The Unnamed Bicycle Column: In Defense Of Aimlessness

Riding unfettered by a planned route

Abner Thorp is a dead man.

He's been dead for quite some time, actually, but I've only recently met him. Some of his family, too. They're also quite dead.

The Abner Thorp cemetery is a tiny speck of land adjacent to an access road to the back of the Manasquan Reservoir, along Southard Avenue in Howell.

Driving past it in a car, you might not even notice it. But one day recently on a ride through that section of Howell, I decided to go straight through a traffic light instead of turning left, as was my then-usual route. That's when I met Abner.
* * * * *
Abner Thorp died just a shade into the 19th century. There are other graves in the tiny cemetery that bears his name. It’s tough to tell how many, since some of the markers are clearly footstones – an all-but-forgotten tradition – and others that could be footstones, but its difficult to tell. None are as grand as Abner’s.

There is a second marker at his grave that denotes Abner Thorp as someone who fought in the Revolutionary War.

The inscription on his headstone says Abner was a "personal friend of the father of his country.''

I'm guessing this means he had drinks with George Washington on occasion, maybe discussed a little strategy for routing the Redcoats, hung out shooting the breeze about taxes and representation and whatnot.
* * * * *
Abner Thorp was an important man. And according to that inscription, if not for Abner Thorp, it’s possible we'd all be eating things like "crumpets'' (whatever they are), spelling things like "colour,'' or "splendour,'' and dropping the "h'' from our words.

But until recently, I didn’t know Abner Thorp walked the Earth. It was only through an aimless, directionless bike ride that I met him.

On another ride, I found a farm stand where throughout the summer I’d buy fresh vegetables. On another, just recently, a lovely stretch of freshly paved road with maple trees on either side, reaching overhead toward each other and beginning to turn orange and red with the season.

Then there was that chicken I nearly ran over just last week. Goofy thing just showed up on the side of the road like there was nothing wrong with that at all.

* * * * *

Like a lot of cyclists, I was fond of planning out routes according to mileage and rejoiced in my accomplishment upon completion. Yay me, I rode xx miles today! I bothered a whole lot of people who couldn’t have possibly cared less about my weekly mileage by broadcasting it each day on my Facebook page. If you’re one of those people, I’m apologizing now. Sorry.

I stopped using the iPhone application that recorded my mileage, time and pace. I simply got bored of seeing it. I also stopped planning my routes, save knowing I would travel, say, east today, or west another.

The siren call of the numbers – your pace, your distance and every other conceivable measurement – is strong. And there are scads of cycling computers or GPS systems will give you any information you could possibly want. There are some that will even tell you how much carbon you’re not putting into the atmosphere by riding your bike. True story. I nearly bought one.

While I understand they have their place, I’ve come to think cycling computers as a distraction from the joy of discovery inherent in cycling. It’s more important to me to notice a young deer in some woods off a few yards to the left than to know the speed of my cadence at any particular time.

I’ll take Abner Thorp and the rogue chicken instead.


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