My mind has been looking back at the roads my life has been on recently. Some are littered with debris and potholes. They’re not the sort of roads I should be traveling on or spending time looking at; it makes the roads ahead of me harder to see.
Sometimes, though, I need to visit the old familiar roads of my youth, the roads upon which I was shaped and built. The roads that set out the path of my life. So, I did on Saturday, with a ride through Nickerson, out toward Sterling and back around the county to Hutchinson. It was a good ride – 62 miles – with rain for the first hour, a stop in Sterling, and very little wind.
I grew up in this house. Just about every childhood memory I have is built around this house, this street or this neighborhood.
Across the street there’s a church, with a stand alone bell tower. My friends and I would spend hours throwing rocks at the exposed bell, hoping to make it ring loud enough that it would sound just like it did when someone rang it on purpose. Sometimes it seemed like the most fun in the world.
What I really thought about when I looked at this house, though, was that maple tree off to the right. I loved that tree. I would climb as high as I could, where the wind would push me around. I’d sit and look over the town, over my house, and I’d just watch. And think about things.
It’s funny, though, because it never occurred to me at that age that climbing that tree might be dangerous. I never thought about falling to my death, or breaking an arm, even. Sometimes, I’d lose my grip on the way, or my footing would slip. But I’d recover quickly, so I was sure I’d be OK.
Ask me to climb that tree now, however, and I doubt I could. I talked to a friend about this recently – about how climbing trees is much harder as an adult than it was as a kid. Some of that I know is physical. Our bodies are larger, weigh down the branches more than a child. We’re not as limber. I used to swing my leg over a high branch without a thought. Nowadays, I doubt that could happen without some serious stretching beforehand.
But I wonder if there’s something else, too. Maybe by the time we’re not children, we’re aware of the danger. Now, instead of seeing this tree as some magical place where you can safely watch over the world, it has become an unsafe place where pain and injury are not just possible, but nearly certain. How many adults do you know that climb trees? For fun? I’m guessing not many. It seems that instead of seeing a tree as something to climb, instead of seeing this way to rise above the world, we see it as something to fear. And that is fearful.
I didn’t stay long in Nickerson, but it has a lot of memories for me. Maxine’s pond, the Arkansas River, Main Street, the high school. All of it reminds me of something. Not all of it is good, but enough is.
Next, I rode over to Sterling. I spent a lot of time here as a kid. My dad was a mailman there, and during the summer I’d ride to Sterling with him. He’d work all day; I’d hand out. Mostly fishing at Sterling Lake, visiting the ice cream joint at the edge of town, or roaming the downtown area. Often, I’d swing into the Sterling Cafe to eat lunch. It was an interesting place. So I decided to duck in for some breakfast. I was hungry and felt like seeing the place again. It hasn’t changed much. I don’t think at all, really. Even some of the customers seemed familiar and it must be 20 years or more since I’ve eaten there.
But I liked the chance to be here for a while again. I used to eat here by myself waiting for my dad to get off work. The food was good, as I remembered it was. I also like listening to the conversations people have. I like hearing what people care about, what fills their time and thoughts. There was a lot of talk about harvest, which had been stalled because of overnight and early morning rains.
From Sterling, I worked my way out on K-96 to Sego Road, or old K-14. I took it to 4th Avenue, then to Adams Corner and back through Nickerson, and eventually back home.
These are all roads that I’ve traveled before, not by bicycle necessarily. But they are the roads that I used throughout my life – the roads around Reno County, the roads to Sterling. Later that day, I went to Kanopolis with my son, Mitchell, for a hiking trip. And that’s a familiar road too. It’s a place where I spent a lot of time, and where a lot of good memories were formed. I needed that to kick off the weekend, after spending much of the previous week stuck on some paths that don’t offer as much nostalgia or clarity.
And it worked, I think. It helped me touch further back in the past, to a time before things were complicated very much by people, expectations, decisions, disappointment or anything really. To a time when I could climb a tree and imagine anything about the world without fearing the feeling of the wind pushing me around.