I am thrilled to have had a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul – Age is Just a Number! This edition of CSS has 101 stories selected from over 5000 submissions. My story is titled ‘ Bears in the Woods’ (how appropriate!) and is about spending a night on the Appalachian Trail with my son for my 60th birthday. If you have read my blog you know about my intense fear of bears and of the woods! I wanted to face the fear of the woods in the darkness and was ‘lucky’ enough to meet a giant black bear along the way to challenge that fear also! The book hit the stores on November third. There are many wonderful stories about life and discoveries after 60!
I wake early, surprised at my eagerness to get back on the trail. I meet the group at the first rest stop at Schoharie Crossing Historic Site. A trading post was located here during colonial times, along with the remains of a large aqueduct along the original canal. Within minutes, I see my tent mate. She appears as pleased to see me as I am to see her. She is ready to get riding and leaves while I check out the aqueduct. I ride with no one by my side, but do not feel alone. Our common goal is nearing and there is a palpable connection to my fellow riders.
The trail into Amsterdam runs along the opposite side of the river than the route taken on my previous trip here. We continue on to the next town–Rotterdam Junction-and the Fireman’s Auxiliary is having a fund raiser barbecue. Burgers, hot dogs and all the fixings are available for a dollar or two. The day is sunny with moderate temperature and a cool breeze. An inexpensive lunch on picnic tables fits the bill perfectly. Jovial conversation flows like the nearby waters that we have followed for seven days. Reservations about fitting in have receded from my thoughts, and I easily join in the chatter.
The historic Mabee’s Farm, also the site for the Schenectady Historical Society Museum, is a few miles further down the road. The farm’s Dutch-style Stone House was first built in 1670 and believed to be a fur trading post. It was owned by the Mabee family until 1999. It is one of the oldest homes in New York State and the oldest in the Mohawk Valley. I explore the grounds briefly, but am eager to move on to the Lions Park in Scotia, where tonight’s tent city will be waiting. On the way, I stop at a friend’s house nearby. A familiar smiling face is a welcome greeting as I pull in on my bike. We share some lemonade, a few words and a hug before I return to the pack. She snaps a picture of me in my full biking gear. A much longer story awaits our next visit.
I stop briefly at the park before continuing a few more miles to my home. I drive back later and meet another friend for the “gala” dinner and a “No Talent” talent show. Then there will be the traditional awards ceremony for accomplishments like: the most bones broken, the most crashes, the most flat tires, the youngest cyclist, and the oldest cyclist. I fill my friend’s ear with tales of the trip as we sit, eat, talk and enjoy the show. It is comforting to be with someone I know well.
The show ends, but the party is obviously going to continue. I am content to return home and savor the place I have perhaps not fully appreciated in the past.
Homemade muffins, fruit, and farm fresh eggs await us the next morning—a splendid start to our second day of riding. This will be the first time either of us has taken a bike trip lasting longer than one day. We leave our gear for pick up later by car. The sun is bright already, suggesting the coming heat of the day ahead. As soon as we leave town, we are back in the woods, on a recently constructed section of the trail. Our plan is to lunch in Amsterdam at a restaurant we scouted out before the trip. It also serves ice cream. Entering the small dreary city of Amsterdam, well past its heyday in carpet manufacturing, we are in a rundown area with boarded up businesses along the railroad tracks. It is late morning on a Sunday. The streets are empty. This is the first time I have felt uncomfortable with the surroundings. We finally reach our planned lunch stop, only to find it is closed! There are no other eating establishments nearby and we are not willing to go explore this part of the city, so we ride on until the trail abruptly ends just beyond the city limits.
