My Misadventures In Medieval Bicycling

Jay Phagan
Jay Phagan

Yesterday was supposed to be a running day. But, like a champ, I had left all my running gear in my gym bag. And my gym bag was left in my husband’s car. Which, by the time I realized this, was already over 35 miles away. And, as any runner with knee issues knows, when your knee braces are not available, you do not run. End of story.

So I decided instead to drag my bike out from the pile of boxes to be unpacked and take it on its maiden voyage through my new town. A town that, unlike any other place I had lived in, seemed to have more acres of forest than it did actual people. I checked the air, packed my backpack, and got ready to go on my little adventure.

My bike struggled at first. The chain was on its last legs from its years being chained outside my apartment in the city. The pedals were slow to turn with my feet. But I continued on, hellbent on biking down to the turnpike near my neighborhood.

With a little effort (and desperate prayer), I biked out of my neighborhood and onto the main drag. I hung a left where the main road met the turnpike and quickly learned that “turnpike” was a bit of a misnomer. It wasn’t a turnpike the way the Mass Turnpike is a turnpike. Or the New Jersey turnpike. Or any turnpike I had ever dealt with. It wasn’t even a state route.

It was a road. A simple road with no sidewalks or shoulders. A road with a few scattered ranch houses and little much else. A road that quickly changed into a dirt road. A dirt road with exactly one house: a house that, given its proximity to the road and its large metal gate by the end of the driveway, let me know one important thing: whoever lived here wanted to be left the fuck alone. I sped past the post-civilization bunker, continuing on down the road, which de-evolved even further into what I can only describe as a flat hiking trail. A hiking trail with gigantic puddles in the middle of its road.

This was the type of place that people flock to when they need to shoot a traveling scene in a medieval movie. Where the main character has been sent on a quest to the local shire, where he’ll meet a wizard and have glorious adventures. Knowing I was potentially leaving myself vulnerable to people dressed as orcs and ogres, I pressed on. I got off my bike and walked it over the rocks. I fed it through the puddles as I tiptoed around the edges. The map on my phone (had I been on an epic JRR Tolkien-type of quest, it would’ve been a map a wise dwarf gave me) said I would soon find a road that would bring me back to the main stretch. And I was hellbent on finding that road, come hell or high (puddle) water.

Besides, where was my sense of adventure?

The roads got rockier and rockier. The puddles became bigger and bigger. If my bike had been named Artax, it would’ve died halfway through, because the puddled areas were nothing short of the Swamp of Sadness. But I kept going, because — surely — I would find the road that brought me back to the main road. I just needed to keep on keeping on.

I periodically checked my map to find just where this stupid road was. And, after a half hour of pushing my bike down the trail, I had finally made it. According to the map, I had arrived at the junction of the medieval road and civilization. All I had to do was turn right and I would be on my way to paved roads and modern luxuries in no time!

Only there was no place for me to turn right. No roads, no trails, no paths. Just woods. Woods as far as the eye could see.

According to my map, going forward would only result in a dead end. A dead end with — you guessed it — more woods. I had no choice but to turn back.

At this point, I had spent a meager 20 minutes actually riding my bike, plus an additional 40 minutes feeding it through swamplands. I was half-tempted to abandon it, as I had spent so much time on these medieval-like roads that I almost didn’t recognize it. Surely, this was some metallic version of a horse, lent to me by the local blacksmith as I made my way to the shire.

And so I turned around. All the puddled areas that I had expertly circumnavigated were now areas where my feet would slip, filling my shoes with water and mud as they fell into the muck. My sense of adventure was gone. Completely nonexistent at this point. Especially when I considered how much it would cost to visit the local tanner at whatever township I finally arrived at to have these shoes fixed.

I went over rocks. I went over water. I followed the path as it twisted its way through the forest. While the forest remained as thick as ever, the rocks slowly gave way to dirt and gravel. I hopped back on my metallic horse, preparing myself to speed past the Gated Cabin in the Woods a second time. I only got a few yards of traveling in before I realized something pretty horrifying:

In the midst of my adventures in the woods, I did something to create a leak in my front tire.

My front tire, which had been filled to maximum capacity before I had left, was now so soft that my rim was actually touching ground. I had no choice but to get off my bike — not even a stone’s throw from LeaveMeAlone Jones — and pump up my tires with the foot pump in my backpack, praying that it would get me back to my original land, hoping that my lord would not be too disappointed that I never made it to the shire.

I continued on my quest, finding myself trekking uphill on dirt and gravel terrain. I vaguely remembered going on this little adventure as an alternative to the knee-battering activity known as running. But, at this point, I might as well have been stomping barefoot on granite stone for an hour, because every tendon in my knees was in agony. I paused to pump air in my weird, mechanical horse for a second time. The dirt slowly turned into a magical invention I later learned was “asphalt”, and I continued onwards until I saw a weirdly familiar road.

I followed that road as far as my leaky rounded horse hooves (or “tires”, as they call them) could take me, pausing again and again to fill them with air, and continued forward, shocked by how quickly a different version of these mechanical horses — perhaps even mechanic carriages — zipped by me on this “asphalt” road. As fast and as frightening as they were, I was just happy no one jumped out of these metallic carriages with bows and arrows and demanded my remaining silver.

I paused briefly at a nearby lake, if only to dip my shoes in and wash the mud off of them. I tried daintily balancing on a rock, dipping one toe in at a time, before realizing how silly it was, trying to keep a foot dry when it was only going to get soaked in lake water. I then jumped in up to my ankles, swishing the water around my once-new shoes, and tiptoed back to the road. Perhaps I wouldn’t even take my shoes to the tanner to get them fixed. Perhaps I could trade them for a new pair, or maybe a proper, non-mechanical horse.

I zipped home, even as my legs tried to give out on me, even as my mechanical horse (or “bike”) lost more and more air. I had to get back: I had left the door to my mechanical carriage storage lot (or “garage”) open and had been gone for way longer than expected. Who knew what type of bandits would infiltrate my cottage while I was away on my adventure.

I made a right onto my street, parked my bike and its squishy tires into the garage, and stomped up the stairs. After a moment of disorientation, I threw my shoes, along my with soaked socks and disgustingly muddied pants, into the washing machine. I scanned the area one last time before trudging upstairs, where I drew myself a steaming-hot bath, turned the music from the stereo up to full blast, and proceeded to take a very, very long bubble bath, complete with a glass (or two) of wine. Wine that I poured out in my kitchen while the water ran in the bathtub. A kitchen, complete with its refrigerator and freezer, its little electric hum letting me know that it was still working.

I drank as I bathed without remorse, because if the soap and water couldn’t wash away the adventure of that day, the booze definitely would.

And so my adventure in the medieval forest came to an end. I listened to Top 40 hits as I played with the bubbles and imagined an afternoon sitting on my couch and watching copious amounts of cable television. With ice cream. And ibuprofen. Glorious ibuprofen. And maybe, if I felt up to it, I’d swing by the mall that night and see if any tennis shoes were on sale at the local Payless.

And that road? I checked online after my semi-drunken bath. According to the satellite view of earth, the road that connects Middle Earth with civilization does actually exist. It’s just that it starts at the main drag and dead ends barely half a mile into the forest, followed by acres and acres of woods between the dead end and where I had been.

The best part? This imaginary road apparently goes across the middle of a lake in these woods. That’s what I get for blindly trusting GPS to get me through the forest of Arda. TC mark

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