Road Trip 2021 Day Four (Immeasurably Perfect)

I couldn’t create the perfect day, but I found one today, as fresh as a fried perch straight from the lake. True, it started with my dog kissing my face at 5:20 in the morning, but I was already awake. We walked along the lakeshore trail, still moist from twenty-four hours of rain, as the sun made its way into the sky despite the looming clouds.

I fixed my tea and granola in this tiny cottage and put on my bike kit. Blue, blue, blue: helmet, jersey, bike—trying to fight those clouds. And though Google Maps has no idea what a hill looks like, promising me the ride would be “mostly flat”, I knew better. This is the same ride I did with my dad growing up, on my old BMX, my Huffy ten-speed, just nine or ten, and just like then, I pedaled my ass up and down the many hills on Lake to Lake Road.

Now, at forty-three, I can feel the weight of those hills. The weight of what is left behind at the lake or what waits before you when you make it home.

And I made it home. Though I have visited several times between moving to Denver at age eleven and today, this was the first time I came upon my tiny childhood town on a bicycle. On a bike, you can stop every ten feet. Every five feet. You can feel the mist in the air at the same moist moment that you feel the tears streaming down your face, so overwhelmed by how this little town is almost exactly, in every way shape and form, just as you remembered it. How you remembered walking up the hill to this elementary school built more than a hundred years ago. How your childhood was saving every last dime to buy a piece of 5-cent Bazooka gum or 10-cent fireball from this market. How the curve of the road meant the curve to Dewey Avenue, and this grandiose house built buy the construction company two doors down that is Still. There.

How they painted it green now, how the tire swing is missing from the maple but the maple still stands, how the stone wall with the steps down to the street that froze over in the winter for a sledding hill will never be gone. How Flint Creek is as muddy as the day it was born, frozen in winter for ice skating, ripe with frogs and snakes in summer for endless wildlife fantasies.

And you could be here with me, reimagining those summer nights on the upstairs screened porch. Riding your bike up and down the hills, all the way to Canandaigua Lake. Living in a different time.

The perfect day doesn’t end at 9:00 a.m., when my teary-eyed, Amish-sighting bike ride concluded.

It continues with fresh biscuits and apple butter from yesterday’s farm stand. With my girls being agreeable with each other and today’s adventure: Sonnenberg (“sunny hill” in German) Gardens, another childhood favorite. With adventures through a Japanese, a pansy, a rock, an old-fashioned, a blue-and-green, garden.

Throw in a nineteenth-century mansion built by the founder of Citibank, and we have ourselves the perfect locale for beauty and peace, plants and prosperity.

On a road trip, they are together, not isolated in their rooms. They touch plants and share stories and talk, and it’s like they’re little even if we’re about to send one to college. And there is a magic in this walk that can’t be captured in a photo, in a blog post, but only in a grown-and-flown mama’s heart.

A magic that flowed through them as, surprise and joy to us all, we came upon a street fair in the center of Canandaigua. Mythili bought hand-made soap, Rio and Izzy found earrings, Bruce bought a new coffee mug, and I found the perfect wood-carved gift for Fabian. More than the gifts to local artists was the gift of a crowd. Post-COVID crowds, live music, the joy of being vaccinated and free from worry.

How hard it is to be an American, and how easy.

How simple, that within ten square miles, you can see scenes like this, tourist me, and scenes like this, Amish living their independent-yet-free lives.

And that is not the end of my perfect day. My perfect day is this lake where my mother, afraid of water because her parents never taught her how to swim, signed me up for swim lessons at age four. Not in a pool. Not in a rec center. In Canandaigua Lake, where today, the clouds broke free and listened to my blue-morning-beckoning, and brought you this lake, this view, this seventy-five-degree perfection of glacial meltdown between these perfect hills, my childhood hills.

That is my middle child, offering her perfect smile on this perfect day.

That is me, blue on blue on blue, offering my two fingers of peace from my Finger Lake, offering you this memory, this perfect day.

Take it. Tuck it away. Eat your Pontillo’s New York Pizza before it gets cold.

And travel the country, the world, while you still can, where you still can.

Find yourself your own perfect day.

CycleLife

"bikes for everyone"
is our summer camp motto
(if not, it should be)
what did we just learn?
first, bike vocabulary:
then, real practice
the best from today?
my daughter's helpful patience
(a prospective teacher)
at sixteen years old
learning to ride can be hard
(a kind heart can help)
childhood bullies
prevented her from riding
till my girl taught her

no award for this
no graduation medal
yet, better than gold

Ancient Wings

I once trained for a half marathon. It was only because we’d bought a treadmill, and I found that thirty minutes a day could grant me three miles and burn 300 calories, so I figured, why not?