The scorching sun overhead is beating down like a storm. We have one snack bar to share and water is getting low. The trail now runs on a four-lane thoroughfare with moderate traffic. Thankfully, there is a wide paved shoulder—but not an ounce of shade in sight. We approach a large quarry with huge noisy machinery crushing stone and loading giant trucks that are pulling in and out at amazing speed—can they see two bikers about to cross their path? Are they even looking? The dust from the quarry and the truck tires is choking. I wait for what appears to be a lull in the truck traffic and race by as fast as I can, hoping my friend does the same! When we catch up with each other we are relieved to see the long downhill ahead. The heat is really getting to me. She pulls out of sight as she goes with the pull of gravity while I apply my brakes to resist it. Further down the road, I find her sitting under a small tree along the side of the road. A long upward hill looms ahead. She declares that this is it; she is done. I call my husband and request a rescue. We are both hungry and the water is gone. We have no idea how much further it is to the gas station I know is along here somewhere.
My husband arrives. First, we head to the B+B for our gear. The drive back home reveals the gas station was just over that last hill. Too bad, with some refreshment we could have finished the trip as planned. We stop at Jumping Jacks drive in for lunch, a popular fast food and ice cream stop. Then home to rest and shower. Her flight doesn’t leave until late the next day, so we plan to complete the section of the trail we missed today—Niskayuna to Mabee’s farm—in the morning; and do. All together we traveled about 70 miles—not bad for beginners.
I wonder how my fellow riders on this current trip are handling that stretch from my memory. I describe a few details from the past six days to my husband. But I am not ready to go in depth yet, do not even know where to start. Before retiring for the second night in my own bed, I prepare my bike, gear, and outlook for the next day. I am surprised to notice how eager I am to rejoin the group!
The next day I sleep late, enjoying my comfy bed and my bulldog at my side. The now familiar morning routine of packing up and getting on the trail is absent. I think about the other riders, and imagine myself traveling with them. The thought of being on the trail strangely feels more familiar than relaxing and taking care of myself. I seldom allow myself to take a day ‘off’. There are always more tasks to check off on my never ending list. But today I am consciously setting tasks aside as part of my plan. Maybe I should consider taking an occasional day without my list in the rest of my life….
I have already covered about 35 miles of today’s 63 mile section of the trail on a previous trip with a friend, so I will miss about 30 miles of the trail between Rome and Little Falls. The day my friend and I rode this part of the trial, it was a very cold and overcast–unusually brisk for the season. My husband drove us there and dropped us off. As he drove away, we looked at each other with the same ‘What are we doing!??’ look on our faces. Moss Island is just up the trail. We did not go there that day, but I have been there before and seen the prehistoric potholes, extensive growth of mosses and lichens and some of the oldest rocks in North America. A marker states this is the only horizontal break in the Appalachian mountain chain, which is what made the building of the Erie Canal possible and provided a water route west for trade and settlement of the interior United States.
We planned to take two days for the trip–the first of any length for each of us. Within our first mile, we came to the Herkimer Mansion Historic site. The house was not open yet, so we walked around the grounds briefly, then got back on our bikes-needing movement to get our blood pumping through our chilled bodies. We did not see another rider for miles—not surprising on this less than perfect biking day. My friend had traveled from Maryland to make this trip, so we were committed no matter what the weather. We were not our usual chatty selves as we pedaled, surrounded by dense woods with occasional fields and glimpses of the canal. As the sun started pushing through the clouds, the sky-and our spirits-brightened.
We rode into the town of St. Johnsville–one of several locations where I had provided speech therapy to elementary students in my second professional job over 30 years ago. We stopped for a snack at a local shop and then moved on to Fort Plain–another stop on my job itinerary. The trail here led us to Lock 15. We chatted with a couple on a boat going through the lock. They relayed the story of their travels from Florida, up the Intercoastal Waterway, and to the canal. They were destined for the Great Lakes, then down the Mississippi and back to Florida. I had no idea such a trip was even possible! They had already been on the boat for a few months and still had a long journey ahead. I was fascinated–not just at the breadth of the journey, but at the ability to be together in such close quarters for so long!
