This is the conclusion to Shifting. For this story in its entirety, please see previous posts of Reunion – Shifting Pt. 01, 02, & 03, plus see other posts about this biking adventure under the title Reunion. The Reunion stories will continue, there is more to be told. Thank you for reading. ~P.
Cycling centers me, it’s my first choice, the one thing that I can pick over doing so many other “have to dos” or “should dos” without resulting in a feeling of being stressed or anxious. There are steps involved and an order to the “doing” of cycling that I have noticed from this trip: packing my backpack, unloading my bike, putting on my gear and my helmet. Each step of the biking process gives me time to be myself as I am now, I go somewhere on the road and in my mind, and I am in control of how fast or slow I do it. Even though going down the road of my “grief moments” is ever-present, when I’m on my bike, I have to concentrate on my direction in real time: that’s the centering. Grief waves may come, but it’s all about the ride and doing the biking. I reminded myself of this over and over again on this reunion trip. That’s what I’m doing now as I ride up Lighthouse Road, focusing on the “all I need to do now” which is keep bearing to the right to get back to Watch Hill Road. From there, I decide to take Ninigret Avenue heading east. In considering my wanting to stay closest to the water for my route back, Ninigret will be the arc to the next part of my ride in this direction. It will be a different return route from the way I came.
Ninigret is an odd name. Since I am fascinated with street names, I am imagining now it’s some kind of bird or surname of a someone. It turns out Ninigret is the name of a sachem (chief) from the Niantic Native American Tribe who lived in New England in the 1600s. The honoring of the dead and the “in memoriam” history of this area surrounded me on this ride and others like it, and when I allow myself to look just under the surface and take in what others have lost or look at what has been, like those tiny sculpture magnets, these details are noticed and stick to me. Death may be all around me, but right now it’s taken me all the way to Ocean View Highway.
I’m in my favorite third gear now, but neither shoe is clipped in, and I tell myself over and over it just doesn’t matter right now. I’m thinking about being on Ocean View Highway which connects me back to Shore Road. Shore Road 1A has a “home base” feel of the familiar once there, it would be easy to keep on and ride back east to my motel now and call it a day, but this ride is far from over. I want to still be by the water, so at the next light, I turn right onto Maplewood Avenue to head south again, back to the coast, the beach. I need to be there, it’s part of the ride. I want to see it and feel it. I like this road because I know where it’s going to take me.
Just after my turn, I manage to clip in my left shoe, but before I can get my right to clip, something completely unusual comes up on the right side of the road. The right side does not have house-after-house like the left, what it does have is a special tree standing there. Have you ever wondered what possesses people not to take down their Christmas decorations? You know that house that leaves their icicle lights hanging all-year long from the gutter and every time you drive by, you find yourself looking at them and meanwhile it’s just what you don’t want to see in July? Well, this was a fully decorated Christmas tree upon first glance. I ride past and had to turn around to do the double-take. I’m glad I did. It was a magnificent real pine tree covered in plastic sand-toy shovels, molds, and buckets of all colors, sizes, and shapes. This was not just any decorated tree. There was a carefully crafted wooden sign that gave it its name: Rich’s Beach Tree. Small, kid-sized plastic beach chairs and other plastic toys dotted its base, it seemed to me anyone was invited to join in the fun. I parked Auriel next to it, she looked like a present herself, and I took a few pictures.
After enjoying this stop, I had a wave of something hit me just as I was walking my bike back on to the road, call it a vibration: why would someone have this here? It had to be a memorial of a special kind for Rich. My heart sank at the thought, but it seemed to make the most sense. The love and care put in to every toy hung on every branch, the chairs, the toys. It was beautiful and sad at the same time. Was I looking too deeply at this through my grief-filled eyes? Was it just a fun joke, a play on words, or an art installation? I see the loss in people who have it, their own grief shadows peeking out. I see other signs of remembrance in symbolic gestures like a piece of jewelry worn, a family lunch gathering, a simple bowing of someone’s head at a certain spot and that person being deep in introspective thought of their special someone. I decide no matter for what or for whom the meaning behind Rich’s Beach Tree stood for, I am thankful it made me stop and take a picture. I chose to see the happy side of Rich’s Beach Tree.
Lost in thought, suddenly I found myself at the end of Maplewood and had arrived at Atlantic Avenue. It was time to turn left, and I laughed to myself about how many other people think of the game Monopoly: “I would like to buy a house please, better yet a hotel, thank you very much.” Riding along I see again, people are in pairs or groups, all seeming to be doing something important. Am I doing something important? Does any of this really matter? I have self-doubt that eats away at me about if any good will come from me “mattering” at this point, after all, the one who I mattered most to is gone. I am beginning to form the word in my mind that best describes my situation: UNCERTAINTY. This word and it’s meaning is the f-word to me. It’s a curse word of the worst kind. It now hangs around my neck, and squeezes it with unyielding pressure whenever it wants to, causes me to have nightmares, and makes me doubt the sincerity and reliability especially of new people in my life with every breath.
The counter-balance word to the “U-word” is REASSURANCE. Like a small child in the back seat of a car, I’m constantly asking “are we there yet?” I need my driver and others in the car to tell me over and over, “we have about 30 more miles” or “we are where we’re supposed to be” or “you’re okay, I love you.” I need people with a specific degree of patience or willingness to be there like this for me. I’m finding that not many have the time, but the few who do, calm me down and make me genuinely smile. The “R-word” may seem needy to some, but it’s how I best get through each day. Right now my reassurance is found by stopping at a path that leads to the water of Block Island Sound. Without taking off my shoes, I carry my bike with me, looking slightly ridiculous tromping through the sand to the water’s edge. More people, doing important things. I focus on the sound of the waves, I look at the color of the wet sand after the waves wash and unwash it, over and over again.
