[Oct. 21, 2014] I hit the road on two wheels this morning, getting a late start at 10:30 but happy to be out for a ride. The weather guessers on TV had said a big storm would hit in the afternoon so I didn’t venture to the Mount Vernon trail as I had hoped.
The question remained, though: Could I maintain my birthday tradition of “riding my age”? I hadn’t done a ride that long since I started Orion’s Attic. I decided that I’d be happy to get in my usual 20 to 30 miles.
My legs felt strong early on, giving me the confidence that 30 miles was within reach. I warmed my way into the ride on a sun-kissed autumn day and then took a defensive posture as I approached the terrorist squirrel bridge on the Northwest Branch trail. I had to be on the lookout for more suicide bomber squirrels and any other attacks they might launch. I saw that the bridge was devoid of all bushy-tailed rodents, increasing my suspicions. Had they planted some acorn-obscured Improvised Explosive Devices?
I exited the bridge safely but still not trusting the little traitors. I looked up and, holy smokes, is that Adam Jones?
I slowed to a crawl as I studied the man. He looked exactly like Jones in the face. He had sweats pulled up over his calves in the manner that the Baltimore Orioles’ center fielder wears his uniform pants. The man was warming up, stretching in a specific way, just like I’ve seen Jones do so many times. The motions were identical. That couldn’t be Jones. What would he be doing out here in the middle of nowhere a week after the season ended? The man’s face so spot-on mirrored Jones, though, that it almost brought me to a stop as I sneaked up behind him.
Nah, it just can’t be, I thought. It makes no sense. Then again, Jones may be the most social guy in baseball. Maybe he has friends down here. He’s the epitome of “fan friendly” so maybe he’s doing some other gig with the fans. I chickened out and accelerated at the last second.
I pushed on but couldn’t stop thinking about him and whether I should turn back. I wouldn’t have asked for his autograph but there were all kinds of things I wanted to say to him. I would thank him for his work ethic and hustle, how hard he runs out every ball in every game. I’d thank him for giving so much of himself to his team and his town. I’d thank him for the way he interacts with the fans. I don’t mind dropping the dollars my girlfriend Won-ok and I do on the O’s, I’d tell him, because he and the rest of our guys don’t play like millionaire gold bricks. They work on the baseball field.
I also wanted to thank him and the whole Orioles team for giving Won-ok and I so many memories and turning in such a great season. I wanted to compliment him and the boys for not throwing in the towel when Matt Wieters and Manny Machado went down or when Chris Davis shot all of Birdland in the foot by getting himself suspended for the playoffs.
I approached another bridge, one of the highest-over-the-ground on the trail. Maybe I should go back for another look, I thought. I could be back there in a few minutes. No, wait, I don’t want to be the millionth idiot that asks him, “Are you Adam Jones?” Like what’s he going to say? “No, I’m J.J. Hardy?”
I toppled left. I yanked myself right and went too far, toppling that way. Option one – crash into the railing of the bridge and possibly get ejected over it or through the gap at the start of it and fall 20 feet on to the rocks below. “No, Moron! That’s the worst option!” my inner voice screamed at me. Option 2 – eat the chain link fence on the left. Option 3 – crash into the center post with the family jewels. “No, Moron, that’s no good, either!”
I came to a complete stop, still somehow perched atop my bike, without even consciously realizing what I had done to save myself. I looked down and saw that I had pulled an old mountain biking trick – pushing myself back toward the tail of the bike while hanging onto the brakes with the very tips of my fingers.
Whew! Another split second of delay and what was behind curtain Numbers 1, 2 or 3 would have spilled some blood – or worse.
I caught my breath and felt my body trembling in some post-almost-wreck shakes. “Damn, Adam Jones,” I thought. “Why do you want to do me like that?”
I realized at that moment that the guy sttretching by the side of the trail could not have been Jones. The pro athlete whose shirt I so often wear when I'm not sporting my Buck Showalter stands a good 6'3' and weighs something like 225 pounds. The guy I saw could not have been more than 5'10'' and 180 pounds. I laughed and pedaled away, a grin crossing my face that was equal parts happy-to-be-unscathed and joy in the knowledge that I knew what my next blog post was going to be: “How Adam Jones almost caused me to crash my bike on my birthday.” My birthday nearly brought a trip to the emergency room but hey, at least I was going to get a good story out of it!
Perhaps the save was my first birthday gift of the day. My second came just ahead. My egret friend was waiting for me in his usual spot in the Anacostia River tributary. He was so entranced by his hunting efforts that he didn’t pay me much attention – until he stayed true-to-form by taking flight the moment I got my iPhone out to take his picture. I don’t know why the heron clan is so camera shy.
I made my way to Lake Artemesia at about the 13-mile mark. To even reach 30 miles without any side trips, I was going to have to put in four miles there. If I seriously wanted to do 46 miles, I was going to have to find some alternate riding options, or do 20 miles around the lake – about 15 laps.
I wasn’t in the mood for creating 20 new miles. I didn’t want to have to think about it. I just wanted to churn my legs, take in the natural and human scenery and enjoy turning 46.
I ate a very light lunch with a gaggle of geese, hunk of ham, a Coke and a smile -- then knocked out 20 miles around the lake.
I didn’t do a whole lot of reflecting on the ride, the way I usually do on my birthday. I have done so much big thinking about my life lately that I was all thought out. I just existed as one with my bike and the beauty all around me.
I neared the 46-mile mark as I crossed Piney Branch Road on the Sligo Creek Parkway trail. My eyes focused mostly on my odometer. I hit 46 and started singing Happy Birthday to myself in my head. I was celebrating my birthday and successfully riding my age. I looked up the moment I began singing and spotted and old, black and white Siberian husky leading his people along the trail. I pulled even with him. He looked up and into my blue eyes with his bluer eyes.
I burst into tears, a quick downpour that was so hard I nearly had to stop the bike because I couldn’t see: I knew that was my long departed friend Orion’s way of joining me to celebrate my birthday. A thousand things had to happen today for me to pass that dog at the exact moment my odometer hit 46.0.
I pulled myself together and rolled on to the house, noticing I was at something like 46.9 miles. No way I was stopping there. I heaved myself around the neighborhood until my odometer reached 50 miles. That birthday is now just a scant four years away. I need to be ready!