Day 35: Interstate Tour 2018
My morning bike ride turned into much more than I expected.
The previous day, I’d gone in search of a mountain bike trail and found that they were generally rocky and hilly, not to mention filled with scary little winged creatures that dove at my head like kamikaze pilots. Worse than usual. So, I opted to stay on the mountainous-enough paved roads in French Creek State Park and didn’t dress for deep woods riding (though I did spray copious amounts of Off!).
Nevertheless, a sign which read “Colliers Trail” piqued my interest and I hopped onto the downhill path. It was pretty much all downhill, but good stretches of it were riddled with rocks, yea, even boulders in some spots. As long as I stood on the pedals and kept an eye out for the best throughpath, it would be a moderately fun little earth-coaster.
My spray-job must’ve been more thorough since the little buzzing bastards dove on me, but then relented and ultimately didn’t bother me too much (I resisted using the word “bug”, be proud of me.) The next section of trail was a bit of a climb, but nothing that I haven’t traversed before, so I continued on.
Well, after a while, I was suddenly on the west face of the Matterhorn, looking up at bits of trail that would be insane to go down, let alone up. At one point, I just got off the bike and pushed it over the rocky steppes, appreciating the fact that it was still going to be a great workout.
Certain areas of the trail were smooth and fairly fast with only the occasional rock garden. Others required the mountain goat approach to descent, brakes on and creeping, stone by stone, down the cliff. It was as much of an aerobic trial as climbing.
Thankfully, I’d brought a map and learned that my first downhill run had led me to Chestnut Hill and I was now at Miller’s Point, hell-and-gone from my campsite. Which meant that there was another full hour of boulder-dashing ahead of me. That wouldn’t be so bad if I could stop and take a breather, but the moment my wheels stopped turning, I heard the tiny strains of Wagner blaring out of insectoid loudspeakers and am reminded to remain a moving target.
Even still, the quiet majesty of the forest cradled me and brought me to a place of quiet joy. There is nothing like standing on the soil and smelling the earth, feeling the reverberations of the stillness, and bathing in occasional swatches of sunlight through the canopy. To hell with the bugs. I look forward to these moments, always
By the time I had gotten back to Imua. I’d racked up 25 Weight Watchers activity points and probably had ingested enough bug protein to skip lunch. I try to mountain bike whenever I can while on tour and I’ve ridden a wide variety of rails. The French Creek trails are at the bottom of that list, but I’d do them again. There seems to be a bit of an erosion problem in the area, which may tie in with the fact that it had once been completely deforested by woodcutters so that the colliers could make charcoal from the trees to power the ironworks furnace. As a hiking trail, it’s fabulous, challenging and scenic. Seems to me like it was an afterthought to include mountain bikes in the mixed-use designation. Great MB trails are often cultivated specifically for mountain bikes and they come in all flavors from easy to you’ve-got-to-be-freaking-kidding-me, but local trail riding organizations put a lot of effort into maintaining the trails so that they’re lots of fun, no matter what.
After a shower and some lunch (the bugs weren’t enough, as it turns out), I tucked away into the e-mail box to do some administrative catch-up before leaping back into the video editing. I posted my annual speech from Abraham Lincoln, something I always do on Independence Day because he understood conflict and knew how to speak to it. The speech, which figures prominently in the Disneyland attraction Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, is actually sections of four separate speeches given during this tumultuous time in Lincoln’s presidency:
“The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.
Sanitary Fair Address at Baltimore, April 18, 1864
What constutes the bulwark of our...liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts,...These are not our reliance against...tyranny...Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.
Speech at Edwardsvill, IL, September 11, 1858
At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some trans-Atlantic military giant, to step the ocean, and crush us at a blow?
All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined,...could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we must live through all times, or die by suicide.
Young Men's Lyceum Address, January 27, 1838
Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by the menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves.
Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.
Cooper Institute Address, February 27, 1860”
Though it was written about, and in, a different time for our nation, those words ring so much truer today. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’ll notice that I don’t get into political discussions, or make commentary or offer opinions about our current political and social climate. It's divisive, which is the very opposite of what I what to be or present. I really don’t have anything to say - it’s being said everywhere, already. I’ve long felt that many Americans celebrate The 4th of July because other people were partying and it seemed like a good idea. Look at Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican celebration and tradition that Americans have co-opted and made into a celebration of heading down to the Tex-Mex grill for a live band, two for one Tequila shots and beer tub girls. It’s what you do. Most Americans work their asses off and love a good excuse to let loose and celebrate something. Anything.
More than that, though, is the sense that the victory of independence from the British is an ironic one. We drew a line in the sand against tyranny and yet we live in a world where we are taxed to death, underpaid and slowly seeing many of our freedoms taken away. Maybe that’s why the 4th of July is synonymous with Budweiser, brats and blowing shit up because that’s a great distraction from thinking about the actual state of things compared to then.
Not that then was any kind of utopia. There was still the matter of slavery, an institution that was present as this country was founded and an institution that would fester and boil and eventually crack a rift right down the middle of the continent.
There are usually some really insightful articles posted on July 4th each year and I read these to see what other people think about the holiday and its seeming significance. A tweet from The Nation caught my eye with the tagline “‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ By Frederick Douglass.”
It’s a very lengthy read. But worth every word.
Douglass gave the speech on July 5, 1862 to the Ladies Anti-Slavery Society at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York. Abraham Lincoln was in the audience.
Again, though written about issues of the time, the speech has power even more so today.
I had to sit and think about that for a little while afterwards. It was mid-way through the day and the campground was still quiet; peaceful. I might not have taken the time to read this, had I been home and distracted. Coming here was a good idea.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening editing video. A family of about six pulled into the site next to me and begin setting up tents, but it also began raining at that point, so they huddled in their tents and I heard not a peep from them. It was surreal - it felt just like your average Wednesday in the forest.
Meanwhile, Jae was hanging out in our backyard with some friends and their kids, enjoying pool time and some relaxation, so we were both blissed out. I remarked to her that the 4th of July has never been a big “let’s do something” holiday for us, which also might be because I’ve been in Pennsylvania on the 4th every year since 2010. It’s not a holiday like Thanksgiving, Halloween or Christmas where there are activities and traditions we observe. For us, it’s a day to be thankful that we live in the United States.
Adding all the good of it together and focusing on that column, there’s a lot to be thankful for. With the general state of things right now, counting your blessings seems like a perfect way to get through the uphill climbs.