Back on Atlantic Avenue, the sand that has collected at the road’s edge where I now ride makes a gritty sound under my tires. I hope I don’t have too much sand in my biking shoes, they just appear a bit dusty, a chalky version of black. The landscape changes quickly, and Misquamicut State Park on my right is a large parking lot area backed by a grassy mound that rises up hiding the view of the water. To my left is Winnepaug Pond, and this setting reminds me of Sandy Hook Beach in New Jersey. Rewind seven years ago and Jon was living and working just outside of Princeton. The kids and I would drive out from Indiana to visit and spend as much time as possible with him. Our family’s move to New Jersey was planned, but then didn’t happen, our lives were spinning and we were not finding solid ground. Jon never came with us to this beach, but my kids and I loved it there, you could see Coney Island on a clear enough day in the distance. I am sad about this bittersweet memory. I stop now to take a picture of the Rhode Island Parks ‘Thank you for visiting’ sign, and just as I was starting to go down that path in my mind that thinks about past things I wish I could have changed or done differently, reassurance comes. It comes in the form of a note to my phone from a friend, I see the time is 5:55 p.m. as I am reading it, and I am snapped back to the present moment, smiling. Now back to the biking.
A few short minutes later, the grass is replaced by beach homes on either side of the road. It’s a lovely little community. I find a parking lot and beach access path and just like earlier, I’m hauling my bike down to the beach. There are kids laughing and still full of energy, it feels late, people are mostly packing up from their day here. I lean my bike against an empty lifeguard chair tower, I read only in part the posted guard sign ‘on duty till 6:00 p.m.’, they are on time. I don’t feel the need to take off my shoes, just standing here looking up and down the shore is so nice. I walked back to the guard tower, and as I am picking up my bike, about five rambunctious boys storm the tower and are climbing to its top. I look up to them and say “Hey, are you guys gonna be lifeguards one day?” They are smiling and in the middle of some game, but I continue, “you know, it’s an awesome job, you could be in that chair all the time and help a lot of people. Have fun!” I give them the knowing-mom side-eye smile, they heard me. As I reach the wooden walkway to the parking lot, I’m wondering which one out of those five kids will really do it and become a lifeguard. Just one, my little seed of an idea of what could be may have a chance to grow.
Just as I plop my bike down to get back to my ride, I see this spunky grandma lady carrying a heaping plate of something covered in shiny aluminum foil. She is a tiny woman carrying this plate in one hand, and her large white purse hung over the same arm. She appears to be on a mission. Suddenly I ask her without even thinking “What’s so yummy in there?” to which she and I exchange smiles and she replies, “It’s pizza, would you like some?” How amazing that she would offer me, a stranger, a slice just like that, her hands full! I tell her how kind she is to offer and say no thank you because I need to get back to my ride, and I wish her a great evening. I have a feeling some of those boys from the lifeguard tower were her grandkids and she was coming up to be their hero with the pizza. She needed every slice for them. As I bike on, I am thinking about that lady and her joy and love of life that I saw shining through her. Her grandkids are so lucky to have her in their lives.
After I continue to ride along Atlantic Avenue, I watched one cyclist in front of me nearly crash as his wheels slipped in the roadside sand, I’m thankful for his catching himself. I am reminded that for a cyclist, innocent looking sand can become like black ice for cars. I move my bike now out of its range, just to be extra cautious. I feel the sun waning to my left, just slightly, as I merge on to Knowles Avenue, then find my way back up to 1A via Noyes Neck Road. As I turn right on to Shore Road, I begin to think of what a long ride this has been, so many different people and things to see along the way. Shore Road turns into Post Road Route 1 and continues to have its unique roadkill sightings of dead birds and single beach shoes every so often. Up ahead is a traffic light. I see E Beach Road, the original road I was planning to take from the start of this ride.
I may have a problem with being impulsive. E Beach Road will not be missed on this ride after all. I make the right turn, and down the hill I go. I have my left shoe clipped in, it’s time to go for the right again, and just like that, both shoes are clipped in! This residential road is my new jam at the moment. At the bottom another parking lot to ride through and to the path where the sand begins. I hoist my bike and get to the water. I had been taking pictures separately from my bike most of today, but this one at the beach is for the two of us. I don’t know what time it is, but it feels late, the sun is quite low, nearing the horizon filling it with warm tones of yellow. The ride back up E Beach Road did not include clipping in, but it was still a good jam. Post Road seemed to come all to quickly.
As I ride back to my motel now, I am replaying this day in my mind. I started with the utter frustration and sobbing at not being able to clip in. I can say I clipped in with both shoes on the one road where it felt like it mattered the most, even though it was brief. I had a really good lunch, and I found the lighthouse. I thought a lot about shifting on this ride: I like third gear best. I like the feel of the tension, having to work a little harder, I like a slower cadence. It feels both methodical and purposeful, unlike my mind which is bouncing all around with ten or more thoughts at once, often exchanging the three tenses of time: past, present, and future. The slower cadence at my feet helps my brain get organized, like those steps in getting ready for a ride, there’s an ordering and a doing that I prefer and works for me. Is there any right or wrong gear to be in anyway? Isn’t it up to me to decide what works best for each situation? I’ll take the position that shifting is more like suggestions or basic guidelines, and it’s really about what feels good to do at the time. Shifting gears is a lot like grief: there is no right or wrong way to do it, most of the time you just have to go with what feels good at the moment in response to the road ahead, and above all you have to keep pedaling through each gear change so you don’t get stuck. ~Paula