We continued on to Canajoharie and our B+B destination for the evening. My husband had dropped our gear there on his trip home. Before heading to the B+B we had a late lunch at a local diner. We agreed it was some of the best ‘home cooked’ diner food we had ever tasted. We completed a large lunch with dessert–feeling we had earned the indulgence! Next we headed to the Arkell Art Museum-a local museum of some renown-established by the millionaire founder and first president of the Beech-Nut Packing Company. Unfortunately, it was closed. The Beechnut Factory-with the huge rusting sign I had seen dozens of times as I traveled the NYS thruway between my home and my parents’–was a brief ride away. It was most well known for gum and candy, (using the peppermint oil from the Hotchkiss Oil company in Lyons that I would visit on my later trip). The factory provided employment for most of the residents for years, but was now closed.
We found our way up a steep hill to the B+B, met our host, showered and rested in the backyard. I eventually went inside to nap, which my friend accomplished in the hammock outside. We walked to the only restaurant that seemed open for dinner, a greater distance away than we expected. The meal was good enough, but the best part was spotting our B+B hosts at a nearby table- especially since they had a car and offered a ride back up the hill our tired legs were dreading. We took advantage of a hot tub on the back porch to ease tight muscles before heading to bed early.
The trail continues east to Chittenango Landing Boat Museum. A reproduction of a canal boat pushes the story spun by yesterday’s captain closer to the reality of life on a canal boat. The space is even more limited than I imagined, especially considering the mules were housed and transported here as well. Boats came here for repair in three adjacent dry docks that still survive in much of their original form. The reconstructed village includes a canal goods store, sawmill and a blacksmith shop.
Much of today’s trail winds through the Old Erie Canal New York State Park. This is where it all began. The land was most level here. It was important to start where the most progress could be made in the least amount of time to entice further funding for its continuation. This was not the first attempt to connect the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Ontario and the interior of the growing country. But the expanse of the Allegheny Mountains blocked success, with elevations too great to overcome. The only route through them is this break where the Mohawk River flows.
We ride into the small city of Rome and stop at the Erie Canal Village, a reconstructed 19th century settlement on the site where construction for the original Erie Canal began on July 4, 1817. Much of it is closed, and it seems poorly cared for with little use. We walk around and explore a bit, then move on to the next stop – Fort Stanwix. The vital access to a route between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Ontario consisted of a trail that was used for centuries. As Europeans settled in this area, the homeland of the Oneida Indians and of the Six Nations Confederacy, conflicts arose. The Fort is part of that history. It would become most well known for its role in preventing the British from taking power over the colonies.
I have passed the fort many times over the years on my own vital route to visit my family in the town I grew up in. First the canal, then railroads, then the interstate highway system followed this path through the Alleghenies. A new appreciation for a familiar route grows. Sometimes we have little or no idea of the history that lies behind what we take for granted. I couldn’t help but wonder if my ancestors had arrived in this area because of the canal, as laborers. Had a relative of mine ever lived on a canal boat? Growing up, there was little talk of where our family had come from. My father told me we were mongrels, some Dutch, some German, a little Irish and maybe some French blood running through our veins. But our identity is 100% American, not a country left behind long ago. I never asked questions about my heritage. We were not the kind of family that talked about our ancestors, or anything else for that matter. My quiet nature may have come in part from an inborn disposition, but it definitely included learned expectations and behaviors that reinforced it.
As I ride up to the fort, I spot my husband’s car. The plan, made way before this journey began in Buffalo, included a day off along this stretch. A friend and I biked a good part of tomorrow’s route a few years ago. There is no reason to cover it again. I feel like a cheat. But I doubt I would be here if I had not given myself permission to take a day off. A decision to honor my own needs and not get caught up in what others thought I should do. This is my trip and no one else’s. This sounds like a simple choice, but not for me. My need to follow the ‘rules’ is deeply ingrained. The ‘good girl’ inside needs to know she is doing what is considered ‘right’, even at the expense of her own time, energy, health and emotions. When I was in the planning phase, before I committed money to the entrance fee, struggling with fear that I could not really do it, my husband casually stated: “Take a day off if you need to, nobody says you have to do it all.” That simple common sense statement never entered my mind. My internal ‘rule buddy’ and I started arguing: “But you’re supposed to do the whole thing! Says who? And why? It’s my trip and I can do whatever I want.” It was a slow revelation that cut through the shadows in the woods that still occupied a corner of my brain. My childhood fear of my father’s disapproval lingered on, still effecting decisions in my adult life. As soon as I realized the source of my resistance, I knew I would do this trip.
