I parked my bike outside of Wellington Hall, a rectangular brick building which consisted only of classrooms used for many different subjects, and headed to Room 17 in the basement for my chemistry discussion. Chemistry 2B was a large class of around four hundred students held in 199 Stone Hall, the largest lecture hall on campus in the 1990s. Labs and discussions met in smaller groups of 24 students, all from the same lecture section, led by a teaching assistant who was a graduate student from the chemistry department.
The desks in Wellington 17, as was the case with most classrooms at UJ, were just chairs with a little retractable piece of wood that a student could pull up and use as a hard surface for writing. I sat in a chair, pulled the desk up into place, and put my head down on it with my eyes closed. I was tired. I had been up for a while. I started class on Thursday at 10:00 in the morning, but I woke up early enough to be ready for class at 9, because every other day I had a 9:00 class. It was now 9:57, and I was ready to go back to sleep because I had not slept well the night before.
A couple minutes later, I heard someone sit next to me and begin to speak. “Hey, Greg! Are you okay?” I recognized the voice; it was Marissa, my lab partner.
I opened my eyes and looked up. “I didn’t sleep well. The fire alarm went off at 2:30, and it took me almost an hour to get back to sleep.”
“What? Fire? Where?”
“My dorm. Building C in the South Area. We all had to evacuate.”
“What was on fire?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think anything was on fire. There wasn’t any smoke or anything, at least I couldn’t see anything on fire.”
“So what set it off?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh yeah. It was hilarious. I was climbing down the stairs, and Amy, the RA from the third floor, she goes, ‘If you see or smell anything strange, let me know.’ My friend Rebekah, she’s also on the third floor, she says, ‘I see and smell Amy. Should I let you know?’”
“She actually said that?” Marissa asked, laughing. “Oh my gosh!”
“Yeah! She’s hilarious. We had the same math class fall quarter, and the professor posted grades by ID number. She figured out which one was me, because she knew what I got on all the other midterms, so she knew what I got on the final before I did.”
“And she told me, ‘Next quarter, I’m going to freak out just like you did, and maybe then I’ll get 99 percent just like you.’”
“That’s funny! Did you freak out on your math final?”
“I think she just meant how I was really stressed about the final, but I probably didn’t have to be, since I did so well. It was my first final here, so I didn’t know what to expect.”
“That makes sense. Are we getting the chem midterm back today?”
“I think so. I don’t think I did very well on this one. At least not as well as I usually do.”
In Chemistry 2B, the TA passed back the midterms and took time in the discussion to answer questions about the midterm. It was not like Physics 9A, where I had to get my own test paper off of a shelf. A few minutes after class started, the TA began passing back the midterms. I nervously looked at mine when I got it.
86, out of 100.
Not bad like that physics midterm from a few weeks earlier, but not as well as I usually do. I was a little disappointed in myself, but not panicking.
Marissa got her midterm back shortly after I did. She looked through it excitedly. “This is the best I’ve ever done on a chem midterm!” she said.
“Mine was the worst for me. But good job.”
“I got 86! What did you get?”
My brain took a second to process what I had just heard. This certainly put things in perspective. “86,” I said sheepishly.
“Really?” Marissa asked. I showed her my midterm. “My best score is your worst score. That’s kind of sad.”
“No it isn’t,” I said. “It puts things in perspective. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about always being perfect.”
“You really shouldn’t. 86 isn’t bad. And you’re still going to ace the final, probably.”
“I don’t know. We’ll see. But you’re right. 86 isn’t bad. Good job.”
I had one more class later that day, and when that was done, I got back to the dorm shortly after 2:00. The chalkboard in the stairwell still said COMMUNITY ASSESSMENT MEETING. The resident advisers, Gurpreet and Amy, had not erased this announcement yet. The meeting was two days ago; we had discussed how things had been going, and Gurpreet and Amy had given us information about procedures for moving out, which we would be doing in four weeks.
I sat down to check email, and I started to nod off while I was reading, so I turned off the computer and lay down for a nap. The fire alarm and evacuation last night had thrown off my sleeping, and I had had trouble staying awake in both of my classes. I was done for the day, though, and although I had math homework due tomorrow, I was in no shape to do it now. I closed my eyes and drifted off.
When I woke up, I could tell that I had been asleep. I checked my watch; it was almost 4:00. The sun was out, and it was fairly warm today. I had been wearing jeans this morning, but by now it was warm enough to wear shorts. It felt like a good day to be outside.
After I changed into shorts, I got on my bike. I headed south toward the Arboretum and the Lodge, then I turned east toward the law school and Marks Hall. I had done this bike ride several other times in my year at UJ. The long, narrow, park-like Arboretum, following a dry creek bed which had been converted into a very long lake, was a peaceful oasis in the middle of a busy campus. Just past Marks Hall, a large grassy area sloped gently down to the waterway, which widened into a more lake-like shape, and I saw several students lying on the grass reading. I was not the only one who felt like being outside today, apparently.
