The Torqued Wrench: Whose rides these are

The Torqued Wrench gets poetic about clarity on a class-cutting mountain bike ride

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Editor’s Note: The Torqued Wrench is a look inside the mind of tech writer Caley Fretz. Every other week he tackles the rumors, trends, innovations, and underpinnings of the tech world — or something else entirely. You can submit questions to Be sure to check out Caley’s previous columns.

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

— “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

Whose words those are I certainly know, forced as I was to recite them in front of Mr. Bohn’s freshman English class 12 years ago. And though the verses now reside permanently between my ears, they did not gain traction without a fight. I forgot them that day, stuttering to recall the last stanza as the eyes of 30-odd students in my brand new school lit my face on fire, the insecure and introverted pathways of my mind clogging up those I really needed, in that moment.

“Sit down,” I was gruffly told, as though my failure was mild personal assault on the kind man who had unfathomably dreamed up such a heinous assignment. Skin still glowing, I waited for the rest of the class to stammer through Frost’s work, before being called on to attempt a recital once again.

Again, failure. My awkward collection of skinny limbs and pointy joints the rest of me hadn’t quite grown into sunk down into my horribly uncomfortable one-piece desk/chair contraption, stared straight ahead, eyes unfocused, listening as though through a mile-long tunnel to the taskmaster’s next words: “you’ll try again on Thursday.”

Our minds have a way of doing this to us, of shutting down the required bits under a storm of stress, or embarrassment, or anger. Even pride can do the same, altering personal realities and affecting decisions and actions in ways that can’t be recognized until the flood of whatever emotion arose has finished its stint behind the eyes, receding back to its own murky pool. Then, we have clarity.

I stepped out of the English classroom, walked away from the portraits of Shakespeare and Chaucer and Frost himself and into the bleak hallway lined with lockers, making my way to mine. The new lock’s combination sprung to my fingers — good to know that some piece of my memory is working today — and I reached inside to grab my biology textbook. Tucked in its pages were two red slips of paper, reminders from the teacher that I’d missed two homework assignments. Underneath the book lay my well-worn Sidi mountain bike shoes, still a bit warm from my commute in that morning.

It was not so much a decision as a reaction. Book down, shoes picked up, helmet grabbed out of the locker’s top shelf and spare jersey snatched out of my bag. Downstairs, past the biology room that was to be my penitentiary for the next 90 minutes and out the door. Unlock the bike and sprint away before I can be seen, duck into the woods through cross-country running trails. Stash my ill-fitting t-shirt under a bush, don the lime green Earl’s Cyclery jersey of which I am so proud. Clarity? Not quite yet. Mostly panic. What if my mom finds out?

The cross-country trails are wide, cutting through Vermont woods like a bulldozer. I feel exposed, still, as though the assistant principal is behind each subsequent maple tree. Sweat, more from fear than from heat, clings the jersey to my back and drips into my eyes, and chamois-less shorts chaff uncomfortably. I brought no glasses. I wonder and worry what will happen when my parents find out I’ve skipped; I know I’ll now have three red strips of paper in my biology book; I have to recite that damn poem again on Thursday and I still can’t recall how the last stanza starts.

I know somewhere better than these wide trails, where the tracks narrow and the woods close in like a blanket. There are some jumps, a big ladder bridge and a teeter-totter — exciting things that feel safe, at this moment, in their danger. The earliest of the fallen leaves crunch away as I duck in between two bushes, riding into the real woods.

As the trees close in, it feels like flying. Brambles grab at skin and clothing. Silky spider webs crisscross my face, proof that no one has been here in the last few days. The red paper slips are forgotten. The uncomfortable shorts and sticky jersey stashed out of consciousness. My parents will still love me, probably. It’s too dim under these heavy canopies for glasses anyway.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” my mind says, handing the line over sheepishly, like a late birthday present. I’m awake again, smiling. Stress and embarrassment are replaced with bliss and contentment. I turn back towards school. I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

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