We load my bike into the back of the car and drive a little over an hour back home. Mild guilt soon disappears as I sit in my house eating a home cooked meal and retire to my own soft dry bed.
Breakfast chatter reveals that a storm of considerable ferocity passed through during the night. Many who had remained in their tents moved to the hockey rink in the middle of the night. My tent mate and I look at each other in dismay. Apparently both of us slept through it, unaware of the intensity of the thunder, lightning and downpour outside our fabric walls!
I finish breakfast and start out alone on the 50 mile ride to Rome, NY. I need solitude to sort out things in my head. The sorting quickly shifts to the back of my brain. Yesterday’s sense of awe completely blocked my most feared riding challenge. Back down the hill, brakes fully engaged to resist the speed that gravity demands, I enter four lanes of rush hour traffic on Erie Boulevard. Awe is buried under panic. I have never ridden in a city-much less during rush hour! And I am alone, no one riding nearby, practically invisible in the metallic milieu. Spotting a small group ahead, my legs pump into high gear to catch up. I tail them for forty minutes of forever. When the safety of the off-road trail appears, I stop to regain my breath and let my heart find the beat of belief again. It takes a while. Several people stop to ask if I am OK. Apparently, I look as shaken as I feel.
The path is quiet despite the number of riders on this trip, much as it has been each day. Remnants of stone walls curtained in moss and vines line the trail. Opportunities for lessons in history and camaraderie are abundant, but my focus turns inward, entwined in my own past. Today the trail passes within fifty miles of the house I grew up in. A home tightly sheltered from the outside world by thirty-seven acres of surrounding woods and warnings of the dangers that lurked beyond. I always did what I was told – my obedience wrapped in fear of my father’s disapproval and reinforced by my mother’s whispers not to make him mad, words that still secretly inhabit my thoughts and actions. I remember learning to ride a lavender second hand bike as a little girl. Our driveway was gravel and the country road off limits despite light traffic, so it was while pedaling across the lawn that I remember the first time that sense of balancing between 2 tires occurred. I rode little. There were no sidewalks and the uneven lawn of grass and weeds ended just past my grandmother’s trailer that sat a few yards to one side of our house. Senior year of high school, my close friend and I took a bike trip of about 20 miles and needed to call her mom to come pick us up. A bike traveled to college with me, but it was soon stolen and never replaced. The next bike was the one I purchased 35 years ago and used to start training for this trip. Who would ever have imagined that someday I would be here riding a bike across the state. A long stretch of time spans the experiences, lessons, people, jobs, and emotions between that 18-year-old girl who left home in search of freedom, and this 60-year-old woman still searching.
Today’s ride of 39 miles will end in Syracuse, just 30 miles south of the small rural town I grew up in. I rarely traveled there as a child and only became familiar with the area near the hospitals as my aging parents required their services. I do not know my way around downtown and never visited any of the venues for entertainment or shopping there. But then again I moved away from the area at 18 and returned only for brief visits with family.
The buzz of the day is the long, steep, legendary hill on the way to our campsite at Burnet Park, next to the zoo. I plan to pedal as far as I can then join the pedestrians, ignoring the “stay in the saddle” philosophy of more hard core riders, having accepted that my two feet function on pavement as well as on pedals. I begin to talk myself upward, around the next corner, just to the end of the block, maybe to the blue house ahead, and unexpectedly find myself in view of the familiar tent skyline. Engulfed in the thrill of accomplishment I dwell briefly in the awe of me.