Near the east end of the Arboretum, I turned on a path that led to the intersection of First and B Streets downtown. I continued north on B Street, past Central Park and through an old residential neighborhood. This was all familiar territory; I had done this ride a few times before and driven parts of B Street in the car.
B Street ended at the intersection with 15th Street. In front of me was Jeromeville Community Park, the largest park in the city, which bordered the Veterans Memorial Hall, the public library, a public pool, Jeromeville High School, an elementary school, and the Jeromeville Arts Center. The Veterans Memorial Hall was visible in front of me along 15th Street, with a bike path to its left. I had never noticed that path before. I crossed the street and continued north on that path.
I rode past Veterans Memorial Hall and the public swimming pool on my right, with part of the parking lot for the high school on my left. Behind this I rode past tennis courts and soccer and baseball fields. I could see ahead that this path led to an overpass crossing Coventry Boulevard. I had driven under that overpass before, but I never knew anything about the path on top, where it came from or where it led.
On the other side of the overpass, north of Coventry Boulevard, the path led down into a park. I saw backs of homes and yards and apartment buildings, and streets adjoining the park on the left and the right. A number of short paths led to adjoining streets, one leading back to Coventry Boulevard. The path I rode on continued north, and I also noticed a long path to the west which, like the one I was on, continued for some distance instead of ending at a street. A sign attached to a lamppost said “COVENTRY GREENBELT AREA 8.”
I chose to continue north. I rode past grassy areas and many different kinds of trees, past a playground and tennis courts. The path turned to the right and then left again, outside of the park and into a very different landscape. The path was straight, with a large vacant lot on the left, and on the right, fences separating the path from backyards and short paths branching off to the ends of culs-de-sac connected to some unseen street to the east.
After three such paths leading to other streets, the path I was on crossed a street at a crosswalk. On the other side of the street, fenced backs of yards and paths branching to other streets now lined both sides of the path, with a thin strip of landscaping on either side of the path. I had never seen a neighborhood like this before, with dead-end streets connecting to a continuous bicycle and pedestrian path. Jeromeville advertises itself as being a bicycle-friendly community, and apparently in Jeromeville this slogan means more than just bike lanes on major streets and parts of the university campus being closed to cars. This part of Jeromeville, a fairly new subdivision, seemed to be constructed entirely around bicycle travel.
About a quarter mile after I crossed that street, the bicycle path entered another large park. This one had a small playground to the left of the path, with soccer fields beyond. On my right, to the east, was a pond, with rushes and reeds and bushes growing along its shore. A boardwalk extended about a hundred feet to the right, with some kind of informational sign at the end, probably about wildlife or plants or something like that. Straight ahead of me was another smaller pond, and the path curved to the right between the two ponds. I continued along the path as it curved northeast, then abruptly ended at a street, with the northern tip of the large pond to my right, an office building to my left, and a residential neighborhood across the street straight ahead from me.
I looked at the name on the street sign across from me. This was the corner of Salmon Drive and Andrews Road. I knew where I was now.
Andrews Road is a major street running north-south on the UJ campus and in west-central Jeromeville, parallel to Highway 117 about half a mile east. In the northernmost part of the city of Jeromeville, Andrews Road curves through recently constructed residential areas onto a more east-west route, ending at G Street a couple hundred feet to the right of where I was now. I was very close to the northernmost point of the city of Jeromeville, where the geography changes from residential neighborhoods to the flat farmland that Arroyo Verde County is known for.
I turned around and headed back to the small playground on the other side of the ponds, but instead of going back the way I came, I rode to the west along the soccer fields. A sign called this part of the path COVENTRY GREENBELT AREA 3. I had seen other signs like this along the path I had ridden, the numbers changing each time. I was, and still am to this day, unsure if the numbers have a pattern or what they mean.
At the end of this path, I turned south on another path, through more numbered areas of the Coventry Greenbelt, again with fences separating me from backyards on both sides. I crossed a street, and the greenbelt widened, with the houses on either side of me farther apart. The path curved a bit. I saw a statue of a dog near the sign saying that I was in COVENTRY GREENBELT AREA 5. I rode through grassy areas spotted with trees, continuing south. Another path and greenbelt branched off to my right, and as I passed a playground, yet another path and greenbelt branched off to my left. I continued south, into a thick grove of pine trees, the ground covered with dead needles. I made a mental note that I had a lot more exploring to do in the future, to figure out where those other paths went.
I entered a tunnel under a street and emerged at Coventry Boulevard, where the pine trees suddenly cleared. I knew this must be Coventry Boulevard. I was pretty sure there were no other four-lane divided streets in this part of Jeromeville. And if this was Coventry Boulevard, the tunnel I just emerged from must have crossed under Alvarez Avenue. My apartment for next year was on Alvarez Avenue, but farther west, to my right.
