03 October 2010

Autumn Littoral

It seems that every year, on the first weekend of October, I take a bike ride to the ocean. Last year was an exception, as I was still recuperating from my surgery. But this year, without any plan to do so, I continued my "tradition." In fact, I never plan to do my autumn littoral ride; I just seem to take it just about every year.

I could attribute the seeming inevitability of this ride, and versions of it I've taken in other years, to the fact that this date is the anniversary of my grandmother's death, and the other day was her birthday. Now, as to what a ride to the ocean has to do with my grandmother: on the surface, nothing, as I never knew her to cycle and she seemed to have no particular affinity for the sea. I guess this ride is appropriate because I am utterly myself when I pedal along the shore, and my grandmother had as much to do with my development as anyone had.

Plus, about this time of year, the people you see at the beaches-- or along any stretch of seashore-- are a bit more individualistic than the summer crowds. That is especially true on a day like today, which featured what isn't most people's idea of "beach weather."

It's hard not to contemplate along this stretch of beach.  Maybe that's why it's called Point Lookout. 

The name of that place could also serve as a description of my annual early October rides by the sea:  They get me into a contemplative mood.  Or do I take them because I'm in a contemplative mood?

There was the one I took during my senior year in high school. On that bright, cool and breezy first Sunday in October, the sea and sand of Long Branch, New Jersey spread as far ahead and around me as my future. 

Even though the same metallic rays reflected on the Atlantic waves as far as I could see, I knew there was something I could only imagine at the end of it; just as I had only heard, read and seen images of Portugal, Spain, France, England and Italy by that time in my life, I had a vision of my future that no one else had--or, for that matter, could or would imagine.

And, on either side of me, windswept outlines of footprints had turned into swirls that extended as far as I could see.  If I could follow them, where would they take me?, I wondered.  Then I realized there was no way I could have followed them; even at such a young age, I realized that I could not follow any example or path I had seen before me. 

Still,  I tried. I really tried, for a long time. 

But on that day, after I had my revelation, the only thing that I could rely on--at least at that moment--was my newly-acqired Nishiki International, painted almost in the exact shade of the water I saw that day.  

And the only certainty was that I would pedal it home--about 20 miles away--to the big meal my mother made every Sunday afternoon.

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