Since the closest bike path to me is 35 miles, I do a lot of road riding straight from my driveway though cars fly up and down my country road like it’s the Autobahn. While the roads out here are fairly straight, there are many hills near my house which when you are not a light person, are a bit of a struggle. Cue in the wind and I’m usually always struggling on the road while feeling like giving up at any moment. While I suppose it is making me a stronger rider, I don’t enjoy the ride as much and so it becomes a chore to even get my bike down off the rack and push it out of the garage.
Lately, I have been trying to reach my weekly mileage goal by peicing together 4-5 shorter rides where I used to do two longer bike path rides a week. This adds to the ‘chore’ feeling of riding. I’m simply meeting a goal and am not really enjoying my ride. Plus the I’m gearing up 4-5 days a week rather than a few. Though some cycling enthusiasts will say you should ride most days of the week, I’m not feeling like I’m getting anywhere fitness-wise. Plus, I would like to do more walking or hiking, maybe put in a swim at the lake. I’m not sure my knees are up to daily riding, I seem to do better riding several times a week for longer stints than fighting hills for 4-5 rides.
Today, I had an early morning appointment to get the oil changed in my truck 10 miles away from the closest trail so I tossed my bike in. I figured, I’m that close, might as well ride the path. The heat across the country has been oppressing, and even though it was only 845 a.m., the temperature was a very humid 84 degrees. I chose the shadiest section of trail and started at the closest parking lot. Though the parking lot was in the sun and I was sweating before I even clipped into the pedals, I felt that I was already looking forward to the ride. When I ride down my driveway, I am not usually excited to ride, but I feel more like it’s a forced march.
As I crossed the road and passed the dry creek bed, I slipped into the shady wooded area in some of my favorite trail sections. Instantly, I am in my happy place. I love the dappled shade, the twist and curve of the path, the river running near, the older couple who say good morning as they ride by, the little dog who sits and waits for me to pass, the black wrought iron benches placed at scenic spots, the downtown buildings, the different bridges I cross, the cemetary that reminds me that life is short, the white mansion that sits on the hill, the small quiet lake, the city parks, the mother pushing two young children in a double stroller with a third child strapped to her chest, the lady jogging who gives me a pained smile, the barefoot fisherman, purple lupine, dame’s rocket, Queen Anne’s lace and the miles that seem to pass without my notice. Okay that is a huge run-on sentence, but that is just a few things I loved from today’s 22-mile ride.
While I rode today, I wondered why have I been killing myself on more frequent, shorter road rides. Why not just put in two longer rides on the bike path even if I do have to drive an hour round trip or longer? If it means I enjoy cycling more, then shouldn’t I do that as much as possible? Fill in with road rides when I need to. When I am out riding on the road, I am worried about cars hitting me, fighting harsh pavement conditions, big hills, no shade and really not a lot of to engage my senses. Miles and miles of crop fields broken up by the occassional home or farm.
I worry about dogs chasing me or weird strangers slowing down and abducting me while I ride out in the middle of nowhere. I carry dog spray (pepper spray that shoots far) more for people than dogs. Not that you don’t run into the occassional weirdo on the bike path. There have been moments when my spider senses go into hyper drive but usually there are people around moreso than riding in the country.
Not that you can’t have an accident on a bike path. You still should wear a helmet and pay attention. I’ve had two bad accidents on a path. The first one was an ambulance ride and a concussion because I wasn’t paying attention (didn’t I just warn about that!). My front tire had slipped off the pavement causing me to go end over appetite crashing head first into the pavement (why you wear a helmet). The EMTs had to drive back in a pickup truck becuase there was no way to get an ambulance to me. That was certainly an expensive mistake.
The second time was hitting a suicidal racoon that darted out of the woods. Hitting him was like hitting a brick wall which again sent me head over heels and to the ER to later find I had a separated shoulder. So, while cars are usually no an issue unless you are crossing roads, you still have to be really careful and alert.
That aside, I am a big advocate for bike paths and bike lanes. They help keep us safe from vehicles though they aren’t bullet-proof. The paths normally wind through interesting scenery and take you to places you may not normally see from a car. It gives you the opportunity to interact, even if it’s just a quick hello, with other cyclists and exercises of all walks of life and ages. They provide normally a fairly flat surface to ride or walk or run. They help us get or stay fit. Bottom line is that bike paths are a great asset to every community.