I turned right on Coventry and left on Andrews Road, back toward campus. When I got back to Building C, about ten minutes after emerging from the tunnel, I locked my bike and entered the building from the back, into the stairwell across from the lobby. Someone had changed the announcement about the COMMUNITY ASSESSMENT MEETING by selectively erasing letters. It now said COMMUNITY ASS EETING. I laughed out loud.
“Greg!” I heard a voice say. “What’s so funny?”
I looked down. Sarah Winters, who had asked the question, and Krista Curtis were sitting on the stairs talking. One of the quirks of university dormitory culture is that people can sit and socialize just about anywhere. Sometimes that was annoying, as I discovered two months ago when I was awakened from my sleep, but other times, like now, it gave me socializing opportunities that rarely ever happened at any other point in my life.
I pointed at COMMUNITY ASS EETING on the chalkboard. Sarah groaned, and Krista rolled her eyes.
“You’re all sweaty!” Krista said.
“I was on a bike ride.” I looked at my watch. “I’ve been gone for about 45 minutes.”
“Wow! Where’d you go?”
“Through the Arboretum to downtown, then up B Street to that park by the high school. There’s a path that crosses over Coventry Boulevard and leads to a greenbelt. Like a bunch of interconnected parks behind the neighborhoods in North Jeromeville.”
“I’ve heard about the greenbelts,” Sarah said. “I’ve never been there, though. Was it nice?”
“Yeah. And it’s a great day to be outside. I love this weather.”
“I know! It feels like summer!”
“I have four weeks left to enjoy this weather. And now I have a new place to explore on my bike.”
“What do you mean, four weeks?” Krista asked.
“After that I’m going home for the summer.”
“Why can’t you enjoy summer at home?”
“Plumdale doesn’t have this weather. We get coastal fog at night sometimes, and it doesn’t burn off until around noon. And it doesn’t get as hot as it does here.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“It’s hard to believe we’re almost done with the school year,” Sarah said.
“I know,” I replied. “It seemed to go by fast.”
“Are you looking forward to summer?”
“I’m not sure. I’m looking forward to no classes, but I’m going to miss all of you guys.”
“Me too! You’ll have to write to me.”
“I will. I hope to write a lot of letters this summer. I’ll try to get email over the summer too.”
“I won’t have email at home,” Sarah said.
“Me either,” Krista added.
“I feel really sweaty and stinky,” I said.
“Eww!” Sarah replied, laughing jokingly.
“I’m going to go upstairs and take a shower. I’ll see you guys later.”
“We’ll probably be going to dinner around 6. Want to come with us?” Krista asked.
That day changed my life, to some extent. I went for several more bike rides in the Coventry Greenbelt and other adjacent greenbelts and parks over the next few weeks, exploring more of North Jeromeville. I found a greenbelt in West Jeromeville about a week later, and one in South Jeromeville shortly after I moved back sophomore year. Today, a quarter-century later, I have never gotten out of the habit of exploring on my bike. When I was in my early 30s, I once told someone about a 25-mile bike ride I had done one Saturday. My friend asked me how I got into cycling, and I said it just kind of happened by default when I lived in Jeromeville, and I never really stopped. I did not ride my bike very far when I was growing up in Plumdale, because Plumdale is hilly and can be cold at times. This is not exactly the best environment for cycling. It turned out that the upcoming summer of 1995 was the last summer in which I would spend the majority of the time in Plumdale, although that was not entirely related to weather or cycling.
I currently live in the suburbs south of Capital City. There are a few greenbelts around here, but not an extensive network of them like I found in Jeromeville. (Of course, Jeromevillians pay higher property taxes as a result, so there’s that.) I still do a lot of exploring on my bicycle. Once every year, I return to my cycling roots, riding my bike 28 miles from my house across the Drawbridge to Central Park in Jeromeville, where I take a break to eat the lunch I packed. After resting for a while, I continue riding around Jeromeville, riding through some of the greenbelts, as well as part of the Arboretum and my happy place along Hawkins Road. By mid-afternoon, my clothes are covered in salt left behind by dried sweat, my butt hurts, and I am exhausted, so I then take my bike on a bus to Capital City and on another bus back to my own neighborhood. My total distance for the day on one of these trips totals between 50 and 55 miles.
My bike isn’t anything fancy or expensive. For that matter, my bike isn’t the same bike I had on that day when I first explored the Coventry Greenbelt; I got a new bike in 1999 and another one in 2008, when the previous bikes broke beyond repair. And I’m not in great physical shape; I love junk food too much for that. But cycling has provided hundreds of hours and thousands of miles of outdoor recreation for me over the years. I’m writing this in January of 2020; it is cold, and I haven’t been on my bike in a few days. I don’t ride much this time of year, but I really need to. Maybe I’ll get to do that this weekend.
Coventry Greenbelt Area 5, taken in 2016 the first time I rode my bike from South Capital County to Jeromeville.