So it is true: we set off for a late afternoon autumn ride in the Eastern Township. The three of us took longer than usual to get organized, to arrange the route, to finalize who would drive with the road bikes. Knowing darkness would descent early, we thought we could squeeze a ride into the threshold between late afternoon daylight and dusk. Crisp and cool, not a malevolent cloud was in sight; it was one of those light blue days of autumn where the sky appears higher and wider than usual, a day that besmirches the notion that the season soon fades and does not let you fully participate in the forces of life. The weather was perfect for cycling. Quincey, the cartographer among us, calculated the drive to Hillingham Ridge, the starting point, would take us 40 minutes. Thus, if all went well, we could ride a loop that would take us less than two hours, a combination of hills with flat portions, and be back to Hillingham Ridge before the day was indiscernible and pitch-black. It would be a race against darkness.
The meandering roads of the Eastern Township are renowned among city cyclists who long for respite from the omnipresent hazards of urban riding. Oil exploration, Oil money, Oil created a labyrinth of paved roads wedged between a national park and a provincial park. Virtually uninhabited, except for the occasional farm, there was no real hub. A cyclist could spend days riding on paved roads and never use the same road twice. Our tardy start precluded us from meeting other cyclists who would have been done their ride as we began ours. We turned off the main highway and onto the county road. The naked gray trees were bereft of leaves, preparing for the dormancy of impending cold. But the road was starkly beautiful in various shades of yellow, orange, red, purple; leaves lay strewn across the road and little tuffs danced behind the rushing car as we arrived to disembark.
Hillingham Ridge, perhaps once a thriving village, consisted of a small dilapidated brick church, and a derelict house whose broken windows gave the impression of a face looking flaccid and vacantly onto the plain below. We unloaded and set up the bikes as the sun dropped behind the cusp of trees planted years ago around holy ground. These great black trees stood out against the faded brick. The church had been built so three sides were almost impregnable. Magpies overhead were chattering as if they had something beyond gossip to report—as is their manner. The gravestones around three sides of the skeletal remains of the building lay prostrate, vandalized by apostates, no longer sentinel memorials.
In preparation for the ride, I needed to relieve myself. Modesty prevented me from doing so in front of my riding companions, so I went around the back of the church. An almost imperceptible warm wind hit me as I walked out of sight to the back of the church. I was urinating on once hallowed ground, desecrating it. One stubborn gray tombstone stood upright, starring at me, its markings partially unreadable, except for the date of death: October 31, 1911. At that moment, the sunlight dipping behind the trees was just sufficient to change refraction and reflection to make it appear if light was moving that the still leaves shimmered. I shivered but not from the cold. Some shadowy pall lingered over our presence.
The first 30 minutes we road fast, we road silently with seemingly grave intentions, one behind the other struck by the immeasurable grandeur and absorbing interest of a road with no cars, a road just for cyclists…