I gather my gear, find my tent, spread wet items out across rope lines, on my bike – anywhere they might dry. Then I walk with my bathroom supplies and clean clothes to the tractor trailer with the long white container attached. There are lines outside waiting to enter the doors of the container. This is my first experience with the shower truck. Inside, stalls line two walls. Benches stand in the open middle space where other women undress, wrap themselves in the supplied towels-or not-and wait for the next stall to open up. My thoughts zoom back in time to the dreaded high school locker room. I want to turn around and leave. But my sticky, smelly body stops my feet, despite the desperate urgings of my brain. I notice the vast array of bodies surrounding me: tall, short, heavy, slim, wrinkled, smooth, droopy, toned. Some cringe and try to hide what they feel is unacceptable (even if young and thin and envied by those that recognize their beauty). Some laugh and chat as they freely display what we each possess in some form or another. I fall in the cringing/hiding group, and envy those so comfortable in their own skin that their size, shape or condition is of less focus than what lives within those boundaries of flesh. I wonder why I am so concerned about how others see and judge me, and why I judge myself so harshly. Never feeling good enough on the outside, no matter how much caring and kindness I possess on the inside.
After showering I meet my tent mate and we head to the zoo, but it is closed. It is later than I thought. I contemplate calling a taxi to go pick up a suitable outfit for my uncle’s funeral. I discuss the situation with her and we both realize it is too late on a weekday to find a store nearby in time to purchase something to wear. Fatigue is also quickly setting in. I realize my desire to see my uncle for one last time is not realistic. I feel like I am letting my mother down. She would have wanted me to be there. But I think she would also have wanted me to do this bike trip. Not because of the challenge of the distance, but to fulfil a more personal need. The need to discover my own strengths, and to leave no “I always wished I’d….” lists behind when my time arrives. My uncle is in my thoughts and I know he has a place in my heart that will remain forever. I believe she knows too.
There are warnings of huge thunderstorms through the night. The rain starts to fall soon after dinner ends. Many move from their tents, on the top of this open hill, into an enclosed hockey rink in the park for additional protection. My tent mate and I are tired and just want to go to bed and decide to stay in our tent. We’ve slept through rain before.
The morning dawns without clouds or rain. My usual routine—up, pack, bathroom, drag gear to truck, eat, listen to brief talk about what lies ahead, get the map for the day, check tires, gear up and head out—changes. I collect all my damp gear first so only one trip will get everything across the field of mud that has not disappeared with the rain. I am thankful the sodden tent is not my responsibility. It’s time for ‘serious Sue’ to settle onto her seat.
The morning’s ride traverses more rolling hills, but then eases into the flatter trail along this part of the canal. So far, every morning I wake wondering if I can accomplish the task of the day—so far, I have. Today’s ride crosses 39 miles to our next stop in Syracuse. My usual morning ‘fret’ seems to still be snoozing. A lightness fills its place, accompanied by a small sense of peace. More murals depicting historic scenes of the canal greet us in the next town. The July sun bears down on the rain soaked surroundings. The air feels more like slush as my lungs seem to resist taking it in. I gaze at the clear sky and pray for clouds to block the same rays I had wished for yesterday.
Following a break for lunch, the ring of my cell phone startles me—the first call aimed my way since I started the trip. It is my aunt who has no idea where I am or what I am doing. My mother’s younger brother has passed away. It has been six months since my mother’s passing, one factor that pushed me to take this trip, to look at my life and decide to live more fully, take more risks, do things now so I am not filled with regrets like those she expressed during her final months. My uncle had struggled with severe heart disease for many years. This news should not be a surprise, but I am stunned. Another story over. I tell my aunt I am in the area and will somehow find my way to the funeral this evening. I don’t know how with no car or appropriate clothes, but I know I can figure it out. She insists I continue on, that her children will be there to care for her. I still tell her I will try-and mean it.
