Friday, November 23, 2007

90 miles of Thanksgiving

Date: Nov. 22
Mileage: 91.1
Hours: 6:05
November mileage: 589.8
Temperature upon departure: 38
Rainfall: 0"

Mile .5: If all is quiet on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day must make up the balance. In the minimalist light of 8:36 a.m., traffic pours over the bridge, steaming to the A&P, turning for Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer. It's rush hour with cranberries. My dreams of solitude diced, I'm reminded of at least dozen Thanksgivings, in the back seat of my parents' vehicles, with the low winter sun glazing the roadside grass in iridescent shades of yellow. It was over the river and through the woods with a freeway and strip malls. We would marvel at the stream of empty parking lots until we passed a single store buffered by a wall of cars. "Look Dad, ShopKo is open today!" "Anyone who has to shop on Thanksgiving is a loser," my dad would proclaim, and we'd all feel self-satisfied, but secretly, a little bit lonely.

Mile 31: I can't believe how warm it is today, and calm. Despite the ideal traveling weather, I'm having a hard time finding my legs this morning, and the first two hours inch along. Many years ago, when my maternal grandmother was still alive, my family always split the holiday between my two sets of grandparents. When you're a kid, there aren't many holidays more pointless than Thanksgiving, unless it's time for pie. Unfortunately, that pie usually just comes as a stomach-churning punctuation point after a long sentence of only vaguely familiar relatives and smothering questions and gray stuffing and sticky yams. My mom's mom, fortunately, always understood that Thanksgiving was not set up for kids, and always had some new toys to present us. Then she looked away wryly as we slipped into the hidden safety of the back room. She was all-knowing back then, and ageless, and I never imagined there would be a time when I would not know her.

Mile 39: The pace is starting to pick up. I'm beginning to feel more pep, more alert, and I can even see the sun trying to slip through thick strips of clouds. My dad's mom never kept many toys in the house. My cousins and I always ended up rooting through a musty box in the basement for an ancient, truly ancient game of Life. For many years, we just played with the money. Eventually, we taught ourselves the board game. After we revised the rules to work around a myriad of missing pieces, we were hooked. We dug it out every year. Something rang true about simply choosing the color of your car, rolling the dice, and watching sheer chance make everything work out. We were certain that's what Life was all about.

Mile 45: I don't think I have ridden all the way to the end of the road since August, or perhaps September. It looks different stripped of its green and framed with the thick snow that now coats the mountains. But it no longer feels very far away, and even the memories don't seem too distant. The adults would never let us eat pie until we finished all of our Thanksgiving dinner, which I rarely had much interest in. However, one year I discovered a dessert loophole through my Aunt Marcia's gigantic bowl of Chex Mix. Mixed with chocolate, powdered sugar, corn syrup, peanut butter and the vestiges of breakfast cereal, I was allowed to snarf all I wanted under the guise that it was an "appetizer." I was always grateful to Aunt Marcia and her Chex Mix. She was an real Ironman, a finisher of crazy triathlons, and built of pure steel, although I had no idea what any of that meant back then. Now that I have an idea what it means, what it feels like, to aspire with all your heart for a chance to be an Ironman, I'd like to go back to those Thanksgivings, with my face stuffed full of gooey "appetizer," and ask her where she found her strength.

Mile 55: I take my last picture for the day. The lighting makes everything look like sunset, but it is only a little after noon. I was well into adulthood the Thanksgiving I bowled a 131, at a quiet little bowling alley in Ogden, Utah, where my sisters, cousins and I sneaked out after dinner. Having just won the game with a surprising number of points that I would never see again, I was sure I was strong and in charge and could do no wrong. We drove back to my grandparents' house on a street with railroad tracks built high above the pavement. A short, steep hill bridged the tracks, and usually cars slowed to a crawl over this daunting obstacle. But there weren't many on the road that day. As we approached the tracks, my cousin behind the wheel announced, "What do you think? Should I gun in?" The others in the car were silent. I was the oldest. "Well, yeah," I said. She punched the gas and charged at full acceleration toward the hill. I remember feeling a G-force rush as we shot up the berm, but that was the only rush that came before the world disappeared beneath a slow and deadly silent place. The group of cousins following behind us said they saw sky, blue sky, deep below our wheels as we rocketed off the tracks and plummeted to the road that seemed a mile below us. We landed in a barrage of screeching and sparks. My cousin panicked and overcorrected. I saw and experienced a lot of different things in that swerving moment of helpless momentum. My cross-country road trip. The turkey I ate for dinner. My maternal grandmother. That moment represents what I think it feels like to know it's all over. But my cousin managed to regain control of her car, and we somehow returned to our lane without flipping over. I'll never understand how. I think I was the only one in the car who was that frightened, although I'll never know. We never spoke of it again.

The final 35 miles of my ride pass by in a blur. I'm really feeling great now, and my legs are warm and strong. I munch on Goldfish crackers out of a frame bag, trying hard not to overindulge. In just a few hours, I'll be gorging myself with barbecued turkey, cranberry-pomegranate sauce and apple pie. There will be dozens of people in a hot room and I will have to meet many of them, an inundation of information and food and possibly new friends. But for now, I just want to pedal, and I want to quietly miss my family.


  1. That's one pretty place where you live. You must have been counting your blessings to be free to live in such a place.

  2. Jill, I like the mistic you give to this biking thing, the way you explain it. It is very interesting,event thoug I don't undestand a lot fo words, but I undestand the general sense (I hope). I don't want to miss your lonely thoughts...

  3. It's 41F outside and I'm about to go ride. When I think about how chilled it's going to be I think of you and the snow riding you do. I'm a wuss. :p

  4. I love the way you went back and forth. You stated what mile you were at and then back into your thoughts of childhood. We all reflect and think about many things in our life as we pedal. Not too many can put it in to such fine words, but you are one of them.

    -Keep pedaling and keep the stories coming, then write a book.

  5. Wow!, this one is excellent writing. Were you by any chance thinking of a poetry by Bill Fries during your ride?


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