Graeme Fife and I were discussing the beautiful riding in the Boston area. He reminded me about a passage from his book The Beautiful Machine. It’s a vivid description of some of my favorite places to ride.
We rode thirty miles, through woods and skittering wet, by way of Concord. Riding down Monument Street, the way the British had marched, we turned off to North Bridge. North Road took us across the Great Brook Farm State Park, colonised by transcendentalists in the nineteenth century.
From Lowell Road back on a loop through the dripping oaks over the glistening sopping tarmac, past Tophet Swamp, which seemed, this saturated day, to be encroaching, but it didn’t matter, for we were riding through Massachusetts back into Concord and out again past Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The tyres hissing on the meniscus of rain over the road out of Carlisle, I noted Blimey Drive (which is odd) to the right and also the seemingly eccentric numbering of the houses: as it might be 1135 then 1143 then 1160… But I recognised this from parts of rural France. The numbers mark the distance in yards between mail-boxes from a designated point outside the town line. Where two townships, as Concord and Carlisle, converge on the same road, the numbers increase to the meeting point then decrease to the next town line. And ‘blimey’, I find, means ‘sentimental’, of a music-hall song. Well.
Round Concord lived the Nipnet peoples, an Algonquin word meaning “small pond place”, but of those ponds, Walden lay just too far away this sodden day: my swim will have to wait – when I took the towel and bathers out of my musette they were soaking wet. So, too, my wallet. Buying some postcards in the Theatre Pharmacy in Lexington, I say to the old guy at the counter: ‘I should tell you that these dollar bills are somewhat damp’ as I peel them from the wad.
He looks at me through owlish glasses, takes the greenbacks, liver spots on his hands, and says, in a hushed tone and old-world courtesy: ‘Thank you, sir, for advising me of that. I’m going to set them here on the counter to dry out before I put them in the till. Your change, sir.’
Thanks Graeme, for helping me see this area with new eyes; I hope we can ride these roads together sometime.
Photos by Natalia Boltukhova