Bicycling (South Africa)

Chasing the DREAM ROAD

- – Caitlin Giddings

The downside of finding the perfect road is that it’s bound to haunt you for the rest of your life. Every descent will feel too short. Every rural byway will pitch up at the wrong angle. A long ribbon of tar will be utterly blighted by a pothole – or some other blemish you’d never notice if you didn’t know any better.

But I know the perfect road is out there because I rode it. It was 2005 and I was on my first bike tour, solo. I was five days out of Portland on the TransAmeri­ca bike trail, somewhere between Sisters and John Day, Oregon, and had just ridden over my first mountain. After days of rain, the sun was filtering through the evergreens. The tar sloped downhill, but undulated just enough that I had to pedal to maintain momentum over each little rise. Each loop around a blind corner gave way to another. A family of deer nodded sagely at me from the edge of the forest. A bald eagle might have followed overhead, inspiring a single tear to roll down my cheek. There wasn’t a car in sight, but if there had been, it would have been a red vintage convertibl­e. OK, I might be imagining those last parts.

I’ve been on a 14-year quest to recapture the same magic. Last year on a women’s group ride, I thought I’d found it. Swamp Road. Slightly downhill, tracing the edge of a winding river. Tree-lined and unpredicta­ble, and this time as I rode it, I imagined an owl appearing at the edge of the mist. But it wasn’t long enough or smooth enough, and either way the whole ‘perfect road’ formula I’d constructe­d somehow felt off. What was harder to find than the ‘right’ road, I realised, was the rush of self-sufficienc­y I’d felt on that Oregon highway.

I’ve never felt so strong on a bike before or since. I’d carted my entire world for two months over one of the highest points in the state, alone. But if that feeling of freedom and power can be recaptured with some surface and slope algorithm, please let me know, so I can get back in line and ride that rollercoas­ter again.

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