I did not know this would be the last time I would ride this year, but then nothing about 2016 went according to any plan, order, or logic. After all, any year that gets off to a start by killing Bowie is obviously manic, an anomaly, a madman. That sounds like sarcasm, but it isn’t. I cried when Lemmy died, I cried when Haggard died, but for all the place he’s held with me since the foggiest early memories of childhood, I didn’t cry when Bowie died. He can’t die. More idea, legend, art than human in the social spectrum, more memory and feeling in my personal spectrum, he existed somewhere beyond what we can grasp, perhaps not on this plane, but past the limits of the physical where other ideas, dreams, and thoughts exist. He was as equally as real and physical yet as distant and beyond immediate comprehension as a star. So what to expect from a year that begins with killing the physical manifestation of something so otherworldly?
Most rides got canceled, extended travel and trips rearranged or undone, even plans and advancement dragged sluggish to the point of frustrating seeming stagnation. I can count the amount of riding done in the second half of that year on one hand, I’m nearly certain.
And I know no one that was having what they can even recount as an all right year.
Then our last ride, a simple afternoon jaunt along a familiar highway to a new to us highway then loop around toward home. Just a simple hundred or so miles, a bit of fresh territory, nothing especially adventuresome, but more so a moment to clear our heads. And what clarity indeed.
That familiar highway looked unfamiliar. In process of widening and resurfacing, it is the same but not at all. Were it not for a few familiar buildings (albeit now closer to the road’s shoulder) along the otherwise very rural highway, I would’ve sworn I was on a new to us road.
Farther south, the highway’s renovation ends and there those same familiar sights, a gas station I most remember from a group of us stopping and chatting on a particularly pleasant run some six or seven years ago (funny the memories attached to something so mundane) then farther along another convenience store albeit one that has been closed for years. The subject of a photograph set some two or three years ago, now the gas pumps are gone and the back of the roof has collapsed. But I could still see that day we stopped and photographed it, the way the sun shone, the adventure we had. And I could still hear the conversation and laughter the long ago day we stopped at the gas station farther back with a group now mostly long gone all our own ways.
Somehow in the cosmic dance, in spite of all the surface changes, the substance remains the same.
And little omens dotted here and there, great predator birds reeling or watching for the high wires. In a field, watching us pass an otherwise unnoticed shadow, a coyote, alone, alert. A turn west onto new to us blacktop, an old county road unused but by the last standbys of this once farm town. Curve after curve and passed the old school, a stunning building now empty but for municipal storage, this little burg must’ve had some money once. Now the road is a patchwork of many shades of gray and black, of lumps and ridges, repairs and needed repairs. And curves. With abundant gravel. And I laughed. I was reminded of my bad habit of putting us on less than appealing roads in search of new adventures and reconnected on another level with that same substance under the surface.
Farther on, the road wound out its curves and the surface became smoother. The dense tree line vanished for pastures rolling outward on both sides, livestock meandering and tilled under fields fading under the winter sunlight.
On and on through familiar towns with charming names like Slaughterville and Little Axe and accidentally missing our turn off we end up in main vein traffic before turning around, looping back, and realizing a subdivision has gone in where the road we wanted had once gone through. Mildly frustrated, we pressed on inconvenienced but undaunted to another road, a fine road that took us around the lake. The air dropped colder under the growing swathe of quilted gray clouds and the glow of sun had vanished. By the time we crossed the lake we’d both been chilled and a stop for warmer gear before pressing on was the only option.
And as I knelt by the engine for warmth, studying the terrifying pink my hands turn when exposed to cold wind too long, I wondered at how this ride encapsulates 2016. Plans fall apart, inconveniences that are little more than just that abound making themselves puffed up and monstrous but without real matter, what seemed like the best path has been wiped away or refaced, and all the changes in the making for years are showing on the surface. And through all the facade changes, the knowing of the substance gets stronger. It was the kind of year when a bit of cutting away at the fabric isn’t just intended to make room for the new, but lacerates painfully deeper and forces recognition of what has indeed changed and what, in spite of unnumbered change, remains whole. Excuses for any of the old won’t do anymore and the only way from here is growth or death by denial. Perhaps every year, every moment is really that transformative but moves slowly enough to go unnoticed like a steely river, while 2016 speedily ripped away at the tangible and intangible, leaving us staring at the real reflecting back.