I wish I carried a small camera with me. Were I to do this, maybe I'd even have a photo to accompany this post. Unfortunately, I don't even own a small camera, unless you count my underwater one. Hopefully my words can paint the picture for you.
I love to ride my bike. It's very fortunate I live where I do, because I'm a whole half mile from a wonderful Rails To Trails bike system. The LaCrosse River Trail runs smack dab through my town, and connects the Sparta-Elroy Trail to the Great River Trail. If I get really ambitious later today, maybe I'll ride from here to the Great River Trail. Maybe.
However, this is about the fellow I met while riding east on the trail last evening. Evening is a great time to ride. It's a bit cooler, the trail tends to have less traffic, and the light is so perfect.
Hundreds of tiny bunnies are along the trail in the distance, ready to race into the brush at your approach. Birds are settling down with one last hurrah, and you might even see a turkey run along the trail before she flies up into her roost for the night. It amazes me that a bird that big, even when watching where it roosts, can't be spotted upon reaching that stand of trees.
While enjoying all these sights, along with the tang of sarsasparilla that grows freely along this stretch, I passed an interesting looking guy. My first impression was that maybe he was a travelin' man. We do have hobos moving through, even in the 21st century. He had an older three speed bike, outfitted with a huge rear basket. That basket was loaded down with all kinds of stuff. He'd stopped to readjust things in the basket. He was one of those folks who is somewhat ageless. He wore long pants and a striped sleeveless t-shirt seen only on Greek fishermen. His head was topped by a sailor's type cap that said "St. Joseph's Something." His midriff boasted an impressive girth, one I could hardly imagine biking very far.
He was the kind of fellow people often pretend is invisible. I don't do that. As I passed, I said hello, he asked how my evening was, I told him great, how's yours, and he said "Hot." I rode on.
Down the trail a mile or two, I'd stopped with binoculars in hand to look for a meadowlark I could hear in the trailside grass. The fellow caught up with me and commented on the state of trail maintenance, or lack thereof. We discussed our tax dollars at work for a moment, then I told him what I was trying to see. Turns out this guy had been riding all day from Warrens, a good thirty-some miles further east. The trail doesn't turn that direction, so I asked how he'd gotten here. He'd started at 7am, heading to Black River, then down the state highways. He was planning to camp for the night in the town where I'd planned to turn around. I'd say this was easily a trip of 75 miles he'd made. Not a trip I'd expect someone who looked like this to be making, and he told me it was his first trip this season! I maybe made 15 miles last night, without the baggage he was carrying.
I deduced that he was a postal worker, cause he knew how many routes that small town had gained in the past four years. He shared some good birding locales with me closer to his town. We enjoyed some conversation and rest along the trail before he headed off for his night's respite.
We have become so suspicious in this world, even sometimes in small towns, like the one where I currently reside. Kids are taught "Stranger Danger," and of course this is good advice. Still, it saddens me to think of how we've boxed people into certain categories without really knowing their stories, or bothering to even hear them. Perhaps my fellow rider was a bit eccentric. So what? I'm fairly sure that the same has been said about me, more than once. Maybe I don't have the eccentric appearance, but I make up for that in other ways. I'm so glad that my world view hasn't completely narrowed to the point that I can't start a conversation with someone I've never met before. I had a long discussion with a woman who was an Olympic gymnast, till an injury knocked her off the team. This while we both sat in the Minneapolis airport, awaiting stalled flights. We could have both sat with our noses in books, but we didn't. Last summer I chatted with some of the river rats camping along the Mississippi about the wild plants they were picking and I was photographing. I regularly enjoy conversations with whoever is sitting at the next table at AJ's Java Joint. My last one was with a woman who picks a place to travel every year by opening an atlas with her eyes closed. I meet interesting people on the bike trail all the time.
Even the really weird people I've met are still just that....weird, but often interesting, people. Here's to my next chance encounter with a friendly stranger!