The Last Day in Alpine
I had to rent a bicycle with a basket to finally fall in love with Alpine. I mean, I was already in admiration of its dusty hills and small town train whistling through, but I really got to know Alpine from that bicycle.From that bicycle, I swooned.
I had looked into renting one before I came out here. I got up one morning while still in Austin and Googled “bike rental,” finding a place called Bikeman that wouldn’t be open until Tuesday. I would come to find out that nothing in Alpine is open until Tuesday. But once I got here and the class took over and going to restaurants became the big thing to do, I ended up driving and walking and forgetting about Bikeman. That is, until I passed it on the way home from class on Thursday, the Last Day’s Eve. ‘Oh, Bikeman!’ I thought when I saw the sign. ‘That’s the bike rental place I found last week.’ And then that rare-in-Alpine but exhilarating-to-a-hopeful-tourist “Open” sign called me over. I parked the car and went in to inquire.
The place was small and the aging hippies that worked there were friendly, as they all are in Alpine. They lifted their palms out toward a light blue, women’s Cruiser bike. They said it’s only $10 a day. They said it’s all pumped up and ready to go. I said, Let me go drop my car and some of my stuff at the hotel and I’ll be back. They said we’re here til 5. It was 4:30.
Paying for the bike ahead of time, I met John. He shook my hand and inquired about the class I’m taking as he had been intrigued earlier when I mentioned I could ride the bike to class the next day. I get the sense that Alpinians are curious about the new blood that blows into their wayward town. Every local I’ve met has sniffed around for more information and smiled broadly at the answers. I feel welcomed by their curiosity. They seem genuinely grateful to have new faces and lives to intersect with. I guess it can get boring around here if it’s your day in and day out.
After asking John to take a photo of me on the bike with my phone, I start pedaling east. There’s a reason they use “it’s like riding a bike” as the go-to metaphor of never forgetting how to do something. It’s so true. I don’t ride a bike much anymore. Partly because I have my own cruiser bike, but live in a neighborhood of rolling hills, and partly because I’m 40 and a 40-year-old woman with two small children and a business to run doesn’t have time for such playful things. But on the bike in Alpine, where I’ve taken my soul to recharge, I’m not 40 at all.
I feel like a kid again.
I swerve. I pedal. I lift my butt off the seat when I have a small hill to conquer, pumping my legs and feeling the burn. The speed whips my hair back and the breeze cools my scalp. I must be smiling. If my face isn’t smiling, my heart certainly is.
I ride everywhere my legs will take me, through neighborhoods, past shops, along the golf course, past the park. Other than a few jumpy dogs who bark as I pass, I don’t encounter a soul on my 2-hour journey. Where is everybody? People must work but what do people do for work in this town? I wonder if I could live here and while I think I could at the moment, and even see a few houses that I’d love to buy, I think I might go crazy swallowed by all this land, under this blanket of solitude.
Renting that bike gave me time to explore the way I never get to explore, and to see this gorgeous town of Alpine from a fresh perspective. And for some reason it gave me a fresh perspective on myself and my reasons for coming out here that I hadn’t previously realized. It made me glad that I had done this for myself. The fact that I did something for me made me begin to like me a bit more. And that this retreat hadn’t been the social, party-type writer’s conference that I’d been to in the past was a sudden relief. I’ve spent more time alone this week than I have in years. Which made me realize that’s exactly why I came so far out into the West Texas desert. Being surrounded by this solitude is exactly what I needed to reconnect with Me.
Turns out I’m an okay person to spend time with.