A morning spent bicycling the Erie Canalway Trail introduced us to the glories of New York’s bikeways.
The best way to visit a tourist attraction is often by bicycle. True to form, our visit to Canada is made better when we find the Niagara Falls bike trails.
The Spoked household decides to take a velo vacay–combining a visit to a friend with cycling every day. Here’s the introduction to our easy cycling vacation, beginning with a stop in Springfield, Illinois.
I take a new job and ride The Hill for the last time. Then I ride it again just for fun.
Last Saturday morning I was zipping west in the Subaru along the route of the Cottonwood 200 bike ride when I saw a group of cyclists huddled by the side of the road. They flagged me down and noticed the Sweetpea bobbling on the bike rack as I pulled the car off the pavement. Relief flooded their faces. I was an angel sent by the cycling gods.
One rider stuck his head through the open passenger window and described how his group had come upon a lone cyclist curled up next to a bike in the road. The downed rider didn’t know where he was or how he’d gotten there. He had no idea what had caused the crash. Everyone assumed he had a concussion. Someone needed to take him to the hospital. Then the rider stopped talking and looked expectantly at me. “Has anyone called 911?” I asked. He replied, “We tried, but he refused it,” then quickly insisted, “You have to take him to the hospital.” I glanced over my shoulder to see the others protectively circling a bloodied man seated by the side of the road. Aw, hell.
Everything had seemed so straightforward the night before, when a ridiculously hot and windy forecast convinced me to drive into the Flint Hills instead of riding the entire 80-mile first day of the Cottonwood. The plan was to ditch the car at a SAG (Support And Gear) and ride the prettiest stretch of prairie in out-and-back loops, staying within 20 miles of the car. I love the Cottonwood 200, a three-day group ride held every Memorial Day weekend, but I don’t do well in heavy wind and heat.
“Better safe than sorry” had driven me right into an emergency anyway. Any other time, I’d have called 911 on the cell phone. This time, I looked once more over my shoulder and saw the face of the stricken man for the first time. He was standing feebly on one leg and looking back at me through the rear window. I recognized him even with his bloodied face and swollen forehead. Holy cow, it was Ken.
Three years ago, Ken saved my butt on a difficult ride when, for eight consecutive days, the heat index soared above 100F but the organizers refused to support the shorter routes they’d advertised. Ken held impromptu meetings nightly in which he laid out alternate routes. The group met him each morning before dawn and rolled out in formation. I came to think of Ken as our Rogue Leader, and us as his Rogue Squadron. Without Ken, we’d never have finished the ride.
And that is why, last Saturday, I patted the passenger seat and told Ken’s protector, “Bring him right here.” I didn’t even spread a blanket to catch the drops of blood. I drove him directly to a Topeka hospital where we both entered the ER clad in Spandex. I called his wife and made sure the security guard stashed his bike properly in a locked closet before going on my way. Later that same day, I swept two other riders who couldn’t finish. On Sunday I helped organize the SAG gear and food, and on Monday I volunteered at a SAG stop. I didn’t get in many cycling miles, but I did pay it forward and that was rewarding in its own way.
Hey, Ken–now, we’re even.
They bring back childhood memories of driving a pickup into our pasture and backing it underneath the heaviest branches. Even a slight shake sent the ripe fruit tumbling onto the old sheet my brothers and I spread over the bed. We drove from tree to tree until the sheet was covered and our feet, fingers, and mouths were purple. Then my mother made mulberry jelly, and mixed the berries into pound cake for lightness.
Any other season you can easily pass a mulberry without knowing it overhangs you, but in the spring its cover is blown by fruit dropped onto sidewalks and driveways. I didn’t realize it until this year, but Topeka’s trails are crowded with the trees. During a recent 62-mile trail ride, Mr. Spoked waited while I picked and ate the delicate berries. You’re probably thinking about all the worms inside the fruit, but I’m a farm kid and have eaten worse. And protein keeps you going on the long rides. When we got home, I sneaked into the neighbor’s yard where a mulberry has shoved itself between fence and house, and picked enough fruit to make homemade syrup. Life is a sticky chain of memories, purple stains that time cannot erase.
There’s a kerfuffle going on at my workplace. Just in time for Bike to Work Week, the route we’ve cycled for many years has been fenced. Catholic Cemeteries of Northeast Kansas has uncharitably blocked access to its central Topeka graveyard by fencing out the joggers, cyclists, and walkers who brought the grounds alive with their presence. Now, the neighborhood kids won’t laugh at each others’ jokes as they pass through on their way to school. The sweet little old lady will have to find another place to see the sun rise while walking her dachshund. The cemetery will belong to the dead.
Did the cemetery staff know this when they ordered the fence? Did anyone observe the wear patterns in the grass and consider how this would affect the long-term health of the grounds and the living beings who used it? Perhaps they did, and decided the cyclists and walkers were part of the problem. Sadly, that seems to be a common perception: if you’re not in a car, you must be up to no good.
After an initial exchange of annoyed emails, my coworkers and I began plotting out a new route to work. There is no way we’re going to be kept from cycling, ever, but especially during Bike to Work Week. Yesterday I rode the new way for the first time and found, to my surprise, it’s actually a more pleasurable trip. It’s over a mile longer, but avoids a busy intersection that always made me nervous. There are two new ponds to enjoy on misty mornings. There’s also a new, long hill to make the muscles a bit stronger, but that’s a small price to pay for the privilege of biking to work. Funny how clouds can have silver linings.
Happy Bike to Work Week!