Ordinarily would pedal Rt 7 traffic for the ten minutes left to ride, but Dan, “hey, let’s go this way,” we’re descending an invisible path before the bridge. Emerge along railroad tracks, shoulders of houses, buildings, fence hedges hunched away, backs turned to this corridor in a kind of denial. Fat bike floats the grey gravel and I’m floating through what was a blindspot in a landscape I thought I knew intimately. Dan flats, he and Ed crouch with it, gifting a chance to look at the switches and the rails and the stacks of ties, smells evoking mythology of trains. Rita nods downtrack with a smile and quip, and a lone swaying bearded figure carrying maybe all of his bags nods and hellos. Soon, “Wow, look at them tires, now that’s the kind of bike I would want.” His imagination humming, then unselfconsciously, “…can I take a ride on it?” Of course. Puts his worn satchels down, R raises her eyebrows and E looks up, my helmet, clear glasses off now to be more human and he wobbles a few times, wonders about the saddle (“yer ass must have a lot more padding than mine!”), strings together enough revolutions to drift away.
Back a few minutes later, whooping and grinning, all of us tumbled into the joy of a bicycle’s halo. The Alaska sticker, he says, “I lived there, was there for the earthquake in ’64, everything shook,” he waves his arms around, “could be that’s why I’m all messed up. I liked Alaska, but I didn’t like the Army, they kept telling me what to do.” And stories — Whittier, Prudhoe, deep sounds, winter days of darkness, “mosquitoes so big you can read ‘em on RADAR” — never mind any more herenow the gnats or the humidity or the fading light. He says, “So you didn’t see the aurora borealis? You have to go back! You have to see it, I thought I was going crazy or like a kid in heaven was painting the sky and my eyes were going to pop out. You have to go back…”
We signal our moving on, he hesitates when I ask him his name, handshake clasp. “Well, what do you like to call yourself?” He pauses a moment more, “well someone once asked me if I could give myself a name, and I said ‘Moving Water’.” His face flickers a worry that he’s become too earnest, he cracks the moment: “You know, even if I’m drinking beer and then take a piss, I’m Moving Water.” We laugh. “Have a good night, Moving Water.”
We press into the painted brighter darkness.