Early morning. I ride my bike five miles home from dropping the car at our mechanic, across a dreary landscape, the trees still bare, the fields not yet green, or at least not fully so, the roadside bearing winter’s detritus: Empty cans of Bud Light and Twisted Tea, random bits of plastic and paper. Two miles of pavement, then the turn onto the graveled mountain road, the big mud holes mostly healed by the town grader. The stream rushing by on my right as I begin the climb, still flush with snowmelt running off the mountain. Past Michael’s house, set back high from the road, surrounded by prayer flags. He lives there alone, mid-50’s I’m guessing, very many tattoos, always a smile, always a wave. For a long time, he had no car, then he did, and now it seems that again he does not, and I pass him on the road often, walking with his granddaughter or his dogs (or his granddaughter and his dogs), and sometimes we chat. Sometimes we don’t.
I like riding along this stream, the sound of it, the weight of the air, heavy with moisture. I like climbing the road, it’s just the right pitch, and climbs for just long enough before I pull into our drive, past the birches, past the wide-eyed cows and their water trough, past the truck and my son’s first car: A 1990 Volvo station wagon.
When he brought it home I remembered suddenly the time my friends Josh and Trevor and I were driving from Cape Cod to Vermont in Josh’s old VW Bug, and how we broke down only a few dozen miles into our trip. I was 16, maybe 17, at the time, the same age my son is now. Josh and Trevor and I limped the car to the parking lot of a furniture super store, where we abandoned it and started hitching. It was late at night and no one would stop, and anyway we were arguing over whether or not to keep trying, or to curl up in the woods and sleep ’til daybreak, so we split up, and soon I got a ride that took me most of the way home. At some point the next day we reconvened, none the worse for wear, each with tales to tell. I cannot remember what happened to Josh’s car.
“I want to do stuff like that,” is what my son said when I told him about that night, now 30 years behind me. “Maybe,” I said, though I was thinking maybe not. But I could understand the yearning, the desire to have the experiences that make the stories, even if it means sleeping in a ditch. Even if it means hitchhiking through the night.
Because really, isn’t that all any of us want?