Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Tale of Two Trails (Part 2)...

So, after a few minutes, the ferry makes its way to our shore. A banner strung overhead informs us that the ferry is called the General Jubal A. Early. I half expect to see a Confederate flag trailing from the stern, but somehow we are spared that Dixie atavism.

We wait until fifteen or so cars pile on, then walk our bikes down to find a forlorn spot on deck somewhere near the back. We squeeze between one edge of the ferry and the passenger side of a Lexus SUV, whose occupants are in their fifties and apparently quite content with the level of obesity they've managed to attain here in the land of plenty, only too happy to trade in their enfeebled legs for a quartet of steel-belted radials and easy access to drive-through windows.

The guys operating the ferry are jovial, and make good-natured jokes about our obvious minority status as they accept our payment. We gaze out at the Potomac and the distant landscape, tacitly grateful for this brief respite from the day's ride. The scenery is beautiful and the mood is serene, qualities that will surely intensify in the weeks to come, when the leaves die in a paradoxical burst of vibrant color. (Poetic waxing: in the northeast, the short passage between Summer and Fall, almost imperceptible, is a chrysalis of sorts—the celestial emerges from the commonplace overnight and dies soon thereafter, in harmony with a plan that even our own time of dying may not reveal to us. So be it.)

The Lexus people are talkative and eager to show off their onboard GPS system. They are pleasant, and to be social, I feign interest and lean closer to snap a pic of the display. The act is surreal, taking a picture of a picture that only simulates the reality around us. The digital screen renders the majestic in a paltry three-color schematic—esthetics be damned, give us information! It is the this decade's embodiment of DeBord's Spectacle, yet another layer thrown up between us and the natural world. GPS-equipped automobiles mean never making a wrong turn, never venturing into an unknown area, never chancing upon something new. Sad, in a way, especially when you accept the cold fact that here, sitting comfortably in their (no doubt heated) leather seats, are two archetypes of the moribund American Cheap-Oil Era, smiling complacently. I am reminded of how much I like my bike. It is a social machine, enhancing connections instead of blunting them. But I digress...

The trip across the Potomac is quicker than I expected. We reach the Maryland side and, in keeping with our second-class status (but really because it's safer), we wait until all of the cars disembark before pedaling off. Evening is upon us.

[End Part 2]

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