JACKSONVILLE, Ala.—Late afternoon. I am in the deep woods. It is raining. I’m riding a tricycle along the Chief Ladiga Trail, pedaling toward Georgia with my wife. We are soaked to the gristle.
We are far from civilization. This trail cuts through ancient farmland, abandoned pastures, cornfields, peanut fields, and miles of kudzu-laden forest. We have twenty miles left to ride.
The tricycle I’m riding came from the classifieds. I bought it a month ago. The man selling it said the trike had belonged to his older brother who’d recently passed. His brother’s name was Larry.
He said Larry had been excited when he bought this trike, he sorely missed cycling ever since his Parkinson’s disease made riding bikes impossible. Sadly, Larry never got to ride this trike more than a few times before he died.
When I first took this contraption for a test spin, the man nearly cried when he saw me ride it. He stood in his driveway, watching me pedal in circles.
He said, “Oh, Larry would be so happy to know someone was enjoying his trike.”
When he’d finally gathered himself, he handed me a little red flag on a long pole.
“What’s this?” I asked.
He told me the flag attached to the back of the trike so that approaching eighteen-wheelers wouldn’t run me over in traffic. Then we laughed.
But as it turns out, the reflective flag is an important piece of safety equipment. The flagpole is about four feet tall and the flag flaps behind you when you ride, signalling to all oncoming traffic that you are an official member of the dork squad.
Right now my flag is flailing in the rain. I am not only a member of the dork squad, I am also the president.
But this trail couldn’t be more lovely. The Chief Ladiga Trail was once part of the Norfolk Southern Railway line. The winding flat paths I’m riding used to be railways long ago, some dating back to the mid-1800s, back when the world was a very different place. It was an era of hoop skirts and Greek Revival homes. An era when hardly anyone wore surgical masks to shop at Target.
The trail spans two states, connecting with Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail. Together, the two paths form the second longest paved trail in the U.S.
And somehow I am on it.
I wouldn’t even be here if my wife wouldn’t have developed a sudden biking interest. Ever since the pandemic, she began biking like a crazed European.
Initially, I tried to keep up with her on a traditional bike, but I hate bikes. I’m not athletic. I’m a tall, lanky, big footed goon with the finely tuned hand-eye coordination of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Also, I have fallen off bikes at least eight hundred times in my life. I don’t feel comfortable on two wheels. It is my sincere belief that if God wanted man to ride bikes he wouldn’t have made cycling clothing look like human sausage casing.
I suppose this is why my wife suggested a tricycle. And at first, I’ll admit, I was embarrassed about riding this three-wheeled contraption. Especially with this obnoxious flag flapping behind me. But actually, I’ve been having a great time.
For the first time since this COVID-19 business began I’m getting out of the house and seeing new things. I’m lost in a gardenlike country that goes on forever, and it’s perfect.
This is the longest bike trip my wife and I have ever attempted. It was a spontaneous decision, too. This morning, my wife told me we were going to bike across two states and she said it without cracking a smile.
At first, I laughed so hard that I choked on my Hostess product. But then I noticed that my wife was already wearing very professional-looking cycling clothes. And that’s when I knew she was serious.
In a few hours I found myself on this secluded trail, somewhere near the Talladega Mountains, pedaling like a lunatic, uphill, through pristine backwoods.
Then the sky opened and it started to downpour. The rain came hard and fast, covering the entire world in white noise and water. We had nowhere to hide. So we just kept pedaling.
The surprising thing is that the rain doesn’t bother me. I am having fun, and this doesn’t happen every day.
It’s not every day you find yourself meandering through the Alabamian countryside, watching the a summer shower turn to steam when it hits the forest floor. It’s not every day you see kudzu leaves as big as Pontiacs.
I’m looking at enormous green trees that lean over a hidden trail that leads onward. I’m wearing a crumpled old hat that is soaked with rainwater. There are faded barns, hayfields, cattle, and the smell of wet grass is everywhere. And I can see it all. I’m not thinking about quarantines, and I’m not feeling sad.
We pass a group of very fit young men on expensive bicycles. I ding my little bell like a doofus and wave to them.
I hear them chuckle. I overhear one of them whisper to the other, “Hey, it looked like he was riding a freakin’ tricycle.”
But I’m not embarrassed. Not anymore. I ride my trike with pride. I’m taking in the whole world in, one mile at a time.
There is a flag attached to my bike, waving in the light rain. I inscribed a few words upon the flag with a permanent marker this morning before we started on our trip.
It reads: “In Memory of Larry.”