They put my pedals on the rental bike, and I adjusted the saddle height as close as I could figure it before throwing a leg over. Rain-wet sand crunched under the tires, and I was away. Within a minute I could hear a river rushing over rocks and feel the cool sweat of the hyper-green forest.
It had been a dream of mine to ride mountain bikes in Wales, my father’s home country, and so I felt almost giddy with anticipation rolling down the first trails. I wasn’t disappointed, swooping down to a level just above the river and then wheeling past a series of increasingly dramatic waterfalls.
A big part of what I depend on the bike for is escape, and I find, even locally, there are certain symbols of escape that flood mind with the serotonin and dopamine of relieved stress. Waterfalls do that. Rivers generally. Welsh accents help, as do miles of twisting single-track through landscapes one might describe unironically as Middle Earthen.
When I’m home, in New England, I seek out a series of water towers sprinkled through the woods outside Boston, each one marked with various quantities and qualities of graffiti. These remind me of all the graffiti strewn places I adventured to as a kid on my BMX bike, the backs of shopping malls, the broad expanses of concrete storm drains, abandoned buildings in pine woods.
It feels odd to respond to spray paint on concrete in the same way I respond to plunging water in a Welsh ravine, but there you are. The common denominator is escape via bicycle, the kind of get away I’ve organized a lot of my life around.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what are the physical symbols of escape for you? Maybe it’s the parking lot where your group ride meets. Maybe it’s a landmark on a regular ride. Maybe it’s a faraway place you visited once, but visualize every time you’re out on two wheels.
Image: Coed y Brenin