By Christopher Cudworth
Pretty soon I’m packing up for a trip to Southwest Wisconsin. Some friends and I are going to visit Taliesin, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright south of Spring Green, Wisconsin. We’ll also enjoy a play the next night at the American Player’s Theater, the outdoor Shakespeare venue where whip-poor-wills often sing over the voices of the actors. Pure Wisconsin. Oh wait. That’s Michigan that’s pure. Ah, what the hell. It’s just advertising.
And while I love riding in southwest Wisconsin, it’s time for a little break from the bike even though I haven’t even been riding that much this year. And how does that make sense? It’s partly logistical. When you go cycling you not only have to carry the bike in the vehicle or on the vehicle or behind the vehicle, but you pack a whole set of kits and shoes and helmets and socks and shades and water bottles and you get the picture. I love cycling, but life has been full of one thing after another and it hasn’t slowed down all that much, lately. So I’m simplifying. For a weekend at least.
Scene of the crash
Strangely, I’ll be thinking about cycling even without the bike. Because directly across the street from the American Player’s Theater is the ditch where I wound up after a 40 mph wipeout thanks to bike wobble last September during The Wright Stuff Century.
So you see there’s an odd little confluence of life events going into this weekend. The FLW connection. The Shakespeare play (we’re seeing a comedy called Too Many Wives, or something) and the site of the bike crash. Somewhere in that ditch is one of my water bottles, I’m pretty sure. And a few shards of my cycling innocence. I had never crashed before that horrifying 10 second incident.
Echoes of tremors
But the possibility remains. Just last week going down a hill at 35 the bike began to shimmy beneath me and I immediately clamped my knees to the top bar as I’ve been told. And the bike settled down. But it’s like riding a nervous horse or something. Or maybe I’m the nervous horse. Some cycling experts actually theorize that fear makes bike wobble worse. Or even makes it happen. Self fulfilling prophecy?
Which is positively theatrical when you think about it, and Shakespearean in origin. It seems so many Shakespeare plays make observations about self-perception and how our vision of ourselves and others is seldom accurate. Plot twists. Character shifts. Gender and love and expectations all shift like tectonic plates. Life changes us, or we change lives. And then there’s death, too.
The Bible presents similar scenarios. Stories that twist back on themselves and result in tragedy before you can see it coming. Then redemption. Salvation even.
A deep breath
Which is why, in some dark recess of my mind, it is fine to leave the bike behind this time. Go up there and run a couple times, suffering up the hills in my half conditioned condition. Think back to a time when I was 21 years old and fell in love with the green eyes of a woman I met at a college RA Retreat. You don’t think it can happen, falling in love at first sight. But it can. Eyes can do that to you.
That week I also ran 80 miles, getting up at 5:30 a.m to get in 8 before breakfast, and another 8-10 miles at night before dinner. It was August. The crickets cheered me on and the bright purple faces of bergamot flowers shone in the happy dew and buzzed with bees all day. I could run forever, it seemed, with scenes like that to cheer me on. Who needs crowds when you’ve got crows and cows?
One sees why Frank Lloyd Wright loved the Highlands of Wisconsin. There are ideas behind every tree and flowering hopes on the hillsides. Even in winter the place has a loopy, deep topographical signature that calls your mind beyond a present that always seems steeped in obligations. You can get away there. Especially if you run and ride.
Then when night arrives you wait for that haunting moon, if it is full, to heighten the mist in the valleys, where secrets go off to sleep. Then they awaken again with our senses, and new ideas on what to do, and how to think.
You can feel as alive as the swallows dipping over the meadows. That is why we run and ride. But not always both.