Keizer, OR :: It’s important enough to me to bring my bike on this trip that I’d be willing to sacrifice one – no, two – of my seven boxes of books to fit the bike in the trailer or RV. Something I’ve discovered in the last couple years, but have yet to fully embrace, is that I love exploring the world from the seat of my bike. Nothing compares to a good walk, especially one that is slow and rambling and meditative. But biking is under-appreciated for its writerly pace.
I do a lot of my creative writing and grant writing in coffee shops. Since coming to Keizer, I’ve been riding each morning to Coffee Paradigm, a great little coffee shop located in what was once a house built in 1914. Coffee Paradigm is an easy three mile ride from where Kate, Molly, and I are staying at my parents’ place. I decided to take the scenic route on my way home from the coffee shop today. I didn’t have a map, or a cell phone in case I got lost, but I wasn’t too concerned. I pointed my bike in the general direction of home and let the road take me where it would.
Where the road took me was on a nine mile detour. I got on Windsor Island Road, which quickly twisted and turned its way right out of the Keizer city limits. The road narrowed and the pavement changed from cement to asphalt. The houses and schools and churches disappeared, and I was surrounded by orchards, nurseries, and hop fields.
It was beautiful but I was lost. Windsor Island Road became Simon Street became 9th Avenue became Salmon Street became Ravena Drive. I thought about turning around, but I have this thing against backtracking and so I kept going with the vague hope that River Road, Keizer’s main drag, was somewhere to the right.
A gentle rain started to fall. The bike lane had long since disappeared, but traffic was light. Occasionally a gravel or manure truck rumbled past me on my left. I waved casually in the country way to the tractor going the other direction. I wished I had my cell phone. I thought about asking directions from the farmer who had driven his truck to his mailbox. Instead I said hello and kept riding. Two mean dogs chased me down the road. I outran one and yelled at the other to go back home, which it did, thank God. I was reminded of something I read earlier in the day. It was in Psalm 124, which in the Benedictine short breviary is labeled “a song of pilgrimage”: “Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.”
Finally, improbably, when I was starting to despair, I climbed a difficult hill. I stopped at the top to catch my breath and found myself standing just a few feet away from a sign marking the Keizer city limits. I was close to home, even if I didn’t know the best way to get there (see the above map).
I wasn’t annoyed that I rode 12 miles when I was expecting three. I saw nine extra miles of countryside I probably wouldn’t have seen in a car, where it is too easy to turn around, if I would have taken the scenic route at all. I experienced firsthand – and on the world’s most fuel efficient vehicle – one of the key characteristics of Keizer: the suddenness of its proximity to farmland. I want to ride my bike around the little towns we visit across America. I want to get lost but not too lost. And, now that I know where Windsor Island Road ends up, I may want to do today’s ride again. But on purpose.