"When you’re perched above two wheels and coasting through the crisp fall air, what path, official or unofficial, do you find yourself drawn to?"
When I lived in Raleigh, like many cyclists, i reveled in the night ride home from downtown, which was a bit off-route, as i worked in an office over by Cary. On a good winter night, I'd warm up climbing Glenwood fixed, turn R on Hillsborough, L on Boylan. Enjoying the view from the railroad bridge--even more with the extra lights leading toward Christmas--while a freight banged and groaned through the "wye", below. Then on into Boylan Heights where odd stickers and obscure stencilings festoon the back sides of the stop signs. After a tip of the hat at the Mayor's home, turn R onto Cabarrus and down past the yard with the perennials, then the one with the urban chickens--if i'd had enough beer, i might crow like a rooster--past the glasswerks studio and through the narrow under the high trestle where the Amtrak from Richmond crosses in the early evening, and a few yards on the foot path.
If the state was killing a man that midnight, then one needed be ready to brake for a small handful of solemn vigil-ers huddled around candles against the chill, on the path just outside prison grounds, closely watched and kept at a safe distance, lest their prayers comfort the condemned. Nowadays, they do executions at 4am, because midnight wasn't cold enough to discourage prayers, i guess. Flash them a peace sign and cross Western Blvd. Only on execution nights will there be a chain stretched across the dark entrance--in case the post-middle-aged pray-ers charge the empty soccer field at midnight?
The quiet, straight run through darkness between the cold steel RR tracks and empty soccer fields was a great place to sprint, or enjoy the cool widespread glow of a full moon on the empty landscape at the edge of the old, but not yet entirely abandoned, Dorthea Dix mental hospital. L on campus, crossing high over the vines and RR tracks, then R, and along the edge of grassy "nut hill" while down below giant boilers howl up their stacks and huge white steam clouds erupted into the dry black winter sky, carrying the starchy aroma of sanitized linens. R under the thick boughs of the hospital's old oaks, and L before the hill bottom to exit campus past the unmanned fuel depot and the closed for the night drug rehab facility where, at noontime, students stretch their legs and reflected on program material over a smoke on their daily lunch walk to and from burger king. This cross-campus cut avoids traffic and also avoids the hill near the north end of Lake Wheeler Rd where one of the businesses (laundry?) seems to often vent enough ammonia to make one's eyes almost cry.
R, back into traffic on Lake Wheeler Rd, crossing and finally saying "good-night" to the RR tracks--them pointing to Rocky Mount and Richmond, and me headed home--past the fenced yard were a thousand gray cement lawn statues stand silently beneath a dull sodium lamp, their fantastic array of forms--angels, deer, women and dragons--made all but invisible by the camouflage of a uniform dull gray color, past the bright digital marquee of the now silent farmer's market the road dips slightly crossing the damp, ill-defined flood plain of tiny Walnut Creek, where they air is always ten degrees cooler--a welcome treat in the summer, and a grit your teeth and pedal plunge in the winter, then the steep climb up over I-40, with its own red and white light show. Lake Wheeler Rd narrows after the interstate and the NASCAR-mad "American Owned" convenience store where the clerk with the .38 on his hip sells Hugo Chavez's gasoline.
R on Sierra, into residential, past the 1960s-era single-family homes--each of unique architecture, unlike the new cookie cutters just ahead in my neighborhood--a cyclist through here earlier in the evening would smell a variety of suppers cooking in family-sized batches. Some nights now the windows and storm doors of these homes rattle violently with the joyous thunder of Salvation Music booming from the new Pentecostal mega-Church someone built just outside of this usually quiet neighborhood, or at least they often did in the first months after church construction--I imagine the parties involved must've discussed noise ordinances by now. R on Lineberry, spin downhill past the scads of new apartments where the woods used to be--dwellings attracting convenient city transit buses now, instead of wild deer. Up the last and biggest climb to turn left at the HOA-maintained sign on Isabella and carry me home on a trusty pair of stainless-steel spoked twenty-seven inch wheels.
—Adrian "la Paralysie" Hands