What I Learned On My Ride Training, Year Three: The One With the Fisherman and the Feathers


The Canal — looks so simple, but so much happens there.

I thought this was going to be a quick facebook status update, but the more I thought about it, the more I had to say. So here goes: another “What I learned while Training for my Ride story,” this one with a fisherman and some feathers.

I know, I know. I’m behind on my training. The horrid spring got me (because you cannot spin inside when it is cold and raining outside – right? Right??? Anywaaaay….) I’ve been out a bit and noticed that my times are coming in a bit slow. I’ve seen improvement (mostly on hills. Yay!) but I was worried. So I decided today would be the perfect day to head down to the Cape Cod Canal and knock off 30 flat miles – with a goal of pushing myself to go faster.

And I did. A little over two hours for about 30 miles is totally respectable. (But .. ouch. I’ve a long way to go to be ready for 100).

So the thing people wonder about riding the Canal (it’s seven-point-something miles each way, a nice spot to bang off 15, 30 or roughly 45). Parking is free in some spots, and usually, I check the wind direction and choose to do my first seven miles into the wind. This day, the weather was claiming there was almost no wind, and that almost no wind was going to shift from out of the east to out of the west. So I chose to park and start heading east – into the wind.

The thing about the Canal, too is this: it’s always windy there. Even when there is no wind. And it pushes you to have to work harder. The other thing that is nice is it is safe. And while it’s more crowded now (tourist season. And btw while I’m talking: People! Wear helmets when you ride. And don’t wear earbuds. And keep to the correct side of the path. The signs are everywhere! Oh and don’t let your toddler wander out in front of me when I’m clocking 20 mph. Anywaaaayyy…), as I was saying, while it is more crowded now, it’s still pretty peaceful on a midweek morning.

That means I can look around and take it all in. Some of the things are common: Giant barges coming through. Amazing luxury private boats puttering along to or from Newport or wherever. Fishing boats. The tourist “three hour tour” boats that love it when you wave at them.

And wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see heron (I saw a majestic gray one today), fish jumping, fox and deer coming in and out of the woods and even, yes: a whale (but that’s pretty rare).

The fishermen (and women) are always there too. Some look like young family guys working to feed their family. Some are salty older guys you can tell do this not just for the fish but for the social aspect. I like them all. They are respectful to me and move out of the way when need be. They never leave a mess behind. And they so obviously are enjoying nature. Some days they are just pulling giant fish out of the sea like it’s nothing. Other days – like this one – it seems to be more of the practice of meditation than fishing. But they seem happy. And I get that. Much of my ride time is spend meditating. And while I had a speed goal today, I had two things heavy on my mind: My friend Jane’s son Jesse, who lost a valiant battle to Cystic Fibrosis last month (People: Be organ donors. Stop reading now and sign up NOW. And then come back. You’re back? Good. You may have just saved a life like Jesse’s.) and my friend Allison’s nephew Jude, who at only months of age, last week lost his battle to cancer and joined his newborn twin brother in heaven.

The Canal is a great spot to ponder, and to take in the world.

Because while the route takes you back and forth the same way a few times (depending on your miles), what you see changes constantly. It’s far from boring. I really like it.

So today I was pushing along in the big wheel, working my legs and working at increasing my speed. At about mile 19, I noticed a fisherman standing alone, casting, and I stopped to say hello.

“Not biting today?” I asked him.

“Not even nibbling,” he replied.

“That must be frustrating,” I said. “Out here all morning catching nothing.”

He just glanced at me and then looked ahead, fiddling with his line, squinting into the sun.

And then something amazing happened. Two Eagles swooped in from behind us and alit on a rock, no more than 15 feet away from us.

Eagles! Do they mate for life? Is it strange to see two? Is this freaking awesome or WHAT? (I need to research this).

I didn’t say it out loud. Nor did he. Neither of us grabbed our phones for photos or a double eagle selfie. We just watched them: amazed. One picked at the other’s feathers, then, they both took off, swooping off to who knows where.

And while I’m not vain enough to ever ever think that Jesse or Jude, much less both of them, would ever pay me a visit, I felt their spirit strongly. I won’t say presence, because that’s not my right or place. But I will say those two eagles, clearly a team, broke my heart wide open with love for two boys I never knew well. It was profound.

And then, the fisherman looked at me.

And said this: “I can’t think of a day out here when I didn’t reel in something worthwhile.”

He’s right. I tell this story not to motivate you to donate to my ride. You’re either going to or not going to. Rather, I tell it so you can share with me the wisdom of that fisherman.

We don’t always have to catch a big fish to get what we came out for.

Sometimes, just the motions of life itself (casting and reeling; pedaling and braking, for instance) are enough to make a day worthwhile.

And the memories of those who are not here with us are right here in front of us every single day.

I pushed off without saying goodbye, the two of us just nodding. For a moment I thought: Oh! The rest of my ride is going to be so easy now. But the universe being what it is, the wind kicked up and kicked my butt. Both ways.

But who cares? I was floating with the joy of what I’d witnessed and learned.

How lucky was I to learn what I did from feathers and a fisherman?

2 thoughts on “What I Learned On My Ride Training, Year Three: The One With the Fisherman and the Feathers

  1. Brilliant story. A lot of us are sometimes (or often) so focused on the destination that we forget the journey itself, to stop and smell the roses so to speak. Thanks for sharing and reminding us to look around us and enjoy the moment.

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