling in and getting their rigs ready. The seagulls, always rowdy, are doing their thing, ripping around overhead and demanding their fair share and far away, over the crystal water shining her morning colors is the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, old, an old structure, old before we were born and still here, brick-solid and stunning and a reminder that sometimes, maybe, things last longer than we thought they might and that Lighthouse is still there and so am I and so is Little Miss Dangerous and we're blasting along on the other side of the bridges now and I have to be slick and smart and careful or morning traffic will put an end to all this longevity I am bragging about.

Survival Is Everything
These painted bike lanes are insane and when I'm doing this run to the Clinic I ride like I never do. I use the bike lanes and practice vehicular riding and obey the laws and I also find myself pedaling really fast, way faster than I would on my fun rides. This is commuting and I guess I could get used to it, but I don't plan to try. It isn't that far now to the bus transfer station. I'm in three lanes of morning traffic and I can't help but wish I was somewhere else, preferably with a beer in my hand. But I'm almost there.

Oh, By the Way...
I bought a truck. My original choice was a little Nissan pickup but one afternoon, late in the year when the first welcome cool breezes begin to feather down from the North I was out on my big loop country ride, beside myself with the inherent pleasures of country and solitude and being on my bicycle after weeks away. I was lost in that Other Place I go to when it is all just right: the ambient temperatures, the quiet of the road and a mellow wind; the mesmerizing tempo of a steady and absent cadence...and, as usual, there she was. It always works this way. You just know when it's right. A well-aged 1984 Ford F150. There was no question. I took out my bedraggled much-folded scrap of notepaper and copied down the phone number. The two-thousand dollar price on the windshield meant nothing. This was my truck and I would buy her for fifteen-hundred dollars, which (of course) I did.

Doesn't she look fine in that dramatic night shot, perched on a big flatbed tow truck? I think so. That is a shot of her, after a month of diligent service hauling me and my tools to various jobs around Florida, on her way to have a new transmission installed. As an honorary good ol' boy, I am an ad hoc member of a hillbilly network that can get such things done cheap. The tow truck cost nothing, and the new transmission, a unit built for a 5.0 Mustang that had to leave town before receiving its new tranny, cost a painful yet affordable $750. And so, as I predicted, I am earning again and saving but also an owner of a motor vehicle. They are insatiable. And yet...

There it is: the Votran Bus transfer station. I did it. I beat the bus, again. As I pull up, I hear the terrapin coming up from behind. I just barely beat it. And this is only the transfer station, the VA Clinic is still another five miles away. But I have plenty of time, after that sprint. I can poke along and cool down and make it to the Clinic with plenty of time. If my new Old Truck was available, instead of out in a barn getting a new hot rod transmission put into her, would I have driven her here, or would I have rode my bicycle? I don't know. As a dedicated cyclist, I have a rule: I only drive for work, when I must carry my quarter ton of tools from job to job. Everything else I do by bicycle.

But I really love my truck. I love cruising to the job, windows down and radio playing, my left arm out the window. I feel quintessentially American and redneck and somehow honest all at the same time. But gas is VERY expensive and I am, after all, saving hard for the seed money for Comstock Farms, even if it is only one trailer on one acre...I'm saving...

Here's what I did: I took some of my earnings and rented a twelve by twenty four foot storage unit about three miles from the Whispering Pines. I put almost all my stuff in there and I park my truck there when I am home from the road. So if I want to drive somewhere, first I have to ride three miles to the storage unit. It works. I still ride everywhere. My cool old truck sleeps inside when she is not on duty and I still ride everywhere.

And, Finally:
My new doctor at the VA was lecturing me about my cholesterol and my drinking and my blood pressure and something called Metabolic Syndrome but when I told him I had just come twenty five miles fast by bicycle and had twenty five more to go, fast, to beat the sundown...

Well, you know.