The Mindful Ride
Eric J. Weiner
The sound of two tires crushing fine rock and shell is overwhelmed only by the morning light that mingles in the shallow haze floating just above the surface of Three Mile Harbor. My breathing settles into the rhythm of my legs and the sea gently wrestles the sun’s warmth around her brackish tongue. The breeze out of the Northwest is no help, but I know she will be at my back when I make my way down Hayground to Mecox. Yet that is many miles away and I have to say to myself against the wind, “Stay Present, Be Mindful.” It’s always a challenge for me. Worse than a steep ascent or the break-neck traffic on 27 or Springs Fireplace. Stay Present. Feel. See. Hear. Think. Be here! Not five miles or 30 minutes later. But now! I struggle to return to my legs churning a metronomic beat and I slowly become aware of the wind drying the sweat on my arms as I might feel my daughter sigh inaudibly from beyond her dreams.
I head up Springy Banks toward Cedar Park, past Oyster Shores on my right, winding up slight elevations, dipping down the descents, the bike yawning left and right under the force of my legs. I am thrilled to be back on a bike again! It is not even a year since I was hit by a black BMW driven by a seventeen year-old kid as I crossed through an intersection in Little Falls, NJ. I smashed through his window and flipped over the roof of his car. I broke my femur at the neck and crushed my hip. I still limp, but I was determined to ride again and am grateful that it wasn’t any worse. For me, riding well and mindfulness are constituent elements of an ephemeral philosophical-physiological ontology. Not sure I even understand the drive, but I had to ride again. For me, riding engages the mind as much as the body. The mind rides as the body melds organically to the machine, propelling me deeper beyond my known self; the mind, body, machine: Mindful riding. Mindful riding is that moment when these separate forces merge and reach a state of transcendental integration. But there are dangerous forces—internal and external—that try to counter-act this equilibrium. I unconsciously grip the handlebars a bit tighter and notice the muscles in my forearm tighten. Then I hear it clawing at my back tire. I am rushing down the hill to the intersection of Hands Creek. It’s quick. My heart jumps as a white pick-up truck with rotting pipes slashes by me, the exhaust note ripping loudly as the driver mashes the pedal as he passes. He never crosses the double yellow to get around me, even though there are no cars coming from the other direction. I have a two-year old daughter at home. Do they understand that this is not a game? Before I ride—every time—I now hug and kiss my daughter and ask her, “Who’s my angel?”
I signal a left onto Alewife Brook and a fast sweeping left onto Northwest. The undulations in the twisting road have me clicking up and down my gears trying to keep my RPMs fast and free. The sun slips amongst the gnarly woods and I think—I hope—this area stays free from the burden of five thousand square feet “cottages” and glass and metal New Century Moderns. Although I have an admitted architectural fetish, some might even call it a perversion, searching through real estate sites as some might purview porn, I struggle to balance the imagination of architecture with the natural majesty of an unfettered landscape. As Northwest turns to Northwest Landing and then to Swamp I am coasting, enjoying the break the landscape gives me and feeling the solitude of the morning in the steady breathing that distance and calm effort generate. It’s only when I start to hear the trucks on 114 that I realize I have been deep into my ride, sensing the memory of the past in the thoughts I was not having, in the anxiety I was not feeling, in the stiffness that had dissipated; it is in the absences that we ultimately become present of our mindful place in space and time. Turning up 114 toward Sag Harbor, I pray that a thoughtless driver will not be texting or otherwise distracted and leave me mangled (or worse) in the brush and gravel of the highway. I am plagued with a catastrophic imagination. Head down against the wind, I push hard to get to the quiet and peace of Hempstead and the lovely village houses that line Bay Street.
I coast through Sag, enjoying the slightly manic assault of people chatting over coffee or bringing bagels back home. The boats are alive with work and anticipation and the Sag Harbor Gym is jammed. Bay turns into Ferry and the road bends towards Noyac-Long Beach. This stretch demarcates the contradictions of modernity; Noyac Bay’s majestic expanse of coastline and bluish-green chop on one side and the hard lines of asphalt that make my ride possible on the other. This tension is felt at the molecular level as a trash hauler rips by, its giant tires drifting into my lane, the stink of its haul trailing the truck like chum from the back of a commercial tuna boat. To the right, people are starting to set up their umbrellas and blankets, the lifeguards have taken their posts, the trash cans begin to fill, and the day’s contradictions seem to make all that is solid melt into sand.
Surviving Noyac Road once again, I gratefully turn onto Deerfield and immediately find a sense of calm. The ascent is gradual and the street is smooth like still water. As usual, it is empty. This stretch of road encourages meditation. The combination of machine-body-mind and the intense wisp of the tires on the asphalt quiet my catastrophic imagination. The intense peace in the stillness of the passing miles overwhelms me. Sprinklers wet the edges of the road and the ascent steepens as I make a left onto Little Noyac Path. One last hard push and the descent down to Cooks Lane allows me to marvel, even amidst the excesses of wealth and privilege, at the stunning pre-modern solitude of this area. In stark contrast to the neo-modern realities of glass and steel that increasingly mark the fields and valleys, the farmland along Cooks Lane resurrects the pre-industrial history of the East End. The gargantuan cultivators and combines look like neo-modern dinosaurs and against the carbon fiber of my machine hint at a very different set of values; the former of hard work, soil, growth, conservation, and the power of heft and horsepower, while the latter is more invested in pleasure, comfort, design, quickness, and light. Another contradiction? Possibly, yet I am pretty sure there is an illusive dialectic to be found between these machines and mine.
She was on her knees
Sweeping gravel, sand, and dirt
From between the cobblestones
That meet the street and begin
The long crushed-stone driveway to a grand house
That is not hers (or maybe it is her house. I wouldn’t
want to be accused of racism or class divisiveness!)
She is brown, but not from seaside chats
In the afternoon sun.
No, she was brown like earth and clay.
She does not seem to mind
The hard ground digging into her.
The short jerks of the stubby broom and the
Harsh scrape of the rough bristles are not music.
She is mindful of each stone.
Each one cleaned of debris.
Each one just like the next.
She moves along the rows,
Sweeping gravel, sand, and dirt
From between the cobblestones.
With the wind at my back I make it onto Mecox, “south of the highway”, where the wealth and power create distortions in the relatively inert 21st century landscape of economic class. The wind tricks me into thinking I am stronger and faster than I am. What is the truth of not only my potential, but of where I am now? We never really ride alone, do we? There are always forces operating yet are they helping are hindering our progress? The wind that helps at my back also hinders the development of my power and stamina. Manicured hedges block my view of most of the homes in this area, although I get slivery peeks at glorious architectural wonders of glass, cedar, steel, mahogany, and stone of various hues and exotic geologies. These are set against sea grass, butterfly weed, and Eastern prickly pear, capturing the horizon of light between earth and sea within the jagged twists of leaves and flowers. Crossing through Bridge Lane and across Sagaponac Pond, the paddle boarders stand on the open water like infants trying to walk for the first time…