Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Traditions and Transitions

The time had arrived.

A few more years passed behind us, once again we stood on the threshold of a grand transition. This time it was greater in practical import yet lesser in the grand scheme of things—another semester of school beginning, but now it would be five time zones across the great ocean, an uncrossable and seemingly irrevocable barrier marking the separation: no spur of the moment visits would be possible in response to whimsy or need, real or imagined. This was indeed a big step.

Yet practice makes perfect. Rituals and traditions help dull the edge of parting, make the enormous seem normal, and provide comfort to those who need it when they need it most. The transition, so few years ago, of turning one’s back on your child and walking away into divergent unknowns—even when it is an act both symbolic and literal—sets the tone. All that follows becomes easier.

So what choice did we have but to take our quadrennial two-wheeled romp through the countryside?

The route was meticulously planned to encompass all the high points in one grand sweep; our favorite roads and vistas, diner food & hot coffee in ceramic mugs for breakfast and trophy pie somewhere down the road to bring home for those who couldn’t join us. All in all, we would take almost six hours to ride two-hundred miles, all within a forty-mile radius of home. We began by striking out sharply southwest, crossing the first set of mountains and heading towards the second—retracing our classic route of years gone by.

The morning held great promise. It was pleasantly chilly under a pale blue sky scribbled from horizon to horizon with a hash of smeared chalky contrails; I felt compelled to find a rag and wipe the sky clean to begin our day. The unveiling of the mountains showed them brightly illuminated in the low-slanted light, pinned flat against their background; the foreground of fields and woods before glowed brightly with the reflective sheen of dew, while ten thousand cobwebs held ten thousand galaxies among the tall grass.

The ride was sweet and smooth. I will not detail the roads here and now; I have already written at length of most of them, and much of their appeal is their timeless yet constantly renewing nature. We stopped when and where we wanted, chatted of things great and small, peeled off extra layers as the day gently warmed and admired the world in microcosm as it rolled past beneath our black-booted feet. Suffice it to say, we made it from Washington to Paris to St. Louis and home—with warm strawbarb pie and apple dumplings—in time for a stylishly late lunch. Tired, dried out, saddle-sore, a little “road-simple” and glad to be home again.

We also made a date to do it again for the next big transition, assuming that it lends itself to celebrating with a long ride to nowhere in particular and back home again. Here's to traditions and transitions.

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