Why I Love Bike Paths…

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. 

A shady and wooded path


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.  

A run along the river


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.  

A small lake tucked away


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.  

An iron bridge that trains once traversed


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.  

A field of wildflowers


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.

The river view from a recently opened secrion of trail


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.

A white mansion tucked behind the trees


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.  

Canal view


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.

A Girl and Her Bike…

Cycling has become a religion to me.  Not in the way of the stereotypical cyclist who races, does tours, watches every ounce or gram on the bike, who lives and dies by the mileage and weighs precisely 95.6 lbs.  Okay I don’t know if anyone actually weighs that but weight is a huge issue in the cycling world, gear and rider.  No for me my bike has become somewhat of a ‘bible’ of sorts (apologies for anyone finding that blasphemous).  In the sense that it is my avenue to find peace and a spirituality that doesn’t come from Sunday services, verses, or commandments.  It is simply my bike and me on the pavement, sometimes the trail but out in God’s great creation we call ‘nature’.

I gain strength from cycling, the sheer at of revolution after revolution as my legs and feet turn the crank which turns the chain which drives the wheel.  It propels me to nowhere and everywhere at the same time.  Physical strength, mental strength, emotional strength.  Two wheels and a carbon fiber frame, some gears, brakes and words in neon green scrawled across my top tube “Go Get Em Killer” that started as a joke but has become my mantra, a reminder to keep going when I want to quit.  Not only quit riding but quit in life.

After over eight months of suffering sometimes excruciating pain, multiple doctors, food intolerances, GI upsets, two ER visits, many tests that came back normal, they finally have found what is most likely causing this issue.  A uterine ablation done mid-2012 that has gone awry and very possibly I will need a hysterectomy.  I’m 45.  I feel like I am too young to think hysterectomy.  I leave the doctor’s office crying, I drive home crying, my daughters want to comfort me but I tell them give me some space, I’m going out to ride.  I’m pissed because I feel like this procedure was doomed from the start and I may have avoided both surgeries, the ablation and the hysterectomy if I need it.  I feel as if my body has betrayed me.  I’m angry that this comes in the middle of buying a new house and moving.  I’m angry my mom isn’t here to talk to about this.

Quickly I pump up my tires, slap a water bottle in one of my mismatched cages, my phone in its holder and clip into the pedals and pick the hilliest route around our small town.  The route that will go right by the house we will be moving to in a few months.  The music in my headphones is loud, I’m challenging cars to hit me (I get a bit stupid reckless when I’m mad – blame it on my Irish side) as I crank through town until I finally climb the overpass over the highway and coast down into a more rural setting.  The wind is blowing against me forcing me to fight harder to keep up any kind of speed.  I’m not really paying attention to the scenery though it is a sunny afternoon, not too hot and at least, not raining.  The road is a straight line that just gently flows up and down hills that are harder than they look.

My mind starts to empty, my mood starts to level as my entire focus becomes nothing more than to crank the pedals and shift the gears to propel me over each crest, coast, climb, coast, climb.  Watch out for the rabbit peeking out of the tall ditch grass, the road kill, the groundhog who can’t decide if he’s going to run in front of me or go back into the ditch.  Slowly my mind picks back up, now the anger has been channeled into climbing hills and I can think logically again.  I can hear messages or emails coming in on my phone and I reach forward to flip the switch to silence the interruption.  At the first stop sign, I change my playlist from the driving beat of my more motivation mix of music to an artist that puts me into a more reverant mood.  I need to think.   Take a long drag off the water bottle, cringe because I can’t stand sports drinks but hate water more and then cross the busy two lane highway before a semi truck hits me.

Back into the quiet, coming closer to our future home that is about eight miles or so from our house.  The hardest hill is right before the descent that passes this place.  The hill and trees to its west obscures the house from view but I pedal by only glancing at the house, I am more focused on the views around the place and see an old school house about a mile up or so east of it.  I decide to ride to that crossroad and turn around.  I am more of an out and back riding for the sheer purpose of seeing what my average speed is because for some reason that seems like it would be more true than a loop ride.  I have no idea if this is true but it makes sense to me.  I’m retracing my steps, the wind is behind me, the terrain is now opposite, there has to be some science there right?

I’m thinking about the pain and the doctors and the tests and the frustration and all the lost sleep I have had since early November.  I am thinking about what other women have told me about the surgery.  I realize that if this is what is to be, it is not the end of the world.  I can be angry about all the tests, but I have a lot of proof that there isn’t any cancer or something else going on with my body.  Just simply this was missed because maybe the first time I visited my OB/GYN in May, I took pain medicine that prevented the physical exam from showing anything amiss. Good news, my next colonoscopy is five years out and I’ve had two with no polyps.  Bravo!

Climbing again, up toward the new house I smile to myself and think yes, I will be happy here.  I will have less gardens to tend, though our lot is much bigger it’s mainly just mowing.  We can sit out on our patio and not be stared at by 20 neighbors.  Or sit on our front porch and not be approached by salesmen.  I click off my music with my headphones switch and listen to the quiet.  A gentle wind making the corn stalks swoosh and dance.  Or the tall grass gently hush, hush.  Simply said, it is peaceful.

My husband and I had a hard time narrowing down what we wanted in a home.  Logically as we always are, we came up with a checklist of attributes the new property needed to have such as a two-car garage attached, enough room for our daughters, maybe a workshop for him, newer rather than older home that is maintenance free as possible.  The one element we really wanted though and took us a long time to figure out was we needed peace, quiet and solitude more than anything else.  The last few years had been brutal emotionally for us.  Our focus had shifted.  Things we once thought we wanted or were important were no longer so.  As is everything else, sometimes the direction of your journey isn’t evident and you take a few wrong turns until you get back on the road you need.  Sometimes you don’t know you need something and it takes awhile to realize it.

I cranked by the house and up the hill.  At the top of the hill is a cross roads and my hometown is way in the distance.  The elevation of this hill is high enough I can see the rolling countryside all the way to town.  I brake at the side of the road for a minute and smile.  I’m no longer angry or sad or frustrated or feeling depressed and old.  I’m bracing my bike with my legs and feeling strong because I just rode all that way out to here and I’m not even tired. Sweaty, but not tired.  I am 45, overweight and according to my tests and with the exception of my uterus, I’m in great health.   I lean down and put my hands back over the brake hoods and clip in my right foot into the pedal.  My bike is an extension of myself, the way I deal with all sorts of life issues.  It is my Zen.  It is the friend who never judges.  It is a vehicle to sort out my life, my emotions, my thoughts.  What I want out of life is much more simple than I ever thought.  Losing my mom put that all into focus.  I push off and both wheels hit the pavement again.  Clipping in my left foot, the fun begins as my ride out was hard.  The ride back is mostly downhill with the wind pushing me.  My cyclocomputer soon reads 25 mph as I lean down into the drops making myself more aerodynamic.  The world flies by and I feel a familiar rush of adrenaline and am finally having fun.

I’m simply a girl and her bike out for a ride.