It’s been a long time since I hopped on my bike and went anywhere. Nearly a month, in fact, a period of time which is far too long, but which is not without excuses – I left town over Christmas, a break in classes meant I had fewer reasons to venture out – but mostly the cold, wet and darkness of winter made it easier to drive, or stay close to home (or not go outside at all).
So when I saw a bit of late afternoon sunshine last week, I made a resolution to venture forth – briefly – for a short afternoon ride, and to head out in a new direction.
Cities have their own gravitational pull, geographically and culturally. From my apartment, Seattle generally pulls south (towards downtown) or east (toward the University). There’s a natural inclination to start out in those directions, not only because it means beginning with a downhill, but because those are the directions where most destinations lay. Even when starting a ride without a destination in mind, or when deciding where, exactly, to go, the unconscious inclination is to start there, in the directions to which I’ve become accustomed.
There’s nothing wrong with letting this impulse guide me most of the time – even starting on a familiar path, there are still wide variations and paths I have not yet seen. But it also makes sense to recognize the routine, and actively decide to go elsewhere, to ride toward the neglected compass points.
So when I headed outside in the thin late-afternoon sunlight, I decided to head north, a way I’d rarely ventured even in a car. For a destination (it’s generally easier for me to choose a spot on the map to head toward, rather than attempting a random route) I settled for a block of green on the map I hadn’t yet seen, Carkeek Park.
The day was chilly, but dry, with clear views across the Sound to the Olympic Mountains, views so impressive I had to stop a number of times when the vista opened on a cross street. When I reached the park, I parked the bike and started down a walking trail to see what I would find with the fading light I had left.
Very quickly, the trail dropped into the trees, a sliver of nature secluded from the surrounding streets. Above, there were still glimpses of houses through the bare branches – I’m sure in summer the full greenery would block even that reminder of the city from the path.
Even though the pavement was dry on my ride, once in the park a fine coat of moisture sat on all surfaces, and in places the trail turned to mud and standing water. The trees seemed to funnel and capture moisture, giving it even more of a feeling of being a separate landscape from the city. The path descended steeply down until it reached the bottom of a ravine, where it joined a wider trail which ran alongside a creek. As I was running low on light, I left the rest of the park for another day.
I rode back, stealing a few more glances of the mountains before sunset, slightly reenergized and resolved to carve out more time for riding and exploration, even in the shortened days.