I soon learned a huge mistake that many beginning runners make: running on a treadmill cannot properly prepare you for running 13.1 miles on city streets. The only way to train for running on roads is to run on roads.

Once I began running on roads, I immediately hated it (your muscles have to work much harder), and I almost immediately injured a tendon at the top of my foot.

After a visit to the doctor and an analysis of my gait and purchase of new running shoes, the experts advised that my training could ensue on my bike, and I should accept that I’d be walking the half marathon.

I was thrilled. When you run, if you haven’t been lately, it’s a heavy-breathed torture every time. I was literally running in circles in my neighborhood, going nowhere … slowly.

When you click into your pedals, you can feel distance build between you and an actual destination. You can push yourself up a steep hill and discover utter joy while gliding down the other side rather than sketchily searching for a safe place to land your foot.

Alas, by the time the half marathon day arrived, my foot had healed, and I did run it. It felt… like a denouement of minimal satisfaction, and ten years later, I’ve never really run again.

I spend a quarter of every day on my feet, though, putting in as many miles as time will allow. All because of my Pomapoo who forces me out of bed, whom I’ve trained to only poop on walks, who smiles back at me everywhere we go.

My Pomapoo who has an unparalleled love for hiking, scrambling up rocks, dashing ahead, whimpering to go as soon as he sees the backpack appear in the living room.

Since I have an endlessly jubilant companion and we both love hiking, I always have trail running shoes on hand because I despise hiking boots but I need good traction.

All of these things—the dog, the shoes, the stolen bike—came together during the past two days in this little city called Prescott.

It may be known for the university we came to visit where my daughter hopes to study aerospace engineering or for this gorgeous lake or for Whiskey Row which once had fifty saloons for blocks and blocks, but it holds another appeal to me: trails.

Miles and miles of completely empty hiking trails right within the city. Two trailheads are within walking distance of our Airbnb!

The first had a nice view of Thumb Butte, but less than a mile of trails.

The second I discovered while looking for a park. Prescott’s version of a park is a trail through rocks and trees surrounded by the houses that encroach upon everything that is perfect in our world.

Still. A silent, empty trail where my dog can run leash-free for what ended up being four miles? What are these people in these mansions doing at dawn rather than running this trail with me? It’s way too hot mid-day to even consider.

And I thought the flippant Google Review I saw where the guy said he couldn’t find the easy-to-spot, well-marked trailhead was just “off” by throwing in, without description, a picture of a giant boulder with what looked like petroglyphs on it. But when I got to the trailhead myself in the pre-dawn dark, my leash light lit up the map that led straight to Petroglyph Point. A goldmine of luck!

Haitz and I raced up the trail, me thinking it’d be less than a mile like the other. Dawn came and went and, running out of time before my class started, I had to run back.

Boy was I scared. So many rocks, gravel, sore muscles, fear of falling, no experience.

And, despite searching along the sketchy boulders at the peak, I never could find any petroglyphs, and I was beginning to think it was all a scam.

I made it back just in time to shower and pop open my computer for another fun day of remote learning, determined to return the next morning.

Rising at 5:00 today, I was under the dark sky for fully the first half of our adventure. Haitz stayed right at my heels, too nervous to take the lead without light.

Once the sun came up, he bolted ahead in his usual jubilant fashion, always searching for something that might be just around the bend. It will never cease to amaze me—the love and loyalty of a dog.

We jogged up, me slowing and speeding up depending on the size of the rocks, and made it to the peak once again. I scrambled to the top, flashlight ready in the early-morning light, searching every boulder for a sign of an ancient artist. It seemed like a fitting place, with the sun rising over the distant peaks, for someone to carve their message to catch the morning light.

But I still couldn’t find it. I scrambled back down, ready to give up, and circled back beneath the peak when, looking up, on a rock that seemed precariously placed and impossible to reach for human hands, I saw the carving.

Perhaps they wanted to catch the light of the sunset instead. Perhaps they wanted to send a message to their descendants about the animals they lived amongst during their time. Perhaps they were simply trying to relieve the stresses of the world with art as so many artists do.

There, in the aurora of September’s last day, before the sun beat down, before most people would crawl out of their slumber, I could feel the ancient hand of indigenous people who had painstakingly taken the time to create this everlasting masterpiece.

And even though I didn’t need to, I ran all the way home. I felt the need to run in a way I’d never felt—not when I pushed myself to run 9-minute miles on the treadmill, not when I wanted to run instead of walk my half marathon—just the pure joy of a carving on my soul, energy in my veins, and the wings of our ancestors bringing my feet to each perfect landing.