Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fly Away Home

            It was with some trepidation that I locked my bike at the airport, knowing it would sit in an out-of-the-way parking area for three days. I had ridden into work with all I’d need in two panniers – in one I’d shoved a backpack with my clothes and such; in the other I stashed both my U lock and a heavy cable lock. I left my “good” pannier at the office and took the bike to the airport via metro. I had printed out the bicycle parking areas in advance, and managed to find the larger of the two that are closest to the metro station. I could see that this parking area had signs pointing to the Mount Vernon Trail, which I would use to return home after my trip. There were about four other bikes parked there, so with some thorough locking and a backward glance, I left the bike – complete with the “old” pannier, helmet, and water bottle.

            I always look forward to a visit home. I enjoy spending time with family that I only see a couple times a year, at most. But, no matter how old I get, what happens at mom’s house is predictable. Upon arrival, I scan the fridge and cupboards for familiar comfort foods. There are always homemade cookies – at least three varieties. There are nuts, and good old Wisconsin cheese. The local paper informs me that Wisconsin is still number one in the nation in cheese production, although California has edged it out in the milk category. I know that I’ll eat too much, my mother and I will both complain about being too fat, and I will sink into a torpor – pulled by a strong urge to take naps (a rare occurrence for me) – and I will sleep long hours at night…despite being a time zone farther west. And I won’t get enough exercise.

            I had planned to rent a bike and ride out to Devil’s Lake State Park – just a few miles from my mom’s house. But it turned out that the bike shop in town only offered the option of paying $50 to test ride a top-of-the-line carbon fiber Trek road bike. I declined, and wished I’d managed to work out how to take my bike on the plane. It just seemed wrong, wrong, wrong that I had not taken advantage of Frontier Airlines’ awesome policy of taking bikes for the same price as any piece of checked luggage: $20. But I was intimidated by having to take off the pedals, didn’t know where to get a box, etc. Ah well, there’s always next time.

            We did manage to walk in the various parks a couple times, but my mom is almost 86. It’s great that she can still get out and do a little hiking – but the pace is slow. All this is to say that I was looking forward to getting off the plane Saturday evening and riding my bike the nine flat miles home. It turned out that I’d parked the bike quite some distance from the old terminal that Frontier is consigned to, but I hadn’t wanted to risk missing my flight on the way out by looking around for a closer lot. So I had a nice brisk walk back to my bike, which had waited patiently for my return and had survived the ordeal of parking at the airport quite nicely. All my accoutrements were still on the bike, and by my return there were about 15 bikes parked there, so I was in good company. 

There were a few drops of rain on the seat and the skies were heavily overcast. But the air was pleasantly cool – though disgustingly humid. There was excellent signage pointing the somewhat convoluted way to the bike trail, which runs right past DC’s National Airport. I was happy to pedal home at a steady clip – giving my legs a good workout. At about mile three of the W&OD trail, I noticed that a ladybug had hitched a ride on my thigh. She seemed untroubled by the constant up and down of my leg – crawling around from time to time. I was worried that she would get squished between my thighs, as she seemed headed in that direction. But, after a mile, when I turned onto to the Four Mile Run Trail, she was gone. I wondered about the life of a ladybug. Would she miss her family? Did she know where she was going? Had she hitched rides on cyclists’ thighs before? I wished her a safe flight home – wherever that might be for her – and was happy that I’d flown away home and back, returning safely and finding my bike unmolested. I got to my house just as big raindrops began splotching the sidewalk. Perfect timing.

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