The Discoverers

Wife looked at me, and raised her eyebrows.

“You gotta do what you gotta do. There’s no other way,” I said.

“You’re right,” she said, got back on her bike, and kept on riding through the overgrown grass and some bushes. We were discovering things, and nobody said it would be easy.

X marks the spot.

Last week, when my cousin was visiting us, he and I discovered an abandoned runway on a bike tour around the neighbourhood. I had forgotten how much fun just roaming around and discovering things is.

Last Saturday, we decided to skip out Saturday tradition – watching America’s Funiest Home Videos – and go out on our bikes, and just discover things.

So, instead of heading towards the sports field, and the mall – our usual targets – we turned right, and headed across the highway.

“Let’s ride,” said Wife, and the next thing I knew, she was already all the way down the hill, turning right, her head popping from left to right, as it always does when she’s riding her bike fast. Daughter was by her side.

“Let’s ride,” I said to Son, and so we did.

And we rode past the gas station, up a hill, and through the tunnel underneath the highway, when I noticed something I’d never noticed before. There were three trees in a circle – as much as three can form a circle – with some sort of a milestone in the middle.

“Hey, did you see that…” I shouted to Wife, who was again some 50 meters ahead of Son and me.

“The shoe!” I heard Wife shout.

“What?”

“THE SHOOOEEE!”

“No, no, it looks like some sort of a milestone, but you know, it’s funny that I’ve never seen it before. Huh,” I shouted back.

“Daughter dropped her shoe!”

I stopped, turned my bike around and saw a small, blue shoe by the side of the bike lane. I picked it up, and gave it back to Daughter who had also turned around, when I saw Wife riding her bike through the grass field towards the tree circle.

She rode it all the way to the stone, stopped, and seemed to be reading something. Son rode his bike to the stone, as well, while Daughter and I stayed on the paved bike lane. On solid ground.

“What was it?” I asked Wife thirty seconds later as she rode back.

“Oh, it just said that these trees were planted here in 1996, to mark the start of an environmental project around the highway,” she said. “Let’s ride,” she added.

So, we did. Son was telling me about US presidents, and how his favorite was Abraham Lincoln, even if he didn’t really know why.

“He seems to have been a good man,” he said. “Who’s your favorite president? Were all US presidents famous?”

He’s in that big World War II phase that we all go through. If you read that and said, “no, we don’t” to yourself, just wait.

Anyway, listening to him, I discovered that I would have to spend a fair amount of time on Wikipedia so that Son wouldn’t discover that he knows more about that than me.

We turned left, and right – “kids, the IBM headquarters!” – and past a 19th-century mansion – Wife stopped to read the sign – and started to work our way towards something that had apparently been Wife’s goal all along.

For the past two winters, we’ve seen something blue shine through the woods next to the highway. It’s seemed to us that there has been a tent, and because it’s fairly close to the fair and congress center, I’ve always assumed it’s got something to do with that.

“Maybe it’s an art project,” Wife’s said.

Now, she intended to find out. At every turn, her suggestion took us closer to the light, until she finally did say it out loud. We navigated towards the tall tower next to the fair center, and then cut across the parking lot alongside the highway.

And then the parking lot came to an end, and there was just bush, and overgrown grass, and stinging nettles. Wife looked at me, and then rode on. Daughter followed after her, then Son, and I was the last in line, as always.

There was no path to ride on, so we just kept pushing through. Daughter’s bike got stuck in the sand, and Son got stung by nettles. Wife was a good fifty meters ahead of us.

“Can we ride through there?” I shouted.

“I think so, they have to get here by car somehow,” she shouted back.

“OK, Daughter, let’s go, let’s go, Mom’s already way ahead of us,” I said, and pushed Daughter bike that had got stuck in the sand again.

“Careful now,” I added.

Another minute later, we were all standing there, standing next to the white tent, that looked like one of those kids’ bouncy castles. Everything about it reminded me of a playground. It was surrounded by that red soft surface you always see at playgrounds, but what you don’t always see, in fact, what you never see at a playground, were the black stones sticking out of it. Also, there was that blue light, that was visible around the stones, even in broad daylight. (After all, it was nine p.m. in June).

“What is it?” Daughter asked Wife.

“It’s just a data center,” she replied, disappointed. She had been dreaming of a secret government camp, or a Wikileaks HQ. “Just a data center.”

“But can we ride our bikes through?” I asked her.

We looked around, and made another discovery: it was a dead end, and we’d have to go back through the same old field of nettles and sand traps.

“Oh well, now we know,” I said cheerfully. “I love discovering things like this!”

“I think it’s Facebook’s central computer. Let me just go update my status,” I said, jokingly, and took a step towards the fence.

Just as I made a mental high-five with Wife, who, again, was fifty meters ahead of me, the data center’s alarm went off: WEEEE, WEEEE, WEEEEE!

“Oops,” I said, and tried to act natural.

“What is THAT?” asked Daughter.

“Oh, that’s just their alarm…” I said.

“Will the police come and arrest us?”

“No, no, we haven’t done anything wrong, and that sound … pfft, they just want scare us off. Or, not us, but you know, people who are scared of such things, baby. Keep moving, keep moving, see how far Mommy is already.”

She walked her bike through the bushes and the grass and the sand traps, and I could see Wife watching us form the edge of the parking lot. The Daughter got on her bike, I gave her a push, and she rode away.

“I can still hear the alarm,” she said.

“Oh, it’ll stop soon,” I said, got on my bike, and followed her.

When I looked up to see where Wife was, I saw her pedaling – fast – at the other end of the parking lot, some hundred meters away from us.

She slowed down a little and waited for Daughter and me, and then we kept on riding back the usual route, past the school and up the hill, which must have confused the government agents because when we turned right at the bottom of the steep hill – another surprise move – they were nowhere to be seen.

The night was warm, the streets were empty, and we just rode our bikes, talking about this and that, and World War II.

How does that make you feel?