Only 137 miles since October 25, and not even 10 yards since my ride up Bliss and OA on November 8. Five rides - for Pete’s sake! I’ve been at O’Hare SIX times in that same time period. Well maybe that explains why there haven't been many rides along the river or up into the high rolling countryside; no encounters with the Amish horse-drawn buggies from which you always get a wave and friendly smile nor any short but exciting descents on the winding rural roads scattered throughout the Coulee region.
But in the last two days, there has been some biking. Of sorts. One of those no-matter-how-hard-you-pedal-you’ll-not-move-an-inch bike-like machines here at the hotel in Atlanta. But in an hour spent in the basement fitness center, I am able visit far-away places, courtesy of the songs on my iPod.
First stop, Africa. The group Selah provides a great rendition of the hymn By and By in the Kituba language; this is one of the favorites in my collection. And try as I might, I have yet to learn the lyrics so I can sing along - although I do have a pretty could handle on the chorus.
Then, whisked along on Beausoleil’s Atchafalaya Pipeline, I enjoy a lively trip through the swamps of south central Louisiana before taking off on a whirlwind world tour with Hank Snow, who declares, "I’ve Been Everywhere". Checking the lyrics, I discover that I have actually been to 16 of the 91 places he mentions in the song. And how many have you visited?
A fantastical horseback ride through dark and windy western skies follows as Johnny Cash sings Ghost Riders in the Sky. As a young boy, I was entranced by Vaughn Monroe’s version that was played often in the 50’s (it was number 1 on the charts in 1949). When I first heard the Johnny Cash offering, I was disappointed, but now consider it the best I’ve ever heard.
The next stop is the Pacific Northwest via Pam Tillis’s The River and the Highway. It’s one of those song that tells just enough of the story to give you freedom to imagine the details, a hallmark of songs I consider my favorites. The travels continue with Bronn Journey – the name of the harpist who plays a haunting instrumental version of They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love. Wherever this one takes me, I always enjoy the trip.
Alan Jackson points out that It’s Five o’clock Somewhere. And a few hours after my "ride" on Wednesday, I enjoyed local Sweetwater Brewing's (their slogan: "Don’t Float the Mainstream") India Pale Ale, knowing that it was, in fact, five o’clock in La Crosse!
Since I am in The South, it seems only fair that I get a musical tour. I've earned it after all: my cotton T-shirt (a no-no on a real ride) has reached that sweat-stained state you see on a south Georgia peanut farmer at noon. Dixie (stand when you read this) is done as it should be by Stephen Brannen, notes jumping sharply off of the guitar strings at first, then tumbling like water over rocks in an Appalachian stream as the hammered dulcimer takes over. The third verse rings off of the taut skin covering the body or "pot" of a 5 string banjo. You listen to this and you know Mr. Brannen understands the South.
After this excitement, I’m treated to a trip down the Shenandoah on Teresa Perez’s cello. The mellow melody at first evokes a leisurely float down the river. Then the key goes as low as you can get on a cello (I’m only guessing here, but bear with me); this and rhythmic drumming combine to paint a musical picture of the clear water rolling through the Shenandoah Valley.
As it was in the concert from which this next recording comes, the best is saved for last. My shirt is now wringing wet and my legs are asking, “Just why should we do this any longer?” Well, it’s so I can take a ride on the Orange Blossom Special. I do not know if it is possible to enjoy a piece any more than I do this one, performed by the Flying W Wranglers along with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra. According to one of the Wranglers as he introduces the finale, “We're gonna start off with one ol' lonely fiddle over here and before it's done, you're gonna hear a whole acre of fiddles, maybe two!” OH. MY. GOODNESS. The song is SO good that I often find myself laughing, unable to contain the sheer joy of listening to the rising crescendo of frantic fiddling.
Oddly enough, this song brings me full-circle, back to Africa. I bought my iPod in 2006, just a few weeks before my first trip to Uganda. During the long flight (La Crosse to Chicago to Brussels to Nairobi to Entebbe) I passed the time with a rather smaller collection of music than I have now – my iPod is full, as a matter of fact. I listened to Orange Blossom Special over and over again. The mystical magic of music, fusing blue grass fiddling with a Philharmonic orchestra, flight and the African continent. I love it.
Orange Blossom Special is introduced by the Wranglers with the words, “Man, wait ‘til you hear this!” It' time to stop waiting... If you have not heard this piece yet, you MUST find a way.
As the flywheel on the stationary bike comes to rest and the lights on the panel go out, I’m once again aware of the gray walls and the dark TV screen in front of me. It’s been a great trip, one I plan to repeat a few times during our stay in Atlanta.