Several years ago, I rented a room in a house for several months in Mount Rainier, Maryland, a town on the border of Washington, DC. I’m not entirely sure why I went. To do research on my novel, which is set in Washington, DC. That’s what I told myself. Looking back, I can see that I was also filled with yearning, a desire to do something different, to be somewhere different, to blank slate the last couple years of my life.
Spring was in bloom, cherry blossoms lining DC streets, large swaths of color, hope in the air, school-aged spring breakers swarming the downtown mall by the thousands.
I biked from Mount Rainier, Maryland, into DC many days. Other days, I biked from Mount Rainier through DC to Arlington, Virginia, to get to the Pentagon. A 21-mile roundtrip. Quite the feat since the bike in question was Bluebell, a rusty, crusty Free Spirit vintage bike from the ’70s. Always stuck in one of its three gears, it squealed with each tire rotation. Quite the feat, too, as DC is filled with hostile streets, busy downtown thoroughfares with no bike lanes and drivers with little attention and less patience.
Amid the stop-and-stop traffic, horns honking, dozens, maybe hundreds of buses, gaggles of school kids laughing and exploring.
The living in Mount Rainier wasn’t easy. I felt disconnected, confused at the absence of connectedness, family and old friends in surrounding cities and towns. Rootless and searching, I was always, always working.
And yet the rides were good ones, all told. Even as I hauled myself up the very last mother of a hill across Eastern Avenue and back to Mount Rainier, Maryland, I knew those rides were something special.
I would park Bluebell on the front porch, pour myself a glass of white wine, and sit beside her at the end of the day. On the days when I accomplished what felt like so very little, I still knew I had done something. I had done what I could.