Yesterday I went for a bike ride at Bethpage State Park, which I often refer to as my "happy place". Some people love the beach, and I get that. My best friend is one of those. I just...don't. What I love are trails. They can be bike trails, hiking trails, bird-watching trails, whatever.
I've spent a lot of time on Cape Cod because I used to live with a man from there. Very recently really. Pre-Covid though. He had a beautiful home there in Chatham, one of my favorite places on earth. So we split our time between my Long Island and his Cape Cod.
I fell in love with the iconic Cape Cod Rail Trail immediately. I LOVED that there were restaurants along the way with their doors facing the bike trail, not the street side across from the trail. With their signs "cyclists welcome", letting you know it was okay to come into this absolutely adorable place sweaty and in your bike shorts.
It's like another world for me. I spent many a day on that trail while others lounged on the Cape Cod beaches, where I never set foot.
I can picture myself taking a 2 week vacation with my bike on the Cape some day, maybe even next summer, or better yet, in the spring, before the crazy summer crowds take over. But I know there are amazing bike trails all over the world and maybe some day I'll make it to the Netherlands. That would be the dream of a lifetime for me.
For now though, for this summer, for today, I have the Bethpage State Bike Trail. There are lots of other bike trails on Long Island. When I first started cycling I only knew Belmont State Park, and it has a trail that is more friendly to beginners. It didn't take me long to get bored. I decided to go a bit more west and try out Bethpage's 13 mile trail through the Massapequa Preserves. The full trail is much longer and goes straight down into Woodbury, and I've done that ride. But I fell in love with the preserves and stick to the 13 miles there. When I am in peak shape I do it twice clocking 26 miles in one afternoon.
I often think of trying out other trails here, but I made my bones on the Bethpage trail, I always know where I am on that trail, and if I get into trouble on a very humid day for one example, that's important. I also am competing against myself on that trail. I know exactly what I did there yesterday, and what I'm doing there today. Or last summer. Or the summer before. It's a great way to keep a check on my level of fitness as the years pass.
When I'm in the park, surrounded by trees and streams, it's not uncommon to feel immense gratitude flair up inside of me, unbidden. Gratitude that I'm alive. That I have this moment in time. That I will always have had this moment in time. A feeling of pure, unexpected joy.
Often, I ride with my AirPods in because music can be very motivating. But recently I decided to ride without them just to take in the sounds of nature. I really had no idea what I had been missing all this time.
Not the birds. Listen, birds singing is really relaxing and I think good for you. But at some point how many birds can you listen to chirp without getting bored? What amazed me were the snippets of conversations from the people who are walking the trail. With my AirPods in, these people were just objects I had to navigate around. Without my AirPods they were fascinating!
Yesterday, I passed an elderly man in a kind of funny looking hat, and just as I passed he sang out "and i JUST can't wait to be King!"
He must have had earbuds in and he was singing to The Lion King soundtrack. And I passed him JUST as he came to THAT line. Those two or three seconds made my whole day!
Or maybe he didn't have earbuds and he just sings that one line over and over while walking the trail. Wouldn't that be amazing? Maybe I'll see him again and I'll find out.
I flew past two men walking and caught "well the guy who did this implant" as he pointed to his heart (maybe a stent?) and whatever came after was carried away by the wind, and maybe the birds heard it as humans chirping. Do birds get in ruts and other birds tell them "get out of the nest go listen to some humans chirping?" Probably not, but isn't it wonderful to imagine so.
Of course, this being Long Island, I had to pass one woman who was screeching to a man she was with "New York went so downhill and it's because of..." I wasn't sorry not to catch who she was blaming, I would likely have a different view. I wonder what the birds made of that. Maybe they think the park went downhill because of people like her. People like us.
Sometimes, a flock of geese will cross the bike path and you have to stop. You'd have to be a real asshole not to stop. I don't really like stopping for people who walk four across like huge asshats, but I always stop for the geese. I'm in their home. It's the respectful thing to do.
I always saw a lot of people smiling at me as we passed each other, but now I hear that they are actually saying "hello!" or "good morning!". I really didn't know that before. I just smiled back. Perfunctory. Now I hear myself responding in a cheery voice. Able to receive the cheerfulness someone is sending my way and hearing myself responding in kind. That's worth something.
After my experiment this summer with not using earbuds on the path, I don't think I'll ever go back. I can listen to my music any time but really, this is fascinating. This is life. This is being alive.