Relishing a Truckee puddle pedal

After weaving along residential streets packed with cars and littered with campaign signs, I take the bike freeway down Sparks Boulevard. The two-lane path winds along a muddy ditch lined by willows, reeds and patches of cattails with dry browning heads.

Families of mallards upend themselves in the murky water, hunting for lunch.

My mind begins to clear.

I think we’re all craving an end to the shouting, slurs, fear and foaming that is Election 2004. It’s an exhausting business, trying to launch The Right message into the infosphere while squelching The Wrongness of the Other.

Vehicles whir along Sparks Boulevard. The sun warms. The wind cools, whisking bright leaves onto the path.

A guy in Lycra whizzes past without a nod. Focused on speed.

Reaching Interstate 80, I make my way across the overpass.

Then it’s down to what remains of the Truckee River.

Five years of drought takes its toll. In late September, the water from Lake Tahoe stopped flowing into the Truckee River. Tahoe is below its natural rim. Reservoirs are low, too. Not to worry. For now, we’re told, there’s enough water to meet the demand in Reno and Sparks—some 110 million gallons per day.

Of course, there must be enough water to accommodate several thousand planned new homes, new business parks and department stores. If water were truly scarce, our city leaders would put the kibosh on development. Or at least they’d proceed with caution.

Some liquid still trickles down the Truckee between expanses of mud-coated rocks. The river bed’s littered with faded orange traffic cones, decaying plastic chairs and at least one battered Reno Disposal trash receptacle.

Near the Ralston building in Sparks, four teenage boys stand dripping at the edge of a cliff over a purported “deep spot.” I consider dispensing motherly advice: “River’s kind of low. You’ll break your necks!”

As they appear to be uninjured and not leaping at the moment, I suppress the urge to butt in.

At Rock Park, a man and woman rummage through trash cans. Folks sleep peacefully on stretches of grass, surrounded by bedrolls and bags.

The rich aroma of balsam poplar mutes the scent of river decay. I bike along the back side of the Reno Gazette-Journal, peeking into the empty yard.

On the Riverwalk in downtown Reno, a man and woman in wedding garb pose for photos with family, friends and kids.

I talk to an older woman with no front teeth on her way to work. She enjoys walking along the river meeting people she doesn’t usually meet.

“The fresh air’s good for me,” she says. We talk about our kids and how we both need to lose 30 pounds.

Weight-loss goal firmly in mind, I buy a hot dog from Woodrow’s wiener stand.

Woody hands me a dog and invites me to adorn it as I see fit—with any of several kinds of mustard, ketchup, mayo, sweet pickle relish, tomatoes, onions, even sauerkraut.

“We all like it a little differently,” he says, wisely. “And that’s OK.”

The bargain price of $2.50 includes two paper towels.

“For later,” Woody says, “to complete the stand experience.”

I sit near the river with my lunch.

All over Reno, political activists—many from out-of-town—are knocking on doors, talking about Issues, reminding people to vote early and often. Nevadans are “in the belly of the beast,” an activist from New York City told me this week.

We’re getting visits from Tommy Franks, Michael Moore, John Edwards, both Bushes and maybe Kerry—right before the election.

I don’t think about this as I eat.

Kids and dogs and adults play in the Truckee puddle. Mustard drips down my chin. It’s good.