Those white ovals in front of me? They’re softball sized chunks of crushed concrete, serious landmines best avoided if I don’t want my wheel jerking out of control and turning my 36-year-old knees into ground meat. The dark blobs randomly peppering the white gravel? “Gumball” seeds from the gum tree, what I refer to as “rumble strips” that warn me of the sharp right-hand curve ahead.
Every evening, I sit astride Maw Maw’s antique turquoise bike with the un-cool but ultra-useful metal basket. There are no gears to shift, no hand brake, and no razor thin tires to reduce friction as I traverse this quarter mile stretch of gravel separating my family’s home from my in-laws’ end of the farm.
The children go upstairs for their baths, and I set out four times before returning indoors to the routines of mother and wife. For two miles, I am completely free. I spend the drive's length alone, always in a race to beat the darkness and the rising moon.
The man-made wind blows louder in my ears as I move from the flat concrete surface of our carport. My legs pump hard, trying to pick up easy speed from this slight downhill descent over the culvert and past the swollen, rain-infused swamp.
From there, I dance quickly left, then right, swerving to avoid the three water-filled potholes where a new culvert is waiting to be installed. As I drive by the largest hole, something unseen disturbs the muddy water’s surface tension. Later, when I pause there to learn the secret of its depths, I’ll see a small frog kick lazily across his own private swimming hole and sit on the shore.
Purple martins look down on me as they perch outside double decker apartments. Their beady black eyes watch intently to protect babies still tucked inside their almost too small nests. The already empty nesters sit in pairs on the electric line overhead, all chattering constantly.
On my second loop, an angry mockingbird yells warning to the other little birds who haven’t heeded darkness’ call to turn in for the day. Moments later, I interrupt an owl’s pursuit. Its large swooping wings stop mid-air as I come into view, allowing the little bird to escape while the owl takes invisible refuge atop the already darkened treetops.
The grainy too quickly turns to blue-black darkness; the gibbous moon glows brighter in the increasing contrast so that by the second mile, its luminescent brightness illuminates my path just enough to discern where the gravel ends and the hay field begins.
Now, with the moon casting deep, deceptive shadows that play tricks with my eyes, I must drive by Braille. The rumble strips; stretches of rocks thick as quicksand; and hard, wheel-flattened strips for building up speed--I feel all these textures through my fingers that grip the handlebars tightly. Without even thinking, I automatically translate the road's meaning from my fingertips to my feet.
Pump harder. Speed up here or you'll never make it up that hill. Ease up. Coast for five seconds or you'll spin out.
Most evenings, I beat the moon. Then, there are those nights like this when pots take longer to scrub or our family returns home late from evening worship.
Even then, I crave these few moments alone when I can run away from home and abandon (at least for a few minutes) everything I must be, do, think. Out there on the road, it's just me, the creatures of the night, and God. I pray. I drive. I sweat. And then I come home again, turn the door's knob and open myself back up to the arms of a family who is always glad at my return.