Twenty-five years ago, perhaps a little longer, I did my last long bicycle ride. Today, I still ride a bit, and commute by bike, but I pretty much figured my significant riding was behind me. However, recently my wife got a new bike and encouraged me to join her on longer rides. I resisted at first, remembering the saddle-sore associated with rides of several hours or more, and rather preferring long-sitting on the couch reading, to long rides on a hard seat.
But I could see how much she wanted a biking partner, and it did seem like a good way to spend time together, so I rode a few times with her, just for a half-hour or so on some shorter local rides around town. Eventually I bought a new bike of my own, in hopes of giving myself a fighting chance of keeping up with her, and the bicycling bug bit me again—the wind in the hair, the smell of the grass and trees, the closeness to the rhythms and harmonies of the earth. I was hooked.
A few days ago we did our first longer bike ride together. We rode the Centennial Trail north of Seattle, which is 60 miles roundtrip: beginning at the southern trailhead in downtown Snohomish, WA, traveling north through Arlington and on to the northern trailhead at the Nakashima Heritage Barn near the Skagit County line, and then back again.
It was a beautiful, clear and crisp fall day. And it was exciting. Our first real bicycling adventure together and what a perfect trail to initiate ourselves. The trail is generally flat and meanders through small towns, across pastures, over old trestle-bridges spanning several rivers and creeks, and alongside forested areas; it overlooks wide agricultural valleys, and shoulders up against small lakes as it winds its way northward.
Under canopies of big-leaf maples the trail is strewn with fallen leaves the color of gold and pumpkin, which crackle and crunch under our tires. We pass small farms, smell the sweet scent of freshly cut grass, hear the sounds of life as we ride by, and encounter new surprises again and again as we make our way along the trail.
Everyone knows that smells can unlock old memories. Taking up old activities again can also awaken long-forgotten feelings. This bicycle ride was reviving in me an exhilarating freedom, a return to youth. As we coasted under the trees, I felt a strong and vivid remembrance of a younger me—one with a future of endless possibilities, living in a world of simple pleasures, and enjoying the moment, without concern for tomorrow. With very little effort I imagined myself back there again, in that time, in my youth, riding as I had over 25 years before.
We felt so alive, my wife and I, as we pedaled our way along the trail. Which is so great, because as the ride wore on, most of my extremities began to give out, and felt as though they were slowly dying. We were pounding the pedals fairly hard, at least from my perspective, because, glancing over at my wife it didn’t appear that she was working nearly as hard as me; and for most of the ride my left foot had gone numb. I don’t have great circulation so I’m guessing this was the problem.
At some point along the way my right foot also started to tingle, and eventually it also stopped sending signals back to my brain. But I wanted to keep up with her, so as long as I could still pedal I was all for it; besides it was just such a beautiful day, I didn’t want to complain. Although I did. I complained and whined quite a bit and shook my right foot, and then my left foot every so often to prove that I was telling the truth.
In the meantime my right hand also went numb. It seemed every extremity of mine was slowly shutting down, in protest to all the activity. I still had feeling in my left hand and unfortunately in my behind. That seemed to be the one area where all my feeling was concentrated. As we continued to ride, it felt hotter and hotter back there. It was as if a ring of fire had encircled, and was now devouring my rear end.
But what a beautiful day. And the trail is one of the most beautiful you could hope for, with such varied and picturesque scenery. Traveling this way, by bicycle, one gets to experience the sights, the sounds, the smells, all of the senses in a full and complete way, uninsulated from one’s surroundings, with nothing to come between you and your environment. And the pace of travel by bicycle is delightful and relaxing, offering opportunities for enriching experiences with other bicyclists, walkers on the trail, dogs and other creatures, children and townsfolk.
There is something about bicycling that breaks down walls, piques interest, and makes people happy. Some cyclists take things very seriously and look extremely determined but I suspect even those, if you could catch them and talk with them for a moment, you’d find a fun-loving kid underneath all that riding gear and equipment.
Getting outside and experiencing life in this way is a genuine breath of fresh air and is as easy as riding a bike.