So it was.
I woke up on Saturday feeling lethargic and slow; that half-pace off the weekday cadence. I couldn’t resist checking for results. No change. There wouldn’t be anything for another day or two. Time to switch off. My body stuck lazily to the sofa, 45 degree angle. Lost in a scroll.
Inevitably, the exercise regime feels a little more of a chore on weekend mornings. If the run doesn’t happen by 8:30am it usually doesn’t happen at all. It was 8:45.
After mooching to the market to buy a loaf of bread, by 10 I was still padding around the house, procrastinating and pontificating about what might be.
We had plans for a picnic as the weather was incredible for November in NYC; warm, sunny, not a cloud in the sky, with all the Fall colors in full form.
The run always feels like a task, a cause of sore muscles that must be taken on thanklessly.
The bike, on the other hand, is different.
After being released from its shipping container 3 years before, my bright yellow, red, and blue bicycle had only racked up dust instead of miles. During the last few weeks here in Brooklyn had it moved back to prominence, but bar one slog over the bridge it remained a decorative symbol rather than a going concern.
By the time I’d pumped up the tires and maneuvered it out of the narrow, heavy front door, it was 10:45. We were meeting our friends at 12. Regardless is time, something said to me today was the day for the bike to hit the street.
Wobbling onto the street, it took a few moments to get the groove back. Unlike my usual Citibike hire, this two-wheeler was skinny, light, and fast, and the tight frame length put me directly over the handlebars – a little disconcerting when you’re nearly 2 meters tall. One heavy push on the pedal zipped the thing forward 2 meters times 10.
I remembered the words of our upstairs neighbor; the bike route to my destination was easy,
“Portland, Lafayette, Vanderbilt.”
I hit Vanderbilt Avenue, down the slow slope, skimmed across the intimidating Atlantic intersection with a couple of seconds left on the clock, and started the slow wind up the Vanderbilt hill to Prospect Park. The trail winds on weekends as the avenue is closed to cars, so the bicycles need to gently slalom the pedestrians out for coffee, bagels, and Saturday morning provisions. A difficult task for the rusty rider.
At the crest of Vanderbilt is Grand Army Plaza and its bustling farmers market. By this point the sun was warm, and I felt a layer of sweat on my back along with that familiar burn arriving in my lower legs. It really had been a while.
I pulled over just inside the park gates to strip off my jumper before hitting the main track.
Prospect Park has a wonderful looping road that tracks its outer edges. Popular with pedestrians and well-trodden by runners, its most notable visitors are the cyclists. There are the wobbly first-timers; the gentle coasters; and dozens of Mamils (Middle Aged Men in Lycra), rocking their bright cycling tops and wraparound shades as they whizz through the traffic like it’s a French road race in June.
I sit somewhere in the middle of all this: able to move quickly with my lightweight single speeder, but more than content without any fancy cleats or dominant road behavior.
And so it was. I found a nice middle groove on the anti-clockwise route, on what have could been the most glorious weather of the year.
A few minutes in, some runners completed a race. As they reached the end marker, their friends whooped with joy. I didn’t realize there were park races still happening. Then a few seconds later, some others finished theirs a few hundred feet over. Two running races – who would have thought it.
And then the penny, the nickel, the dime, dropped.
I was right about the race, it just wasn’t the kind that you do for fun on a Saturday in the park.
I kept up my pedaling cadence, touring through the various parts of the park, winding in and out of the airspace of the main road at the perimeter.
Horns started to blare. Pots and pans rattled. Excited voices raised themselves.
Round to the south, into Windsor Terrace, Lefferts, and back up the big Eastside hill, there was something in the air. I didn’t stop moving.
The smiling faces, raised arms, exuberant phone calls. FaceTime at overtime.
And there were deep, guttural, cathartic howls. Not really joy or happiness, but relief. Release. Of something truly shifting.
I just kept pedaling. Taking it all in. Determined to make it all the way around, but to absorb everything I could along the way.
For a few moments the path looked like it would never end – a rolling green vista on one side, trees on the other. Saxophones playing; people singing; a couple dancing under a big oak tree.
And then, with a big push of the crank, I was back to the start. Back to Grand Army Plaza. Hundreds of people. Thousands perhaps. A surge of noise. Bicycles hoisted. Flags raised. Cars jamming out rhythms on their horns. The sun pinged off the white plastic roofs of the market stands, so brightly I could only squint at what was happening around me.
Here I was. Standing right in it. A moment in time.
The start of Prospect.