On a good day, you will find no reason to ride up Stella Road. It bends serpentine up and away from Pleasant Street, the top invisible from the bottom. It is steep enough as it twists up toward the tree line, that you need to go straight for your small ring rather than trying to work back up your cassette, short and sharp, like a punch in the nose.
At the top, you take a hard right onto Ernest Road, which is deeply rutted and potholed and only partially paved. Ernest also rises sharply before tipping over into a wide muddy free-for-all of a descent that requires staying back off the saddle, lest you find yourself burying a front wheel in a deep mud puddle and testing the more extreme effects of gravity on your fragile physiognomy.
Most days I choose Stella and Ernest as part of my way home.
In winter, our New England roadways get constricted by snow. Even with lights visible from outer space, I feel vulnerable in the heavy darkness. The headlights shear the night in two with a Dopplering whisper from behind. Safe cycling, or at least safe-feeling cycling, requires finding other ways home. Stella and Ernest are the other way, a crooked, rutted path that takes me out of harms way, if I can manage the climb and plunge with my meager handling skills.
I didn’t always do this, choose other ways. I used to just bull through by the most direct route. I was proud of my ability to take just enough lane to let cars know when not to pass me. I was pushy and fast, slaloming traffic when there wasn’t enough room on the right, pushing at the pedals to keep pace with traffic, taking chances when the reward didn’t justify the risk. Naturally, this led to some confrontation, some frank exchanges of views, some frantic hand gesturing, and in the end, a lot of anxiety I didn’t need.
I needed to find other ways of getting where I wanted to be.
It should not be a revelation to anyone that the bike is an ideal tool for exploring alternate routes. Stella and Ernest are but one way to traverse the relatively short distance between my home and office. There is another route that goes by an Audubon sanctuary. There is one that takes in two brief sections of rail trail. There is one that doubles my vertical gain.
Other ways are increasingly important to me. Between my way and the highway, there are a lot of other choices.
I seem to be out of that pig-headed young man part of my life, children and responsibilities and simple experience burring off my edges. I can accept a lot more bullshit than I used to. I can even, in the right light, appreciate some bullshit. This last represents, I think, some not insignificant personal growth.
Stella Road is bullshit, but suggests to me that there are many parts of my life in which finding other ways might make sense, other paths that, while initially steeper and more challenging, do a better job of getting me where I want to be.