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The sound of the open road

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There’s a sound that my bicycle tires make on a warm August afternoon. I focus on the rhythms of the tires on pavement, a lower pitch on the uphills as my labored breathing joins in, and more insistent on the downhill stretches where the beat picks up ,and the wind roars through the vent holes of my helmet. It’s a song that never gets old for me. It’s the sound of the open road.

Born with a visual disability, conquering the road in a car was never truly an option. Travel means dependency on the kindness of friends and relatives, the vagaries of public-transit schedules (when that is even an option) or hiring a car and driver. In many places it means just not getting there. Bicycling equals freedom for those with limited transportation options.

I’ve been spending my summers in Western Sullivan County for the past 30 years, exploring the backroads and hamlets in constant amazement that I am only two hours from Midtown Manhattan. I believed I left no stretch of road undiscovered, yet a friend suggested a route I had never cycled before. He warned me that some of the climbs were tough but the scenery and stillness were worth the effort. I replied as I always do: “I’ve never met a hill I couldn’t walk up.”

Just the names of the roads I would be traversing were musical. I would ride down Lake Huntington Road toward the Delaware River, hang a left onto Cushetunk Road (evoking the Native American town that stood nearby), take the first left onto Lenape Road (for the tribe that once populated these mountains), exit on Skipperene (among the first groups of Western settlers who logged these hillsides) and finally Old County Road—a distance of 15 miles.

As soon as I made my turn onto Cushetunk Road, three things happened: the road climbed sharply, the trees came to the very shoulder of the road and provided some welcome shade from the beating sun and Fields of Gold by Sting seemed to come from everywhere.

You’ll remember me when the west wind moves upon the fields of barley
You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky as we walk in fields of gold
So she took her love for to gaze awhile upon the fields of barley
In his arms she fell as her hair came down among the fields of gold.

The magic continued as I rounded a blind curve and three wild turkeys crossed the road in front of me. I don’t know who was more startled. I didn’t pass fields of barley, but plenty of corn, cows and goats grazing, forest and empty roads. In the 90 minutes I was out that afternoon, two cars passed me, and they both gave me a wide berth.

That’s the difference on the open road when the tension of competition for scarce navigation space is gone. In a world where the scenery is breathtaking, I like to believe that the space brings back the humanity of bicyclist and driver, lets us hear the songs that soothe us on the car radio or in my head inspired by the clicking of my bicycle’s freewheel, the rotations of the pedals, or the friction of the tire on tarmac or packed gravel. The sound of the open road.

Charles Rubin is a computer systems engineer employed by a major media company in New York City. He spends his summers in Lake Huntington, NY and the rest of the year in Hoboken, NJ.

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