The GT had an oversized frame, so I grabbed a Schwinn mountain bike, and Matt picked a Raleigh hybrid. The sun was out, and the cool edge of a slight breeze insisted itself through the streets. We pushed the bikes out of the front doors and aimed north. People were milling around the River Market area casually as we adjusted our seat posts, then coasted half a block closer to the river. I angled into an open-air pavilion and flicked the thumb shifters a few times to gauge the gearing. I was already smiling. Matt rang his bar-mounted bell a few times and grinned. We pushed out of the city proper and onto the winding concrete path of the Arkansas River Trail.
Matt had already put in a mile or two in a run earlier that morning, but we laughingly acknowledged that our fitness was inconsistent at best, and that this ride would be more than just a throwback to fun. It was necessary, even moreso for me. Satisfied with our pre-flight check, we startled peddling on the trail, which was a twisting concrete sidewalk here. I grinned as my beer gut jiggled and I picked up speed and moved the handlebars to weave and adjust my balance, calibrating myself to the long-dormant, yet quickly-remembered feeling of two wheels. Where the sidewalk undulated, I pulled back the handlebars quickly and jutted my legs forward to lift off of the ground, ever so briefly. The kid inside me said, “Didja see that? We can still get air.” I shook my head at myself (I’m sure both wheels were in the air for all of five inches) and we rode on, weaving in and out of smiling couples and little kids acting as moving markers.
A few blocks west, the Broadway Bridge demolition caused part of route 10 to be closed, including the trail. We squeezed brake handles, shifted our weight to one side, and dismounted quickly, hoisting frames to shoulders to ascend stairs below the Doubletree. Pausing briefly at the empty street, we saw piles of concrete two blocks down grow as machines dropped off chunks of the former bridge’s foundation. Remounting, we coasted into an underground parking garage, only to circle back out and push back up to street level. I didn’t have anything mounted to my bike, and soon we were starting to move beyond the boundaries of the street grid in Matt’s handlebar-mounted gear bag and map. We pushed west for several blocks; one uphill push was an absolute monster. I tapped out immediately, butcMatt shifted gears in a slow-motion machine-gun burst, and I could hear him exhale in determinations that sounded like “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” as he pumped his legs furiously to reach the peak of the hill. It took me at least another minute and a half to join him, and I secretly marveled at the heat and growing tightness in my legs. We rested for a minute, and Matt passed me his water bottle. We looked around us at a few dead-end streets, then zig-zagged westward, eventually passing behind the capitol building. I almost forgot I was on a bike as its neoclassical architectural commanded most of my peripheral vision on my left. Another gentle hill or two, and we stopped to check the map on my phone. In the sunshine, it was difficult to see the screen at all. I cupped my right hand at the top and pinched the screen with my left thumb and index finger to zoom into a section of Little Rock. “It looks like we have to go at least five blocks before we have another chance to push north to the river.” Across the highway, the Children’s Hospital rose impressively. I nodded to point at it. “That’s bigger than I thought it was.”
Matt looked down the roller-coaster hill arcing out below us. “Let’s head back toward the city that way,” he said, motioning with his head, “because if I do that hill and we have to come back up, I think I’ll be done.” I smiled in agreement and laughed, admitting, “There is no way I’ll make it through two more hills like that last one.” We peddled east.
The terrain was much more friendly as we ramped off and on sidewalks along 7th Street. We took Broadway back north toward the river, and snaked back into the River Market area, eventually carving toward the Clinton Library. I stuck my left arm out like a wing to make sure Matt saw the wooden boardwalk snaking below us, although there was no way he could have missed it. We circled in front of the mirrored glass of the library, then pushed up the gentle slope of the bridge in front of it. Stopping halfway across the Arkansas River, we took a few photos after I fished my phone out of my left pocket and pushed the home button: 1:30. “We’re good,” I offered. “That was hour one.”
We coasted off the bridge and onto the north shore, picking up the trail again via Harper’s Loop. Construction dotted the landscape in the blocks around Dickey Stephens Park, and I mentioned I was looking forward to spring to see baseball again, lamenting how quickly summer accelerated away from us after The Move. We took a pic outside of the ticket box, and looked through the bars at the green field, then pedaled east. A darkly-tinted late model Accord almost smacked Matt as its texting driver ignored the crosswalk and a red light at Washington and Main, and we agreed that indeed, that would have sucked, getting run over. We crossed the Main Street bridge to head south for the final time, and rode a few more blocks erratically, with no real direction. Above the trail, thirty or more kids and adults surfed the grassy, hilly landscape by sitting on cardboard sleds.
I felt tired and happy as we rode the final blocks back to Bobby’s Bike Hike, and as we returned the rental bikes, I felt that this was the perfect way to spend the first half of Saturday. Matt said it best: “I saw more of Little Rock today in two hours on a bike, then I would have in weeks behind the wheel.”
Sometimes all we have to do is move a little differently from A to B.