I wasn’t the best kid in the world. But my parents know that, sooner or later, one way or another, I do whatever they say I should do. It might take me 35 years, but better late than never, right?
So what does that have to do with today’s ride or anything else related to this blog? Well, during my ride, I went someplace my father wanted me to go upon graduating high school. I didn’t go in quite the way he’d hoped, but I went nonetheless.
I’m talking about the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, on the North Shore of Long Island. He didn’t want me to go there specifically; he wanted me to go to one of the Federal academies dedicated to training officers for the armed forces. I actually did get Congressional nominations to the Naval Academy in Annapolis and the Military Academy at West Point.
Every member of Congress is allowed to appoint one person to each academy (the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is included) and to nominate other candidate. Being nominated is like being placed on a waiting list: If, for whatever reasons, the appointee can’t or chooses not to go, the member of Congress can appoint one of his or her nominees. That did not happen to me.
As you can probably imagine, I have no regrets now. I certainly wasn’t sorry then. Then again, anyone who’s been reading this or my other blog knows that.
However, it was a lot of fun to go there today. It’s actually a lovely place: It’s, as one might expect, on the water and has a couple of ships and a bunch of boats. And some of the buildings are exquisite. Although they are of different styles, as different parts of the campus were built at different times (and a couple of buildings predate the founding of the Academy), they actually work well together. Perhaps it has to do that they are all in shades of beige, tan, yellow and white. They suggested, at least for me, sand, which makes sense for a maritime campus.
Unfortunately, as you might expect in the post-9/11 world, I couldn’t photograph them. The guard at the entry gate was very friendly, as was everyone else I encountered. But he said—almost apologetically—that, due to “security,” photography wasn’t allowed.
Oddly enough, although I was the only person riding a bicycle, I didn’t feel out of place. The fact that I’m old enough to be the cadets’ grandmother also didn’t make me feel strange. And, no, that other way in which I’m different from (at least to my knowledge!) any of them didn’t make me feel distant.
Perhaps it had to do with the fact that today was one of those wonderfully beautiful and clear days that can make even someone as old and cynical as me feel as if those barriers people erect between each other don’t exist. It reminded me of what has always drawn me to cycling, and in particular rides like the one I took today: I feel that on my bike, the whole world is available to me. If you don’t feel that way before you embark on a long ride, you’ll feel that way sometime during the ride. Otherwise, you’ll quit.
That, I believe, is the reason why today, three decades after I took my first trip, I cannot imagine having experienced France or any other part of Europe in any other way. I didn’t see as many places as my peers who had Eurail passes, and, to tell you the truth, I didn’t want to. Even then, I knew that I would do better to experience a few places intimately than to get as many stamps on my passport as I could. (Back in those pre-EU days, one had to go through customs each time one crossed from one country to another.)
Anyway…How did I get from Long Island to Languedoc without getting on a plane? I don’t know. To be completely honest, I don’t know how I got to some of the places I saw today. I got on Arielle and decided I had no destination in particular. I did, however, decide that as much as I love the ocean, I didn’t want to ride through or to any of the beach areas today. I knew that people would be going to them in droves.
Had I gone to Kings Point or one of the other academies when I graduated high school, my entire curriculum and career would have been spelled out for me. Now, I know I like and need some structure in my life. But I also know that the things I’ve enjoyed most—including my favorite bike rides—just sort of happened when I set out without a specific itinerary.
That’s what happened thirty years ago—and today—on my bike.