In November of 2020, with the pandemic raging and winter looming, I felt trapped. There were no long bike trips on the horizon, and the next few months would be cold and dark. I stared out the window and fantasized about spring. It seemed very, very far away.
Suddenly it hit me: spring was far away. I imagined a path winding from the present moment into the future. The path was thin and gray and zigzagged out from my feet toward a warm horizon. It had a clear, measurable length. I realized, then, that if time was distance, I could travel it. I could bike across time all the way to spring.
Now, when you're staring out of a window in pandemic winter and seeing lucid visions of bicycle time travel, you really only have one option: you take that journey. I mean it. When normal life is canceled and the world is falling apart around you, there's often only one way out of the mess, and that's through the magic portal of imagination. If your mind is charitable enough to create an alternate reality where things are fun and make sense, then I say roll with it and godspeed, my friend.
Once I saw the path, there was no turning back because I was already on it. The infinity of possibility welled in my chest. A new adventure! Cycling across time! I began preparing myself for the journey ahead.
I mapped out a route between January 1 and the spring equinox on March 20. It was a distance of about eleven weeks. I figured I could ride twenty miles a day, five days a week, with one week off. That would take me one thousand miles, all the way to spring. Twenty miles didn't seem like a lot, but a thousand seemed like a legitimate adventure. With a great flourish of duct tape, I stuck a calendar on the wall to track my daily mileage.
Not only would I bicycle time-travel across winter but I would do it without going anywhere.
That's when I realized there was a tiny complication to my big plan. When, exactly, would I do all this cycling? I worked during most daylight hours, and my left knee was still wonky from a previous, ice-related bike accident. Dark, icy roads full of cars seemed like more of a risk than a reward. So instead of riding my bike on the road, I figured I could just ride a stationary bike in the yard.
That's right, folks. Not only would I bicycle time-travel across winter but I would do it without going anywhere. To put this further in perspective, in the winter of 2020, this was my best idea.
I ordered a Wahoo Kickr Snap bike trainer, and in early December, it arrived on my doorstep in a giant box. I lugged the Kickr into the garage, set it up, and fit it to my Surly Troll. Now, as Wahoo clearly states in their instruction booklet, this idea was destined to fail. The Kickr is meant to be used with smooth tires, not my Troll's giant knobby beasts. When I hopped on the bike and pedaled, it let out a constant wail, like the Kickr was screaming at me. Also, it felt like I was riding on washboard. Being yelled at for a thousand miles across timeless washboard was not my original vision. Discouraged, I went back to the drawing board.
Finally, at the beginning of January, after a flurry of thwarted ideas and desperate problem solving, I was ready to start my journey. I got home from work at six, set the Kickr up in the yard outside my tiny house, and fit it to my old, refurbished, Windsor touring bike. This was the same bike I rode around Iceland on my first cycling trip fifteen years ago; the same bike I'd pedaled from Alaska to San Francisco a couple of years later. This bike had taken me over mountains and transformed my life. Now it would help me time travel across pandemic winter, all the way to spring.
The night was crisp and inky. I hopped on the saddle, gripped the familiar handlebars, and started pedaling. Cold breath in, warm breath out. As my legs moved, they unlocked a sense of inner motion. I could feel my younger self pedaling hard into the Icelandic wind. I could see the incline of the Rockies rising before me in British Columbia. And I could feel how far I'd come since then and how far I had left to go.
January slipped into February. Every day after work I got on the bike and pedaled my miles. Most evenings I rode in the garage with the door open, or in the yard in front of my tiny house. Once, a great gray owl sailed past me, right in front of my face. Later I found a feather on the ground and stuck it in my handlebars for good luck. Sometimes I dragged the Kickr into a field and pedaled next to a cow pasture. Once, on the weekend, I took it to the beach and pedaled toward the crashing waves. As my legs moved, my mind relaxed. I was going nowhere but still getting somewhere! And this is the magic of reality fused with imagination — you are never, ever stuck. Every day that I rode my twenty miles, I felt better for it.
But as my journey unfolded so did life, and soon my plan began to unravel. I tweaked my bum knee, my bike had mechanical issues, I got stressed out at work. My relationship ended, and sometimes I felt lonely. I discovered that I really loved pajamas. It became harder and harder to get on the bike and pedal.
By the end of February, I looked at my calendar and realized I'd fallen one hundred miles behind schedule. I stood in the kitchen in my tiger onesie, feeling gloomy. My brilliant scheme suddenly seemed dumb. I wasn't time traveling — I was just hanging out in my yard. Finally, I made a choice: I would quit quietly and never speak of it again. I turned up the heater, crawled into a pile of blankets, and surrendered to the warm embrace of hibernation.
I think every great adventure takes you to the edge of something you don't want to face. And by this criteria, my pandemic winter of bicycle time travel was truly a great adventure. After a few evenings of lazing under the covers, I started to realize how embarrassing it would be to fail at stationary time travel. I mean, who does that and how would it even be possible? In the last 15 years, I'd cycled thousands of miles around the world, through sunshine and rain, headwinds and tears. Now all I had to do was pedal twenty miles a day in the easy familiarity of my own yard. Why was this so hard?
The thing is, daily motion is often hard. Healthy habits are often hard. They're hard for lots of people. And the thing I had to face as I lay in the stale comfort of my domestic lair was that these things are often hard for me. I have never been great at daily routines. For me, bicycle time travel was a real challenge: I quit because it was actually hard.
But there's nothing like the admission of defeat to ignite a rebellion. The more I thought about my failure, the more it triggered my inner come-back-kid. I was a time traveler! This was my journey! The sparkle of adventure returned. I got back on the bike and pedaled. Within a few weeks, I was back on schedule.
One day in late March, my friend Hannah pulled me aside at work and asked if I could help with a goat. Hannah and her partner Tyler are the masterminds behind Goatbusters, a goat-powered landscaping service based at Round the Bend Farm, where I work. One of the goats was sick and needed to be put down. I agreed to do it that Friday.
Friday also happened to be March 19, the last day of my bike journey. I had the day off of work and only thirty miles left to ride. But first, the goat. I went to the farmhouse and found the black briefcase with the knives. I took one out and slid it methodically against a whetstone. I don't like killing animals but since I live on a farm, it's something I often have to do. I've grown to respect the process of a calm and caring death.
I walked down the dirt road, the briefcase of knives swinging at my side. When I got to the barn, Hannah and Tyler carried the goat out of the stall and laid her on the floor. She was unable to stand, and I could see pain in her eyes. The three of us wrapped our arms around her body and paused to acknowledge the miracle of her presence. I raised the knife and cut her throat. Blood drained onto the floor and the three of us stayed, our arms wrapped around her body, until she was gone.
Afterward, I went home, got on my bike, and pedaled. The breeze felt warmer than it had when I'd started my journey in January. I glanced down and saw a spatter of dried goat blood on the back of my hand. I kept moving my legs. Thoughts and feelings drifted through me, turned into sweat, and evaporated into air. Finally, I looked down and watched the odometer hit one thousand. I had pedaled across winter all the way to spring.
I patted my old Windsor and smiled. Bicycle time travel is real.