Category : Biking

Turning Back and Turning Ahead

Now that I’m in Chicago and not in Moscow, Idaho, where I spent the last four months during various lockdowns, I’m remembering how I felt a few years ago in October when my friend said it would be the last time we could ride the Chipman Trail, an eight-mile bike path between Pullman and Moscow. I was riding the path daily as a way to destress, and Thursday afternoons I felt light, free, sailing down the bike path after a week of teaching and lecture writing and meetings and sleep deprivation. The ride kept me sane. “It will be too dark,” he said and reminded me of that we would be turning back our clocks.

DJ Lee Bill Chipman Trail Moscow Idaho
Bill Chipman Trail, Moscow, Idaho. Cedit: All Trails

Now, after turning our clocks forward, I wonder about the words “turning back.” I wonder about this time, during the pandemic, and how all of us will turn back to this time and see how it has influenced us, changed us. How all of us, even now, are turning ahead to an uncertain future.

I recall the gloomy day every autumn when I turn back time, the day I am robbed of one bright evening hour and am supposed to call it “savings time.” Time is not money. You can’t save time, waste time, or spend time, even though the metaphors used to describe the two suggest it. Time don’t heal; it don’t change circumstances. Time itself don’t exist except in the now.

I also recall that the thought of daylight savings time closing in caused me to call another friend and say, “I want to ride that rail bed before they turn back the time.” I would have gone alone but I was afraid in this isolated place known as “channeled scabland.”

The rail bed is officially called the Columbia Chateau Trail. Constructed in the early 1900s by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway Company for a steam train connecting the three cities, and then used by the Burlington Northern Company, the railway was simply abandoned in 1987. Washington State Parks took over then, turning it into a bike path that retains the spooky, edge-of-the-world loneliness characteristic of old train lines.

We met on the Sunday at mile post 355 near my cabin, and, bundled in fleece, rain gear, and backpacks with food and water, started down the dark gravel rail bed that cat-scratches one-hundred and thirty miles of Ice Age floods along the north bank of the Snake River then curls into the northwest corner of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, wrens, wood pewees, western bluebirds, yellow warblers, pygmy nuthatches, red crossbills and chipping sparrows.

We peddled in silence for hours along basalt rocks, quaking aspen, hidden lakes, harvested wheat fields, and ponds screaming with migratory birds, until felt like there was no turning back.

But then, when the sky began to darken and heavy-winged owl flew suddenly from the brush, we did.

Sunshine Road

Bill Chipman Trail

Two bicycles were laying on the Moscow-Pullman bike path near Sunshine Road. I was worried. A black mountain bike, it seemed, had collided with a blue road bike and the two had fallen in a scene of violence. Wheels cranked in odd directions. Seats twisted toward the ground. There’s something tragic about the sight of a bicycle mangled on asphalt. As I rounded the corner, I saw the bikes belonged to a couple. It had been no wreck; the bikes had been placed there on purpose. The couple sat on a cedar bench bolted to the edge of the path, knees bent toward one another. Their helmeted heads touched. Their shoulders seemed welded together. They were squinting at something plucked from the natural world, something green–a blade of grass, maybe, or a flower. As I passed, they looked up and nodded, as if acknowledging my humanity.

Political news has overwhelmed the week. I cherish these small, lovely moments.