This year marks the third time I have ridden my bicycle from Binghamton to Roscoe, NY. The first trip was in 1967. I was 14. The only way I could finagle permission was to coax my father into going. My dad, 40 at the time, seemed really old to my teenage eyes and while he did manage to complete the trip, it was just barely. Swollen, sunburned and sore, dad left it all out there on Route 17 without an ounce to spare. That 75 mile trip took us 12 long hours on our heavy, steel, three-speed bikes.
Thirty-nine years later, in 2006, my son and I took off for Roscoe on our bicycles. At 53, I was 13 years older than my dad when he made the ride, and I wanted to replicate that inaugural journey with my son. In eight hours we were in Roscoe and thanks to sun-screen, training and light-weight 20 speed bikes, we suffered no swelling, sunburn or soreness while shattering the original record time. It was a race against my dad.
On a bright Saturday early this fall, I set off for Roscoe on my bicycle once again, this time alone. At 9AM I snapped my shoes into my pedals, reset my bike computer to zero miles, zero hours, zero minutes and headed east towards Roscoe.
In 1967, Route 17 was brand new; looking like it was squeezed out of a tube onto the landscape. It was closed to traffic that summer, but that long brilliant ribbon of sparkling white concrete that slinked out of town, eastward into the Catskills was transformed that day into the world’s largest and widest bike path.
Not so this time. Grey, oil-stained and old, Route 17 is in desperate need of a make-over, her seams showing, complexion pock-marked, ribbon of white turned to a long, faded line of worn, dried out caulk. And I have outlasted her, I’ve beaten her, yet we share so much. I enjoyed her on opening day 46 years ago and last weekend I shattered my old record by better than an hour, in spite of her coarse broken pavement, patches, detours and grainy disposition, sizzling with traffic.
I turned 60 last April. It was the hardest birthday of my life and nothing to party about. There is no way around it, 60 is well past middle age, especially when you consider that not one man on my fathers side of the family has lived to see 80. AARP is hammering me with membership literature, banks want me to take out a reverse mortgage and info-mercials see me in a senior scooter wearing white, Velcro sneakers, and so I pedal.
I pedal to the loving memory of my father and the hopeful future of my son. I pedal to go faster and further every time I ride. I pedal to prove that I’m alive and that I will not be beaten. And now I pedal to thump the strongest opponent of all, Father Time.