One of the recurring themes that I see in the comments on my blog is "why" would any adult want to ride a bike, especially on the roads around here?
I grew up in Newport News, Virginia. It is flat there! We rode bikes everywhere as kids. We rode to school, we rode to the pool, we rode to the store, we rode to friends' houses, we rode to the library and the parks. We rode for fun. It was a way for kids to get around, who were not yet old enough to have a drivers license. As I got older, I rode on some busy roads in the city, knowing I had the right, and I was naive enough to believe that the right to be there would keep me safe. Even when we could drive cars, we often chose to go by bike, because it's fun! Now Newport News has over 30 marked bike routes all around the town.
Here, it is neither so flat, nor so congenial for kids to ride places, other than in their immediate neighborhood, if they are lucky enough to live somewhere other than right on a busy road. We have a long driveway so at least my kids could ride up and down that, but they could never use their bikes for transportation like I could. I think that is so sad. Nowadays, people don't just let their kids roam free either, but even if the parents wanted to ride with the kids, it's a scary endeavor. I remember trying to ride with my daughter Rosie when she was about 10 or 11. We wanted to go to Rockburn Park down Landing Road. I had her behind me on the way there, but then I couldn't see her to make sure she wasn't wobbling all over the road. I had her ride in front of me on the way back, and then she got too far ahead! It was nerve-racking. We never tried it again. If we wanted to ride together, we had to carry the bikes somewhere else on our vehicle. Needless to say, we didn't bother very often, and my kids didn't quite get the bike-riding bug I got. We live right against the Patapsco Park, and sometimes my son Anthony would go mountain-biking with his buddy, but even that was rare. A few times, as a teen, he rode to his friend's house in Hunt Club but he didn't enjoy it. Even when my daughter went to college in Newport News, she didn't explore on her bike except when I came to visit, and her bike was stolen during the last week of school her Freshman year. Kids these days!
It's funny that even though I don't think twice about getting out on my bike, I would be a nervous wreck if my kids were doing it! And my son tells me he worries about me so much. Well good! He knows the many sleepless nights he's given me, so maybe we are near even. My husband says that when he sees a cyclist on the road, he is extra careful because he thinks to himself that it could be his sweetie out there. He doesn't actually call me his sweetie, but we'll keep our nicknames private! Maybe if I could just endear myself to all of Elkridge, the roads would be a safer place.
Anyway, I think I've addressed why I personally want to ride around here. That is, if I'm going to ride regularly for enjoyment and exercise, I need to be able to go right from my home. Otherwise, I will make excuses as to why I can't go. So I minimize the risks, and accept the challenges because I love bike-riding.
It's also my main form of exercise. I believe to maintain a healthy active lifestyle, I have to enjoy what I'm doing. Unless we call "stand-up singing" exercise (because singing in the choir is really my very favorite thing!), bike-riding is my favorite activity. I also enjoy walking, hiking in the park behind my house, taking ballet and zumba classes, and I even do some jogging, swimming, and weight training. But when I can't bring myself to do the other things, my bike never fails me! It's easy on my poor old feet, and I don't have to jump in cold water or drive to a gym or dance studio. There are moments in ballet class when I think I love it best, but for hours of pure enjoyment, I go by bike. None of this helps me lose weight, because I'm SO hungry when I step up my activity! But at least my heart is stronger for someone whom my husband calls "naturally sedentary."
There are other obvious benefits. When I ride my bike to perform an errand such as shopping, or I commute to work (which is rare because it involves traversing busy roads during rush hour), then I'm saving gasoline. Gasoline is expensive these days! And pollution from fuel-burning vehicles, even for compact cars like my Honda Fit, is not negligible. I have mentioned my two bright red panniers before. They hold a lot of stuff, but the funny thing is, I don't even notice the burden. I'm sure I have to work harder to haul the extra load back up to my house, but the ergonomics and load distribution of the panniers seems almost magical. I could put a lesser load in a back-pack and be much more exhausted at the end. So I reap multiple benefits here. I save money on gas, I burn extra calories, I make a dull chore more fun, I have preferred parking, and I get bragging rights about what I've accomplished! I've even done Christmas shopping by bike when the season is mild enough. (40 degrees, low wind, is my threshold.) You reap benefits too, because I've kept your air cleaner for you, and I've saved some gasoline resources and parking spots for you too.
There's something to be said for taking the slow road too. It helps alleviate stress. You get to smell the flowers. Oh the honeysuckle and wild roses in May! Now the wild roses are back to being annoying sticker-bushes, but for two glorious weeks in May, their scent is heavenly. You get to see more things too. Did you know there are miniature horses in a yard on Forest Avenue in Hanover? Have you seen the Great Blue Herons in Deep Run off Race Road? Have you noticed how the trees lean ominously over Landing Road near Rockburn Park? Have you seen George and Chrissy Lowes' donkey in the pasture on Landing Road? (The donkey's name is Jack, and he's really cute, butting right in with the big horses.) We are losing our rural feel here, but there are still some remnants of the olden days.
I wish more people would join me in these pursuits. I wish the roads were safer for those who want to join me but aren't as crazy as me!
For next week, I'm writing "On Box Turtles and Bike-riders," two of my favorite themes, which of course have nothing in common... right? Well, we'll see.