When I was a kid I could fill an entire summer in my backyard. I’d spend afternoons throwing a football or frisbee, building forts, playing pretend, or any other series of distractions my brothers and I could imagine. With a little open space and time, anything seemed possible.
Looking back on these backyard adventures: the popup lemonade shop, the kingdom ruled for one day and then ruined by a neighbor’s coup, the plastic army men melted and laid on top of firecrackers, they seem perfect. These childhood scenes didn’t depend on a schedule, or a long-term goal. This remembered time didn’t seem to be divvied up into smaller investments to be stacked one on top of another. Time, as adults say, seemed wasted.
On those first few warm days of the season, when you are finally in shorts and the sun and wind is on your skin, I remember what it is like to be a kid. On these days, the days that Charles Dickens describes, “when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade” it’s exciting to get on the bike, to pack a bit more food, and take a longer route.
Even mild winters are cold, and often spent counting minutes on trainers and stationary bikes, building miles packed in gyms or crammed into small apartments. And just when you think you can’t take anymore, spring comes and it is time again to ride outside, and remember.
It was one of these first beautiful New York Spring days that I found myself without riding partners, a plan, or any commitments. I got dressed quickly in the late morning, excitedly choosing short sleeves, and quickly checked my mental list: tube, pump, food, helmet, bottles, camera, before running out the door and down the elevator.
As a kid, I remember being the last of my brothers left in the house and rushing outside to join them. I would always forget what my mom thought was some critical piece of clothing or equipment, and I’d have to act like I didn’t hear her yelling after me in order to catch up with everyone else. As an adult now I have a sense of forgetting something important every time I leave my house - I patt my pockets triple checking my inventory against a mental list.
On the George Washington bridge, I stopped to look back over the length of Manhattan. It’s a beautiful city, and one I don’t consider enough, but I am always grateful to get out. Looking back at the skyline, I have this total sense of separation, of leaving my responsibilities, worry, and hustle back in the city. It’s all about the escape - Andy Dufresne, “get busy living, or get busy dying.”
On River Road, over the bridge and just outside the city, having escaped my adult life, I got off my bike to pick a few flowers and thread them in between my brake cables and handlebars, and I remembered pulling weeds out of the ground, sitting indian-style during some 4th grade outdoor lecture. A few miles down the road, I sat at the picnic tables along the Hudson River for a snack and remembered how peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were best with the edges cut off. Again, 30 miles in, I stopped into a village deli for a root beer, and I remembered how I would only drink root beer out of glass bottles. On my way back, I took the gravel and dirt trails of the state park and remembered the feel of soft ferns that used to overlap one another behind my pool.
I love riding alone and remembering what I think is a clear sense of my childhood bliss, but this remembered me is a sense of who I want to be more than who I was. Really, nostalgia helps us understand the world as we would like it, more than the world as it was. Oliver Sacks wrote, “Nostalgia is about a fantasy that never takes place, one that maintains itself by not being fulfilled. And yet such fantasies are not just idle daydreams or fancies; they press toward some sort of fulfillment, but an indirect one—the fulfillment of art.”
On 9W, heading back towards the city, I climbed up the hills quickly and remembered asking my parents to time me as I ran around the block or to the edge of the yard and back. It was a perfect spring day. I wasn’t riding for the miles, or the heart rate. There was nobody to challenge or impress. I was a kid again, or something better, just wasting time.