Didn't enjoy that at all.
Early Friday morning I left everyone else asleep in the house, put the bike on the rack, and drove up to Orleans to take a solitary ride on the Rail Trail. Orleans is nine miles up the road, all of it along Pleasant Bay, which is not at all misnamed but may be a case of Yankee understatement. Windows rolled down all the way. The air was delicious, the cleanest it had been all vacation, and that's like saying heaven's been improved upon. Going to be a great ride, I told myself. And it was. I just didn't enjoy it much.
Without warning, I rode into a patch of heavy nostalgia.
Worse than a flat tire or hitting an oil slick or having a pack of Lance Armstrong wannabes come charging up on your tail all hollering, "Passing on your left!" and you having nowhere to go to get out of their way except off the trail and into the sand.
Smacked into the nostalgia almost right at the start---passed by the bread and breakfast the blonde and I tried to get reservations at for our honeymoon. Lucky for us, they were full up and we found a place closer to the beach we loved. But still as I came close to the first place I was suddenly assaulted by memories. My bike and I were thrown backwards in time, landing with a thud in 1988. The whole rest of the ride was a furious slog back to the future. I didn't make it. By the end of the ride I was no closer to now than 1997 or 98.
I still haven't made it back to the 21st century.
I have two problems with nostalgia. The first is the general ennui it causes. When you get lost in nostalgia it can begin to seem that all the good times are in the past, over and done with, your life in the present is dull and sad by comparison, and there's nothing to look forward to that will be as wonderful as the good times you are remembering.
The second problem is a little more idiosyncratic. I am not one of those people who can focus on the good times and forget the bad. With me it's more the other way around. Plus I have an exceptional memory.
The blonde and I have been biking the Rail Trail since our honeymoon. They boys have been riding it since they were babies.
(Here they are at the end of a ride in 2002.)
I figure we've ridden along it at least 30 times, and I think I can recall each and every trip. So Friday, wrapped in nostalgia and weighed down by memory, I rode with the ghosts of 30 bike rides. I hate ghosts. Mainly because I don't believe in them. It's one thing to be haunted. It's something else to be haunted by figments of my own imagination. It's a form of self-torture. Makes being alone with myself a less than pleasant time of it.
Except for what was going on in my head, it was a gorgeous ride. I rode through woods and past salt marsh, from the bay up over the backbone of the Cape out to the ocean. At Coast Guard Beach I met surfers coming in from their morning run and saw a ranger giving a group of dads and their sons a quick lesson in surf casting before leading them down to the beach to wave at striped bass passing by, laughing at them. In the salt marsh I watched two young women in waders, a pair of grad students in biology I think, making their way carefully through the muck of low tide, picking samples of something out of the standing water, studying it under magnifying glasses, and making notes, before moving, even more careful not to step in the wrong place and having their leg sucked down up to the knee in mud, to another spot to repeat the process. I saw flocks of sandpipers on the tidal flats and terns hunting the pond, making their headfirst vertical dives after their breakfasts. I saw the old Coast Guard station turned into a painting by Edward Hopper by a beautiful accident of light and shadow and timing.
And I saw all those past rides, including and most vividly the last time I rode it alone, which was 10 years ago. I left the blonde and the then 2 year old at the beach and set off. The blonde was not taking long bike rides that summer because she had a passenger with her every where she went. So I went off on my own to take notes for a travel piece that never got published because the newspaper that asked me to do it decided at the end they wanted me to give it to them as a gift. I remember coming back to the beach and being greeted by the 2 year old who had just visited the ice cream truck. He came running toward me, his face and chest striped with the juice of a quickly melting cherry popsicle.
"Daddy!" he yelled. "I saved some for you!"
That was 1995.
It could have been yesterday.
I remembered that Friday and felt suddenly very lonely.
When nostalgia starts to take hold, it's a sign the vacation is over. We had two last beautiful beach days, Uncle Merlin came back for the weekend, we ate at one of our favorite lobster shacks last night and Uncle Merlin showed the boys two episodes of Stargate and now it's time to go home.
The car is packed up.
We're out of here.
Same old, same old begins here tomorrow.