The sub-sonic motor of the stair lift rumbled almost beneath hearing—Mom was slowly being carried down the stairs—and a loud double-beep signaled her arrival. She clump-clumped around the corner into the kitchen. “Hi Mom,” I greeted her. “Good morning, my boy!” she smiled. “I’m running off for a bike ride on the Jordan River Trail. See you soon,” and I was out the door. I always feel happy on the broad paved trail by the river, and today hundreds of other people also felt happy to be on the trail. I always find humorous the greeting rituals of trail users. A nodding up of the head, or down—never both. A raise of an index finger, or four fingers, or eight, just over the handlebars. A smile or a non-smiling pursing-of-lips smile. Most cohorts, from older women to middle-aged men in full cycling gear to young couples with young children—they all offer some sort of fleeting greeting. Many wait for me to initiate the ritual, responding eagerly when I do. A small minority works hard to pretend I do not exist in order to avoid having to offer any greeting at all. Some who do this may be afraid, others absorbed, others seeking solitary quiet and not wanting to engage. One young woman stood straddling her bicycle at the crest of a high hill, looking out over the winding river and broad marshlands, glancing at me several times as I labored up the hill in low gear. When I arrived, puffing, she smiled and cheered, “You made it!” I did not flatter myself that she flirted with a man three times her age—she was simply a kind, cheerful, observant soul, encourage a fellow cyclist. Careering down the hill, I screeched to a stop before a baby garter snake sunning itself on the trail. He coiled like a cobra when I approached. My snake holding days are over, even with harmless serpents, so with a twig I tenderly tossed the critter into high grass ten feet away. Within seconds, had I not stopped, he would have been smashed several times over. Above the marsh grass, a rust-backed kestrel hovered then dove for a flying insect. Older men and women passed by me on their fat-tired e-bikes, making nary an effort, as did the youngsters on motorized scooters. I tend to judge others by own standard: I was out there to push myself at speed down the trail, and to enjoy the wind in my face and the springtime nature flashing by, and I judged others for their lazily allowing the motors to do all the work. I knew my judgment was misguided, of course: these good people all had their own motives for being on the trail: enjoyment; relaxation; nature; sociality; enjoying the wind in their faces. And then there were those perfectly-physiqued specimens jogging completely under their own power, next to whom, with my wheels and gears and sprockets, I was the loafer. I decided to admire them all for knowing what they wanted and doing it with a nod or a smile or a wave. Seventy-eight city blocks and one hour later, my thigh muscles burning, I returned to my car, still unconnected despite hundreds of subtle salutations. I felt disappointingly unaltered. But the river-front ride had indeed changed me, especially through gratitude—for the pretty young woman who lauded me on—and through saving the life of a brave little snake. Dad wanted to hear all about the birds and snakes and turtles, and even the people. He loves that trail, and remembers nostalgically the days and years when he rode in his retirement, his long-career labors ended, instead enjoying the birds and snakes and turtles, the winding narrow river, the wood-planked foot bridges, the feel of speed as he pushed at his pedals, and even the people, to whom he nodded and smiled and waved. “I’m off with Mom to the grocery store,” I called to him, and he asked me not to forget the pre-cooked bacon, and said to please bring home some red geraniums for the front corner garden.
On the Jordan River Trail, monuments to Utah’s eight native tribes.