Friday, July 12, 2013

Biking the Towpath to Car Country

Just about the time I think my younger daughter is getting too homebound with electronic distractions, she'll surprise me. Yesterday, she wanted to take a long bike ride on the towpath, that improbable ribbon of bike country woven into a world otherwise built for cars. It's a red carpet ride, extending from Princeton more than 20 miles one direction, 30 the other.

Heading out from our house, I realized quickly that we had both aged--she in a good way and me in a less good way, as my legs complained and she sped far ahead. In years past, spending languid hours in the park, pushing her on the swing, I had looked forward to a more aerobic stage of parenting, when her physical abilities would challenge mine. Now that hoped for stage looked to have passed before it even arrived, but my legs picked up steam, assisted by the downward slant towards Carnegie Lake, and we soon were taking a right onto the towpath.

Not long into our ride, our wheels making a pleasant gritty sound in the crushed stone surface, she asked if we were getting close to Kingston. Well, actually we were headed in the opposite direction, had already crossed Washington Road and Alexander Street, and were well past Turning Basin Park and the white domes of the water company. We were riding more for pleasure than for destination, passing or being passed, feeling the green embrace of the forest as we sped along.

The idea of a destination became appealing at some point. I predicted that we'd soon encounter a golf course, and by turning left there, on a bridge used by golfcarts, we might end up at what we later learned to call Windsor Green Shopping Center up on Route 1. A light dinner at Whole Foods seemed within our powers. It all came to pass, sooner than expected. But strange it is, after such an easy, verdant journey, to find yourself in front of Whole Foods on a bicycle. That's car country out there. How could this be?

I know. There are serious bicyclists who think nothing of riding to Virginia or New Hampshire, or at least out to the Sourlands for an afternoon just to burn off some extra energy. But we all have our own set of accustomed boundaries, and to break through that is to feel an unexpected sense of liberation.

I asked at the Whole Foods information desk how much of the store's energy their broad array of rooftop solar panels supply. The woman didn't know, but said the solar energy helped them make it through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when others were stranded without power. It's like finding pieces of a puzzle no one has ever put together. The improbable ease of a bike ride, a patch of solar panels reducing dependence on the grid--these are pieces of a dream that could spare us from nightmares to come. What glorious liberation we would feel, individually and collectively, if we broke through the boundaries of a lifestyle built on energy better left buried in the ground.

We rode back the way we came, fireflies adding sparkle along the trail's edges in the fading light.

No comments: