Roller skating the winding, woodsy bike path meandering for miles along the Congaree River in Columbia, South Carolina yesterday was very much like a metaphor for my life lately.
I’d heard that the bike path along the river was perfect for roller skating. Up until hearing about the river walk, I was trying to find a good empty lot or parking garage, but all the locals said, “Oh, check out river walk . . . ”
Either no one in South Carolina roller skates very much or they are hard-core skaters with much more courage than I. I’m thinking that it’s the former that’s the case because yesterday was a typical thriving Sunday afternoon in the park and while there were walking couples and puppies galore, I only saw one roller blader and a handful of cyclists. As the lone roller skater, the looks I received told me that they don’t see this kind o’ thing around these here parts too often.
I may be an avid roller skater, but I’m not all too athletic with it. I do not perform tricks. I’m not that great at stopping on a dime. I’m an artist adventurer, not an athletic adventurer.
Upon arrival, I parked the car in the gravel lot across the street and wandered down the grassy hill to the river walk in my socked feet, carrying the skates. I needed to suss the place before beginning. My definition of flat is sea level. Again, I thought I’d ask a local.
A lady pushing one of those high tech speed racer baby carts jogged past. “Is the path very hilly?” I asked, brandishing my skates. “Or flat?”
“Oh, it’s pretty flat,” the lady quickly replied. “You should be OK.”
Now, if she would have told me the truth, which is that the path curves and takes sharp twists and is probably too hilly for a roller skater, then I probably would have missed out on this adventure. As it is, I rolled right into the middle of the woods, literally. And while it was sticky and sometimes scary and fraught with snarls along the way, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
I had to really be mindful on this tree-lined path, I knew right away because the sidewalk was littered with small sticks and pods of every variety and there were lots of people walking with dogs and babies. And I could see the path zig-zag and curve down hill, but the lady with the carriage after all, did say it was “pretty flat” so I kept thinking that just around the next bend, everything would straighten out.
It never did, but I was committed to my adventure by now, so I was rollin’ with it, literally. The river is wide and shallow, full of large flat sandstone rocks. There were people everywhere playing in and along the river and path, some fishing, some wading, some reading, some chatting at picnic tables with their families. I love hearing snippets of conversation as I roll past people. One girl squealed, “Oh mother, don’t tell me that you really believe that your son has a perverted interest in children!” Yep, I thought, I’m definitely in South Carolina.
I was especially happy to be rolling through such a different kind of environment: the humid air full of the woodsy smells of leaves and flower blossoms. I’ve rolled through the gritty streets of Chicago and I hit the beach path in Venice every day that I can, but to be cruising past big trees was a new and exhilarating feeling – but I knew I didn’t have the luxury of just innocently blazing through this place. I had to be on guard, because every time I gazed at the river, a little rock or twig would remind me that I was in uncharted territory. Argh! Not to mention that twist in the path up ahead and – eek! – the hill going down, down, down to a wooden plank walkway that twisted before me with no end in sight . . . . !
Br-u-u-ump! Br-u-u-ump! Br-u-u-ump! My teeth chattered and people could hear me coming and cleared the way as I rolled downhill and onto the bridge, fully into a secluded forest setting. Momentarily I thought about turning around, but dammit, I was here, so I was determined to see where this path ended. The concrete path eventually opened back up, only to be oft-punctuated with wooden plank bridges.
In life, sometimes we see bumps along the way, and that little voice trips inside our heads, warning us with a sense of foreboding. At one point, as I rolled uphill and onto another bridge, I noticed the smallest little ramp, maybe an inch in height connecting the planks and sidewalk and that little voice said, “Watch out for that ramp on the way back . . . .
The path ended in another county in a completely different town. Someone buried their pet at the end of the path, making a little grave with flowers for a memorial and a headstone that read, “Fluffy – Gone but not forgotten.”
On the way back, I remembered the ramp and I knew when I was getting close. By this time, I’d developed a certain comfort zone with the wooden planks, and it felt as though I wasn’t able to catch much speed while chattering across. My thoughts were absorbed by the upcoming little ramp, and I completely forgot the hill leading down to it – that is, until I was in mid-hill and I realized I was going waaaay too fast to properly navigate both the little ramp and the immediate curving concrete just past it.
I knew I was about to eat shit. “Farfegnuggin!” I screamed as I hit the concrete. It was that or jettison myself into the river rocks about ten feet off the veering path.
I sat up. I could move my arms. I could move my legs. Didn’t hit my face. Whew! I landed on my knee and elbow, losing skin on both . . . and I waited for the hurt, but it never came. The sting felt strangely OK, good even. The song lyrics came to my head, “When everything feels like the movies, yeah you bleed just to know you’re alive . . .”
An older lady came running up to me as I reached for my glasses, which had landed several feet away. “Are you OK?” she asked. And then in what could only be called true Southern hospitality, she exclaimed, “I am not leaving here til you get up!”
I got up, shaken, but kept going, this time, more wary and more slowly and even at times taking the skates off and walking. As I neared the parking lot, I thought about getting in the car and just going home, but that’s when I realized I still had the whole upper part of the path to explore. And that’s exactly what I did, bloody strawberry on elbow, sore body and all. I don’t know when I’ll be back on the Congaree, so I had to see as much of it as possible while it was in front of me!