Some folks know that I have biked literally a few thousand miles in the last few years. While I have done it as a pastime, the primary driver, the primary motivator if you will, has been the occurrence of certain events, certain planned bike rides with my friends, that I needed to train for. Or it has been a case of where I needed to prove something to myself – like the ability to get back on the bike after a major fall during one of the aforementioned rides. Lacking any such motivating forces this year, it has taken me a long time to get back on my bicycle this year. But it did happen finally in spite of all the regular excuses. And I am hoping that this is not the last time I ride a bike this year.
The process of getting back on the bicycle for the first time each year poses its own challenges. Things that you take for granted as a part of a regular schedule can become challenges once again. Where did I leave my bicycling gear last year? Do I have enough shorts, tops, or even gloves, stored away? Where did I put these things? What happened to my favorite gloves? What are the things that I want to carry during a ride, and how will I carry them – a bottle of water, a Clif bar, my keys, my smart phone, etc.. Do I really need my wallet during the ride? Do I carry stuff in the pockets on the back of my shirt, or in the pockets of my shorts, or in the pockets of my camera bag, during the ride? Will I remember to close the zippers for the pockets of my shorts so that stuff does not fall out at some random place while I am riding? None of this is a habit any more.
What is the state of the bike after all this time? The tires are flat after many months of sitting in the garage. Will they hold the air in once I pump them up? Where did I leave the bicycle pump? Should I not oil the bicycle chain? I need to find the instructions for doing that.
Is my bicycle helmet alright? Is it where I think I left it last year? Should I have gotten a new helmet? (I already know the answer to that last question, but I am not good at planning ahead.)
How do I get the bike to the trail? I used to throw it into the back of the Prius in the past (as talked about in a paragraph here), but we have now switched the use of the family cars. Is the old bike rack still functional? What adjustments need to be made to attach it to the back of the Honda Civic? Have I attached the rack securely? Have I attached the bike to the rack securely? As I drive to the trail head, my eyes are shifting to the rear-view mirror more often than usual, to make sure the bike has not disappeared from view somewhere along the way. How the heck did I have the nerve to drive long distances on the highways with a bike tied to the back of the car when I was young? Was I young and stupid? (Don’t answer that last question!)
And then one arrives at the trail head. You take the bike off the rack and check that everything is in order. There are days in the past when I have ridden off without my helmet or gloves. That did not happen on Thursday at Pennyfield Lock.
And then you are biking. It all feels quite effortless. The bike feels too small. But that is the same way I feel every year when I start biking for the first time. But then you get used to it very quickly. It is all coming back. You ease into the routine. There is no reason to hurry. You can see how the muscles feel after many months of disuse. I have no worries. I have done this so many times that it is all going to come back – the rhythm, the zen of the bicycle trail.
And then I am off, and it is hard to stop. If I do, I will lose the magical feeling. I do not even stop for the flowers by the trail. The air is cool, you encounter the occasional human being. At this point, there are some people who are zipping past me with a sense of purpose. There are others making their way at a more leisurely pace. I know that I will eventually join the first group. That is how my mind works.
After a while, you begin to feel the effort of the biking in the muscles. It is time to slow down, perhaps stop for a drink of water, and/or a pee.
The trail transforms itself in different sections – mud and potholes in the first part (smooth), the roughness and unevenness of the differently sized pebbles on the trail in the second part (bumpy), and, finally, the new crushed gravel for the last section of the ride (cushioned) all the way up to Whites Ferry. The sounds of the wheels change as the surfaces change. The rhythm becomes new once again – and then you get used to the new rhythm.
I stopped for the turtle I found on the trail.
It had obviously emerged from the waters of the canal.I did not slow down for the green heron that was flying by me, but the still great blue heron caught my attention.I stopped and walked back to where it was standing on a branch over the canal. So engrossed was it in looking for fish in the water that it did not move an inch during the whole time.Then it was relaxation time at Whites Ferry before I started biking back to Pennyfield Lock.
The statue of a confederate soldier that used to stand on this pedestal (on private land) at Whites Ferry has been torn down by vandals.The statue formerly used to stand at the Montgomery County government offices in Rockville. It was donated to the owners of the ferry a few years ago after the political environment in the county shifted. The owners of the ferry did not know what they were getting themselves into. They now want to have nothing to do with the controversy regarding confederate monuments. The even renamed their ferry boat almost immediately.It used to be called the General Jubal A. Early. Jubal Early was a Confederate General during the civil war.
It was nice to see that the operations at Whites Ferry seemed to be in decent shape despite all of our recent troubles. The local store at the ferry site looked like it was getting decent foot traffic from the summer visitors who are flocking to the outdoors more than usual during this time of COVID-19. I was completely in the zone by the time I started riding back. As I expected, I was picking up the pace as I rode. It seems to be a natural tendency on my part. It was a different state of mind from when I started the ride. This time, I took a break for a snack and water at Sycamore Landing. I also stopped to take a picture of the flowers I had ignored on the way out. I initially thought these flowers were Dames Rocket, but they have the wrong number of petals. I think these are Wild Sweet William, a kind of phlox.
There was the frog that hopped on to the trail in front of me as I was biking, and then, as I slowed down hoping that it would stop so that I could take its picture, decided that it was going to take a circular route back to the side of the trail that it had come from. It all happened in an instant.
There were the opportunities for further examination when the butterflies flew past me, and I considered whether to stop and turn my head to see if they had landed somewhere. The only time I really stopped, the butterfly kept going in the opposite direction that I was biking in, following another bike rider who was headed that way. It seemed to be able to keep pace with the rider easily. One other time, the image of a black butterfly with red stripes on both wings imprinted itself in my brain the moment it flew past me, and then the moment was gone. Someone could tell me that I only imagined that moment, and I would not have anything concrete to offer to counter that assertion.
I got a surprise as I got closer to the end of the ride. I found this snake across the trail. Although it was much smaller than the version of the snake I had found the previous year on the Capital Crescent Trail, it was not very difficult to recognize the Northern Copperhead, one of only two venomous snakes in Maryland.The eyes on this snake give me the creeps even now, many days later.By the time I was done with the ride, I was back in the swing of things. My overall confidence level was back to normal. I stopped the GPS device when I got to the car. I had done over 32 miles in over three hours. I loaded my bike on the bike rack once again, and drove home the recuperate and recover.
I hope this is not the last ride this year.