Monday, July 5, 2010

On the road

Today I experienced one of the most wonderful bike rides that reminded me of how remarkable life can be when witnessed from two wheels.

In the past, I’ve taken in some vivid scenery while pushing 40 to 50-plus miles through the Green Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire where Brenda and I traversed the Connecticut River, drank iced coffee at Dartmouth, stopped in tiny villages. Lush. Fresh. Pure, indeed--just as life should be.

And I’ve ridden bikes along the coasts on both sides of the country, eyeing the Atlantic and Pacific slowly skate by on many occasions, watching the sun rise, the sun set.

But today, today presented me with a gift from my own backyard when I decided to join a group ride through the virgin farmlands of western Berks County toward Kutztown. It’s an area that I know so very well since it’s just outside of Bear Swamp. However, I’m always weary of biking too far, especially since I was forced off the road in the country last year and ended up spraining my wrist and elbow.

This time, I left comfort at home. In order to ramp up for my race, I need to log more heavy mileage rides, so I went out with the “B” group.

At the start of the ride, we dealt with some traffic as out-of-towners headed toward the Folk Festival to gawk at the Old World traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch, replete with German-rooted foods, ceremonies, clothes. My roots. (My mother, after all, spent some time growing up on a green bean farm.) And so the culturally deprived from Jersey maniacally barrel down the two-lane roads in a rush to see the simple folk and pay through the nose for handmade quilts that you could buy much cheaper at auction.

But despite the traffic, we soon dodged the madness and turned down less-trodden paths, where we quickly pedaled past the fields of corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. The roads turned and twisted by farmhouses, a few trailers, a pet cemetery, laundry on the line, silos, summer kitchens, a patchwork of peace.

A steady breeze made the punishing sun and 91-degree blanket quite manageable. Instead, my greatest worry became dodging the endless horse pies that dotted the macadam. The manure, however, must’ve been left over from Sunday’s buggy rides to service for the Mennonites were nowhere to be found on the road since today, July 5, was a Monday. Farmers don’t honor the holiday observance. Monday is Monday. And so they work.

We headed through small boroughs and tiny villages that dot the edges of the massive land parcels that weave together this agricultural blanket of husbandry. Cars would eventually pass us along the roads; however, it seemed more common to see fellow cyclists who appreciate the untainted area and the horse pies just as much.

Still, the highlight of the ride came on the return leg, not far from Dryville. About 12 feet from the road, two mammoth horses, clearly not trimmed for dressage, slowly pulled a large plow—guided by a middle-aged Mennonite farmer with a ZZ-Top beard—across a parcel just as we passed. The rider in front of me nodded toward the farmer, who replied in kind. With his barn and fertile acreage in the backdrop, the scene was simplistically beautiful. Untarnished.

I realized, perhaps, how fortunate I am to live in area that still has not completely given in to the pressures of money, of commercialism, of a culture that thrives on machines. Granted, I am guilty of falling prey to the whims of emerging technology. But inside, I still feel as though I maintain some semblance of a naturalist.

And I don’t need to go very far to remind myself of that.

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