To celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary this year, Jeannie and I decided that we will take a vacation bicycle trip toward the end of November. In an effort to prepare, I’ve taken to the streets over the past few months on the fine machine that once belonged to my father-in-law; the bike remains in great shape thanks to the maintenance expertise of the good folks at Epic Cycles in Black Mountain.
I remember my first bicycle, a bright red little Western Flyer-style with conventional seat, handlebars, and bell. I remember my maiden voyage without training wheels courtesy of my father’s instruction: Point your nose at the handlebar post, and peddle! (Decades later that tip would work for all three of my children on their first attempt, too.) I remember how that bike expanded my horizons from one end of our street’s sidewalk to the other, an early step toward independence. Somehow, though, I misplaced the thrill as I got older. By the time I’d logged seven years for the Richmond County Daily Journal, a bicycle was just a way to get the newspapers delivered—just part of the job.
As a youth I never brought a bicycle to Montreat. My bikes didn’t possess the gears and I didn’t possess the fitness for that to make any sense at all. So I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the pleasures of discovering Montreat by bicycle this year for the very first time. A former runner, I’ve learned to appreciate the miles you can cover while cycling and the more varied experiences those miles bring. I’m more likely to greet people, and even stop and talk along the road, than I was while running. I’m not exactly sure why that is; I just know that breaking concentration doesn’t seem to disrupt the flow of a bike ride in the same way. Meanwhile, the short visits have helped reacquaint me through the spring to faces and voices emerging from the long winter (not to mention that other, even longer thing from which we’ve been emerging).
As spring has turned to summer I’ve taken more to riding at daybreak. There are fewer cars on the road and the relative quiet often portends that neighboring wildlife have not yet taken cover for the day. Quite suddenly the bike’s silent approach and speed will reveal their presence, and just as suddenly allow one to pass on by without too much disturbance or intrusion. I’ve come upon deer grazing in the dewy mist above the Montreat Gate, of course. I’ve beheld a handsome black bear perched atop a stone garden wall on Texas Road Extension. I’ve paused to give way to a wild turkey waddling across a trail at a leisurely pace, and raced a pileated woodpecker who matched my pace precisely while we both flew down Assembly Drive. Yes, such encounters occur at other times of the day, but on my rides they’ve become practically common, freeing the mind and heart and evoking a thrill not unlike that very first bike ride.
A few days ago I stepped into Epic Cycles to pick up a new part, and I fell into conversation with Allan Hightower, the year-round Montreat resident who has owned and operated Epic since 1999. We both had a little extra time and caught each other up on this and that. Like lots of folks, Allan was very curious to hear about our ministry at the conference center and how it’s bouncing back this summer, including the return of conferences and Clubs and Sunday worship at Anderson. As our chat began to subside and I made my way to the door, I remembered my bike rides and the new ways I’ve experienced the roads around Montreat, roads I know by heart but that are also new again. I thought about the joys the rides provide and the stresses they relieve. I turned and said, “Allan, what you do here in the shop is a ministry, too. Thanks.”
This Sunday brings the summer solstice and the earliest morning of the year. I’ll be there to greet it, I think. And to the people whose daily labors are woven deeply into the fabric of this rich and varied community, and for the ways your efforts help to make the valley and its surroundings the special gifts that they are, thank you, too. Thank you all.
Montreat Conference Center