30 December 2010

Bridges to Deja Vu

There are at least a couple of different ways in which you can experience deja vu during a bike ride.

The most common way, of course, is to see familiar sights during along a route you've ridden before.  More often than not, that is a pleasant or at least agreeable situation.  After all, you wouldn't be doing the ride again if you don't get some kind of pleasure from it.

Then there is what I will call, for lack of a better term, situational deja vu.  Any number of situations or other experiences can repeat themselves during a ride. Among them are weather, road conditions, fatigue, exhiliaration or some emotion or another that you're dealing with.

Yet another kind of deja vu is, paradoxically, the most ephemeral yet the one that affects us most deeply.  It's the one in which we recall feelings or memories which may have come to us on rides very different from the one we're on at the moment.  Or we have expereinced those emotions during rides we did much earlier in our lives, or in places very different from the one in which we happen to be riding.

There are other ways, I'm sure, in which we can experience deja vu during a bike ride.  I've just mentioned three I could think of at this moment.  They also happen to be the ways in which I experienced deja vu on today's ride.

Although this is my first visit to, and therefore my first bike ride in, Florida in two years, every inch of today's ride was at least somewhat familiar to me.  I had previously ridden every crack and grain of sand my tires tread, though not necessarily in the sequence in which I rode them today.  But it seemed that the flow of sense memories was all but seamless.

It began when I crossed the bridge from Palm Coast Parkway to Route A1A:

Hannibal is said to have shouted "Excelsior!" after conquering the Alps.  Whatever he was feeling, it has nothing on the sensation I experience as I reach the apex of a bridge that connects the mainland to a strip of land along the sea.  At such moments, I feel as if I'm exhaling for the first time, whether the bridge is the one I crossed today, the one that connects Broad Channel to Rockaway Beach, the one I crossed over the estuary of the Dordogne river to the coast near Bordeaux or the one from Highlands to Sandy Hook in New Jersey. 

It was over that last bridge that I took my first long rides during my early teen years.

And that bridge led, like the one I crossed today, led to a spit of land that stands, almost defiantly, between the ocean and another body of water.  When you ride along Route 36 from Sandy Hook to Long Branch, the ocean is never more than two hundred feet to your left and the Shrewsbury River is no further than that to your right.  When you ride A1A from Palm Coast to Flagler Beach, the dunes of Painters Hill (such an apt name!) and Beverly Beach are practically at arm's length on your left, and you're separated by no more than the width of a grove or mobile-home "campground" from the Florida Intercoastal Waterway.

Even though this is Florida, I'll admit that today's ride is more beautiful than the ones in New Jersey or to Rockaway Beach.  But in the end, I enjoy it--and, more important, it matters to me for the same reasons as those rides, and the one in the southwest of France.  They all are bridges to deja vu.

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