Hidden Places
Joe Clark ~~ Jul 3, 2003

I went out bike riding tonight after a fairly long day at work. It was a good relaxing time to get out and enjoy nature and the city I've called home for a long time. I decided to take a route that I've not often taken on a bike, down to the southeast side of town in a certain "suburb" or neighborhood (Rompot). As I rode through it for the first time, it seemed to be a nice place -- not real fancy or anything, but a little like a hidden treasure, since I've lived in this town all my life basically but never really drove through this neighborhood.

After riding through Rompot, I rode on just a little further and found the trailhead for the Sac and Fox Trail. Two discoveries in one evening! How good is that? And it's even near the train tracks. :-) Coolness. So I rode a little on the nature trail, but it was getting late, so I headed home after riding only a mile or so roundtrip on the trail.

Many of you who know me probably wonder why I like bike riding as much as I do, and watching trains, and chasing hot air balloons. I think tonight was a good example of why they hold such captivation for me. First off, they are a tradition for me, a link to my past, a piece of my heritage. What do I think of when I see a CRANDIC train near 10th Street SW? I'll probably think of the time when I was 11 years old doing nearly the same thing. Or the time after I had just gotten my first computer and my hobby was drawing realistic-looking train cars with a graphics program....I even printed one out for one of the train guys once (I'm sure he was quite thrilled to receive it).

But even more than just the history of it, the word that comes to mind tonight is the "hiddenness" of it. I think tonight has been a Thoreau night -- a "sit by the lake and enjoy it" time. I like the secluded spots, the secret gardens, the spots that everyone else overlooks. And my preferred way of finding them is on a bike. People often complain that there's nothing to do in this town, but I disagree. There are lots of spots that I like to seek out -- the Cedar Lake trail, the Czech Village Trail, the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, Cherry Hill Park, Morgan Creek Park, Fairfax, the Roller Dam, and Ellis Park, to name some of my favorites. None of these places are all that secluded, but I think many of them are often overlooked. I take joy in the simple things, so a visit to a park might be as good to me as, say, going to a concert. Why does it have to be flashy to be meaningful?

I guess that explains my bike riding. Why do I like hot air balloons and trains? I think trains are mostly tradition and childhood regression for me. But they still intrigue me with their raw yet nostalgic power and their freedom (in a hobo sense). I like hot air balloons for two reasons. First, they give me a chance to test my bike stamina...they may seem to be going quite slowly, but when you try to chase them on the roads, you have to get creative and have some endurance. Second, hot air balloon chases lead me to new places -- a new section of town I've never visited before, and maybe a new acquaintance if they notice the weird guy chasing them on a bike or if I make it to the landing point and see the chase crew -- all the while filling my mind with images of uplift and floating above the mess and the free spirit ideals (see my thoughts in the "Rise Above" topic listed elsewhere on my Wise Thoughts page).

So what do I gain from these hidden places? In my bike riding I find a strange thing. Usually, I tend to complain that my life is not as social as I would like -- that I wish people would take more of an interest in me. But for bike riding (and other things too I suppose) I enjoy being that "free spirit" on my own -- going where I want, facing the challenges (hills & wind) independently, just doing my own thing. Sure it would be fun to go bike riding with other people, but they might ride too slow or too fast, or they might get tired (or I might get tired), or they might not want to stop where I want to stop, or they might keep trying to talk to me (it's hard to listen when you're single file on a bike because of the wind and all), or they just might not grasp the spirit of bike riding that I try to grasp. Another technicality is the planning of it. I usually don't say, "I think I'll go bike riding next Tuesday at 6:14 pm." I just go, when I can, on a moment's notice. Planning bike rides is okay, but you can never count on schedules, let alone the weather. Also, if people live very far away, it's hard to coordinate a meeting, since I don't use my bike rack much (what can I say, I'm lazy), so I'd have to ride to meet them, which if it's far makes for a long bike ride.

Anyway, so most times I find myself riding alone. But that's all right most times. I feel a little like an explorer, finding new things that maybe no one has noticed, or maybe things that everyone has noticed and forgotten about. Everyone needs some kind of adventure I guess, and this is mine -- to explore these new worlds and report my findings to those around me later. Why the reporting is important I'm not sure, but it seems to be. I like to talk about where I went to those around me...compare that to others talking about their great golf game or their great fish catch.

Well, I feel like this entry has been a little less "deep" than some, but I hope you got something out of it. Remember to search out your own hidden places, places that are known in their fullness only to you. On the other hand, endeavor to share your hidden places with others, because in sharing those memories and those locations you are also sharing of yourself with others, which is a good goal for all of us.