One warm afternoon in early June, Amy and I decided to go for a bike ride. She called off work, I called off work, and that was that. The day was ours. We stood in her kitchen and drank iced coffee to prepare for the excursion. Planning went no further. We would go where our cycles took us, hell to all.
Amy and I departed with the hope of stumbling onto a paved trail that led west along the Mighty Cuyahoga, toward Stow. Instead we found ourselves ineffectually navigating the back roads of West Kent. Amy couldn’t quite remember how to reach the trail, so we let our adventurers’ spirits run wild. We crossed a dilapidated bridge that had been blocked with 3’ tall dirt mounds at each side to impede the progress of intrepid journeymen like ourselves. Passage was not that difficult. We were able step over the far edge of the mound where the dirt was not piled as high. Then Amy handed me the bikes. The bridge spanned a series of railroad tracks below. We stopped in the middle, hoping to see a train rattle past.
Our attention wavered when a guy on a motorcycle jumped the mound at our left. He had his girlfriend step off the back of his cycle before he did it. He executed the task with aplomb, as the front tire came down with a squeal upon the wooden surface of the bridge. Then he accelerated again and catapulted himself over the second jump. His girlfriend ran after him and became a bit tripped up when confronted with the dirt mounds. She gave us a breathy and uncomfortable “Hi,” as if to say: “He does this all the time.” We wondered how far she would have to run that day.
After about 15 minutes, Amy and I decided to abandon the train idea, and crossed the bridge. Immediately to our right was a tree-lined dirt road that led down a ravine. It screamed for cyclists, so I signaled with my right hand and turned inside. We made sure to casually ignore the ‘NO TRESPASSING: THIS MEANS YOU!’ and ‘HOURS OF OPERATION: [blank]’ signs that lined both sides of the road. I assumed that the signs were geared more towards solicitors than a pair of benign bikers. The road dipped in front of us and we rode down a steep hill and across some railroad tracks. An attractive McMansion sat at the bottom of the ravine. The house butted against a man-made pond. A dozen or so geese relaxed along the water’s edge and I used my momentum down the hill to scatter their ranks.
“Whoa!” I yelled, kicking my legs as if I were out of control.
We found a road that led behind the house and began a climb above what appeared to be a rock quarry. To our left, up a bit higher, ran the railroad tracks we had crossed. A few hundred feet to the right, on the other side of the quarry, a red pickup truck sped back toward the house. The dust trail lingered long after the truck had gone. I began to worry about the signs that marked the entrance to this place.
We stopped before the road turned us back toward the entrance. Just beyond the turn, a diesel tractor hacked at high grass in a sloped field. Amy and I hoped to find a path at the tree line bordering the pasture. Very much wanting out of the place, we rode, as best as we could manage, through the high grass. We made it about halfway before the drone of the mower ceased.
I turned and saw Amy drifting over to the man on the tractor.
“How did you two get in here?” he asked, removing his Caterpillar cap and mopping the sweat off his bald scalp.
Amy pointed vaguely in the direction we had come. As she was a woman (and he, an older man; lest a heavy-set older man; lest a lonely, bald, heavy-set older man on a tractor), Amy was better suited to do the talking. “Do you know how we can get out of here?” she asked.
“The way you come in,” he said, irritated at our lack of direction.
“Okay,” Amy began speaking rapidly, as she had a habit of doing. “We just wanted to make sure there wasn’t a path back here that we could take.”
“Uh-uh,” the guy grumbled, “only one way out. I’m surprised the owner didn’t see you. He was just through here in his truck. He doesn’t take kindly to visitors. I’m working. Only reason I’m here.”
“Well, we’ll just be on our way then.” Amy climbed back on the pedals. “So, that way?”
“Yeah, and I’d hurry if I was you. He’ll run you right outta’ here.”
We began to retrace our tracks. Luckily, the terrain allowed us a down slope so we could pick up some speed before passing the house. There would still be that steep climb to get back onto the main road. It could cause a problem if the mysterious owner attempted pursuit. But we’d climb that hill when we came to it. Our dust trails rose higher and higher as we began to pick up speed.
I looked over at Amy.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” she said.
“Full steam ahead, I guess.”
A train whistle sounded in the distance. The flight began. The shifters clicked. The chains shuddered into high gears.
We hit a straightaway that put us in a direct line-of-sight with the house and the red pickup truck that had come to rest beside it. We were exposed for about a minute-and-a-half as we pedaled as fast as we could down the hill. To reduce drag, I tucked my body low to the frame. Amy and I flew past the house and had reached a healthy speed to carry us most of the way up the hill. The problem was that a passing train had cut off our intended exit vector.
The road forked at the crossing: turning right would run us into the train, turning left, though potentially dangerous, would afford us some more distance from the house. Instead of waiting for the train to pass, we continued our burn past the crossing and along another dirt road, which continued to leave us exposed to the man in the truck. We were still making good progress, but had begun another climb. Our momentum waned. We were in uncharted territory. My legs burned and I turned back to see how Amy was faring.
The red truck, right behind her, spat dust trails at it approached. The cab bobbed up and down in a frenzied rage. I stopped. It pulled alongside Amy, nearly knocking her over. We had been caught. The old man in the truck wasted no time.
“What the fuck you doin’ here?” he belted at us. “Can’t you read or you just ig’nant?”
Amy was a woman—he, an old man. I thought it best for her to field this one. She shrugged jokingly. “Eh. . .”
He wasn’t laughing. I glanced inside his truck. It was covered in dust: caked across the dashboard and steering wheel, the inside and outside of the windshield, obscuring the mirrors, over the visor of his John Deere hat. I imagined a permanent layer smeared against the walls of his nasal cavity and lungs and innards.
“Well, we got lost in the woods,” she lied breathily. The recent exertion had caused her to speak even faster. “We found a path that came out over there.” She gestured vaguely in the direction from whence we came.
“Over there, by the guy on the tractor. He told us to come this way.”
“Didn’t fucking think to go back, or you just stupid? You from ‘round here?”
“We go to the University. We didn’t know—“
“You fucking kids think you can go wherever the fuck you want. Just do whatever. So fucking free and easy. I’m just some fucking asshole who lives down here. Don’t give no shits about nothing. Never—“
Amy cut to the quick. “Sir, how do we get out of here?” She said this quickly.
“So, straight then?”
He gestured in a way that could be vaguely considered a nod. “Get the fuck out of here.”
“We were leaving anyway,” Amy said. “So, this way?” She pointed more directly.
The old man in the quarry faded into the distance, as we spit our own dust trails back at him. A hundred feet later, we reached a locked gate that led onto the main road. I bent low and crawled beneath the rusty arm. Amy slid the bikes to me.
“Another hundred feet and we would have made it,” I said.
“Yeah, fuck that guy,” Amy said after she slid out.
Our bikes had become covered in dust that dried out our chains, gears, and bearings. Our throats were dry; our zeal was dry. The dust had inundated every facet of our beings. It had settled into our innards. Amy and I squeaked and groaned the whole way back to her house. We sat on her front porch, drank iced coffee, dusted each other off, and reflected on living life free and easy.