“Have you ever done this before?” Tom asked as he adjusted the seat on the cherry red mountain bike. Its blue twin was already, presumably, ready to go.
“No,” I admitted. I was a pretty typical city girl. My idea of a date was a meet up at the club or perhaps dinner and a movie.
Fortunately, Tom had brought the bikes and seemed to know what he was doing. I’m glad one of us did.
“You remember how to ride a bike?” he asked patting the seat.
“Yeah,” I said, hoping I did.
“It’s a bit different riding on these trails, but you’ll get the hang of it,” Tom said.
“You did say this was a beginners course, right?” I asked.
“You’ll do fine,” he said mounting his bike. He turned back to me with a smile. I watched him push off the ground with his feet, and a moment later his bike was moving forward. I followed, readjusting now and again as I got used to the mountain bike. It was different and familiar. Like the bikes of my childhood but different.
Ahead of us, the trail stretched out. I tried to take in the scenery as I followed Tom on the path.
The trees were taller than I remembered and I’d forgotten how peaceful it was out in nature. I was so used to rush hour traffic and skyscrapers that I’d forgotten the beauty of autumn leafed trees.
Above me, the canopy was red, orange, and yellow with hints of greenery thrown in for variety.
I watched a squirrel race down the side of a balding gnarled tree and wondered where he was going in such a hurry.
In another tree, a few yards away was a vacant birds nest. I wondered if it would hold new life when spring came or if the cold and snow of winter would devour it, forcing the previous owners to build anew.
Along the sides of the trail were various wildflowers. I didn’t know their names, but an assortment of butterflies flitted from one to the next, accompanied by an occasional bumble bee.
“Your profile said your a history buff,” Tom called over his shoulder.
“I am,” I said. It may have been an exaggeration. I liked shows that took place in history. Tudors. Vikings. Downton Abbey. I liked history classes in school, but if Tom was about to quiz me on the colonels who lead the armies in the Civil War, he was going to be very disappointed.
When Tom had asked to take me mountain biking I’d been surprised. He was a college professor and clearly an intelligent guy. He wasn’t the type I expected to be outdoorsy. But, his profile was cute, and he was one of the few guys who messaged me that had asked about my tech job. And, he was pretty cute. He had short brown hair and skin the color of sandalwood. His square jaw and broad shoulders didn’t seem to belong to someone who spent five days a week in the classroom.
“This place is rich in history. Native American’s lived in these woods. It was a great place to seek shelter from the elements. Easy to hide from enemies. Plenty of food and water. Wood to make shelters. Then, when settlers came, they took up residence here too.”
“Why didn’t they clear the land?” I asked. Wasn’t that what people did? They cut down trees and replaced them with homes and farms.
“Ground is too rocky and uneven,” he said. “After a while, the only people living in the woods were ones who wanted to be alone. It became a place for disreputable folks.”
“Like Robin Hood?” I asked. I could imagine Robin and his merry men hiding in these woods. On either side of the bike path were trees that stretched forever.
“Like whoever wanted to use mountain lions and grizzly bears as watch dogs. They’re a tad scarier than your average pit bull. During prohibition, there were lots of bootleggers in these woods. They were the ones who started telling tales about ghosts to keep the public away from their brews. And, when someone didn’t heed the warnings, these forests were a good place for people to get lost in and never return. My great grandpa was a bootlegger. He told me he hid the bodies of three different lawmen in these woods.” Tom laughed, and I tried to decide if he was pulling my leg.
“Trail starts to go uphill around this bend,” he said. I looked past him to a spot where the trail veered to the right. It wasn’t a sharp veer, but I had to lean hard to keep my balance.
As Tom pumped his legs harder, my eyes were drawn to the muscles of his calves. He was wearing black shorts with a blue stripe down each leg. The shorts showed off not only his legs but also his rear as well. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was why he’d chosen such a first date. Did he realize it was perfect for showing off his physique like a peacock waving his tail feathers? Or, did he think his boot legging grand pappy story was what it took to impress a girl these days?
Watching him gracefully control his bike was enough to impress me. He was like an Olympic gymnast, making complex movement set seem routine. I wondered how often he’d come biking here. And how many women he’d brought with him. I tried not to feel self-conscious.
I was wearing jean shorts and a t-shirt, which was starting to feel damp with sweat. I was pretty sure I looked a mess. I’d tried to go for a pretty but practical look. I wore light make-up, and my hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Of course, with Tom riding ahead of me I wasn’t sure Tom had even noticed.
“Careful, it starts sloping down over here. Watch your speed,” he called. I had to admit I admired how his voice was still even. I had started to pant from the exertion.
The trail dipped, and for a moment we were in a patch of sun where the trees had grown thin. There was a cool breeze, despite the rise in temperature.
As suddenly as the patch of the sun had appeared, it was replaced again by the shadow of the trees above.
“Not much further now,” Tom said.
I glanced around trying to figure out what he meant. The air around us was quiet except for the occasional buzz of an insect or chirp of a bird. There were no distant sounds of traffic as I would expect if we were coming off the trail and back to where we started.
I tried to push away the feelings of disappointment. Something was exhilarating about being on a mountain bike in the wilderness, far from humanity.
“See that rock shelter up ahead?” he called.
“The cave?” I asked. I could see an entryway between two rocks.
“Caves are deeper. But, yeah, that’s the place,” he said. “There’s a picnic lunch tucked away in that rock shelter.”
“Wow,” I said. How was it that this felt more romantic than being taken to a restaurant where men wore ties and tables were reserved a week out.
“There is a waterfall about five miles ahead. It’s uphill but well worth the view. You feeling up to it?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, surprised at my enthusiasm. When I’d seen Tom’s dating profile, I had been intrigued. Now, I could imagine being so much more.