I left the office at the usual time and immediately gassed up, the fuel light having been on for quite a bit of my inbound ride. With a full tank, I considered my options and decided it was a good day to take the long way home.
Tuesday is the day Mary works late. Were I to go home straightaway, I would have several hours to myself. If experience is any guide, I would squander that time by stuffing my gullet with fists-full of junk food, drink too much, and surf the Internet in my underwear with the pets staring at me with disgust, contempt and revulsion.
So yeah, rediscovering the back roads seems like a good idea. I found a newish route that evolves from the godforsaken generic office park into twisting, rolling two lane roads shaded by deep woods and chased by serpentine rivers.
The roads gradually lose their exurban harshness and yield to scrub and young forests lately farm but not yet townhouses and strip malls. At some indefinable point, more felt than seen, the character drops its last vestiges of development and transitions to simply rural. I set into the rhythm of rise and fall, lean left, lean right, throttle on, throttle off. But there is trouble in paradise.
I see brake lights ahead, and a long line of stopped vehicles. I see vehicles randomly pulling out from the line, executing awkward turns across the road, and heading back in my direction. The drivers are making undecipherable hand gestures and shouting things I cannot understand as they pass. Clearly we are bollixed up, but I am so close to where I must turn that I decide to tough it out for a few minutes. I am literally within a few tenths of a mile, and in a pinch I could probably go off road to make my turn.
But as solid information begins to make its way back down the line of stopped vehicles, it become clear I will not make my turn. An ancient tree has fallen across the lanes, and it is massive beyond the abilities of anyone on-scene to deal with. In an area where folks routinely travel with their chainsaws, we are all stumped.
So I pull from the line and make my way back upstream. I am not familiar with this area except in broadest terms, so I will probe and test to find my way forward. I assume that all roads go somewhere, a supposition which seems true about 90% of the time. Unfortunately, the roads that comprise the remaining 10% seem to undergo a steady diminution in size and quality before finally revealing their shameful failings, meaning the ride in is bad, turning around is worse, and the ride back is long and humbling.
Naturally, I find some of those. And I follow a few roads that end up depositing me in places pleasant enough but diametrically opposed from my destination, so since leaving work, I have actually made negative progress towards getting home. Shadows are lengthening, I am getting hungry and cranky. This is not working out to be one of my better after-work rides, all thanks to the vagaries of a dying oak.
Retracing my path, I duck down another sketchy yet somehow promising lane. The surface begins as pavement, and in a few tenths of a mile collapses into fragments of pavement then some pavement-gravel hybrid, then gravel then just washboards of dust and potholes. The banks are high on both sides and the rutted track is narrow; if I encounter another vehicle on the way, I have very few options except to pin myself against the bank and hope for the best.
The deep woods and sudden curves make the situation even sketchier. If someone is coming the other direction, neither of us will have warning. Dollars to donuts, they’ll know the road better than I, and so will be going full speed. But I’ve squandered many miles this evening to come to this pass, and have no alternative but to forge ahead as best I can. And Beast does not care for this kind of terrain, not one little bit.
The road diminishes with each turn and cresting of a hill. I anticipate it will end at some locked gate, dead fall or vast muddy pool. Yet mirabile dictu, suddenly I see pavement ahead once again, and not far beyond that, a small crossroads of two paved roads.
I pause for a moment at the crossroads to get my bearings. To my left, a small, humpbacked bridge and a road leading into deep dark forest; to my right, a road leaping steeply upward to crest a small hill through pastures and woods. In an instant, I know where I am; I need only choose from an embarrassment of riches the route to select.
I pick the road to the right, and it quickly connects me with a stretch of road I do not recall ever riding before. Perfect! Sinuous, it winds generally southward from where I am, which is good, because south is the direction towards home. The sun is now low in the sky, casting long and deep shadows across the roadway. The hilltops are warm, bright and sunny, but cooler air has already begun to pool in the valleys and low spots; in the shade the sweat I have accumulated over the last hour is chilling.
The low sun strobing through the trees is…distracting. It is oddly soothing and relaxing in a way, but the experience would be more enjoyable if I were perceiving it through both eyes. Because of my route and position of the sun, only my right eye is seeing this; my left eye remains in shade. I recall reading somewhere this effect is not uncommon, and has something to do with either emulating or stimulating alpha waves in the brain.
Shortly I pass out of the woods and the effect stops; when I am back in woods again, the sun has dropped behind the Blue Ridge, rendering a beautiful blue wash across the landscape entire. My route from here to home is known to me, and will follow paved two-lane roads at a minimum; I will be home in short order with ample light left to take care of chores, yet not so much dead time that I will embarrass myself in front of the pets before Mary gets home.
All I need concern myself with now is the deer.