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The Wander Map

By John Cameron

I had forgotten how simple and easy it was to escape on a bicycle. This little machine is a perfect design with no more noise than the quiet clicking of the chain and the hum of the tires. For years I had biked long distances. It was what I looked forward to most in the afternoons. I kept a map up on the wall where I lived in a small town in central Texas and with a marker drew in the lines as I biked them. Before long I had biked all the roads that were close and in order to draw in new lines it became an all day event, and then an all weekend endeavor. I pedaled through the rolling hills and dairy land, sometimes miles away from anything.

“You rode here on that?!” hollered a lady in surprise as we talked in a roadside store. A farmer or two would tip their hat back to scratch their heads in amusement and surely call in someone else from the other room to see me, and my bike. At houses, churches and stores they would happily fill my water bottles and see me off on my way.

I would catch myself staring at that map sometimes. I would watch it like some people would watch a TV. On it I read memories of sunset views and heinous Texas wind, savage drivers in massive trucks, and dodging beer cans and road kill. My legs ached when I remembered some of the hills I had to pedal to make it back to where I had started. All of that was there right in front of me, and from where I stood looking at the map I saw how those lines grew and how all those stories began and ultimately ended. What if I just kept going, I wondered, how many lines could I fill in?

When I didn’t want to ride alone I invited someone along. If they didn’t have a bike, I’d build them one. Occasional we would road trip the 30 miles to the scrap yard and haul back a pickup full of bicycles. They were $10 apiece and three could be tinkered into at least one reliable and roadworthy bike. Bikes were what I knew most about and everything I thought about until one day I just stopped being “into” bikes. Just like that, in a split second, biking for me almost ended entirely. 

I woke up in an MRI machine with instruments swirling over my head. I heard familiar voices saying familiar things but could not see them. A mistake so simple had sent my head crashing onto the street one sunny afternoon. I lost control only steps away from the house I lived in and the wander map on the wall. A friend who I had built a bike for happened by the moment I needed him most and took me to the hospital. I never regained enough memory from that day to know exactly what happened.

After the bike incident I healed and moved on. I traveled to new jobs, new places and beyond. In all these new places I began exploring but never felt that I had fully experienced or seen it all until I had had the chance to explore by bicycle. I ended up renting bikes, borrowing others, and when necessary buying another one all together. I felt most comfortable in a new place and could understand it best after I studied a map, picked some lines and then hopped on a bike and began filling them in. “You have your priorities all wrong!” I was lectured one day while visiting a friend. “You don’t even have a place to live but you just bought a bike?” “What better way to find a place to live than with my bike,” I retorted. 

When I moved to Philadelphia I arrived with a backpack and a bicycle. It was my first time in the city, my first trip to the East Coast and my new home. At the airport I opened the cardboard box that I had packed my bike in and assembled it on the curb while cabs pulled by to pick people up. I put my backpack on and rode off into
the city.