I start back along the bike path and start whispering to my uncle: “Are you here with me on this path? Is your spirit beside me? Can you see me smiling at your memory? Are you with mom, who always worried about you and loved you so much?” I know a part of him is, the part I carry within me. I didn’t believe in an ‘afterlife’ throughout most of my life. But as I age and experience deaths of family and friends, I sense their presence surrounding me. I stopped questioning what I’m feeling or what it means and instead accept and take pleasure in knowing I am not alone.
As I bike into the town of Camillus, someone is holding a sign that says ‘Half Way!’ I smile and wave. I feel accomplished! Mid afternoon we arrive at Sims Store—a replica of an original canal store containing items that were sold for use on the canal boats. There are also photos, drawings and artifacts from a time when the canal was the major route for travel west. Accounts of the history of the canal and actual tools used to build it add depth to the flavor of canal life. We take a boat ride over the Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct—a water filled bridge that carried canal boats over unnavigable areas. This restored example is one of only a few left. The captain of our boat spins a vivid rendition of life on the canal, bringing us on board as part of a family living on a boat. He describes the animals that also lived in this limited space-including goats, chickens, a cow and-most importantly-the mule required to pull it along the towpath. He verbally paints a picture of laundry strung across the roof, barrels of goods being carried for sale, young children working or playing on deck, the threat of being robbed with no place to run, the camaraderie of those traveling in close proximity, and the availability of vices not restricted to dry land. It was a life filled with hard work, adventures, and the hope for at least a small bit of prosperity. I begin to wonder if my family history contains chapters related to the early years of the canal.
Last night’s rain and more today, have turned the athletic field into a mud bath. No matter how big or gentle our steps, mud covers our shoes and flips up onto the back of our legs. Also, our gear was unloaded prior to the last shower so everything is wet, including my sheet and blanket. My tent mate and I ask for any extra towels and they become our bedding.
Tonight’s dinner is on our own. Buses are available to take us into town. I indulge in a massage at the area set up at the edge of the tents. It is not enclosed, but careful maneuvering of sheets and towels allows for disrobing. My physical body is screaming for some kind of release, and finds it here through the skillful hands that manipulate muscles to soften the hard work of the day. I thought my legs would be the primary focus, but my back and shoulders require extensive work to relax towards their ‘normal’ state—which is a state of tension even within regular day-to-day activities. My hour ends before I am ready to say goodbye to the relief the kneading is just beginning to offer, but there are others waiting. Redressing within sheets held for privacy is harder than undressing. A quick shower in the gym and I am ready to join my tent mate and car mate for the trip into town. I am not sure but I think they waited for me. Really?? We are some of the last to head out.
The town of Seneca Falls is basically closed. Supposedly this town served as the model for the infamous Bedford Falls from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life starring James Stewart. There is even a museum related to the movie in town, but it is closed by now. The favored restaurant is packed and we need to wait over an hour to be seated. But the bar is accommodating with rapid responses to drink orders. The boisterous, cheerful crowd almost makes me feel celebratory! We talk with another acquaintance of my two companions, a face I have seen but never exchanged words with. I am introduced, and he announces: “So, this is serious Sue I’ve heard about.” My immediate response is to take offense inwardly, wishing my image was one of a more carefree and fun nature, feeling betrayed by the only two people I have had any significant contact with on the trip. But I quickly realize that this trip is serious business for me, and that is exactly how I have responded every step of the way. What initially felt like an insult shifts to become more of a reminder, a confirmation, that this trip is much more than an exercise in my physical ability to complete the miles. I try hard through the rest of the evening to present a more relaxed response to everything, letting down my guard just a little. But I feel like an imposter and am sure they can see the effort it requires to move away from my serious focus. Play has never been a valued pastime in my life. Goals and hard work are solid players in the arena of getting ahead and making ends meet. Maybe this is why Ron’s ability to make me laugh has always been so attractive. Sometimes I resist the urge to laugh at one of his playful responses. I wonder, do I resist because I don’t want to give him the satisfaction or because I don’t think I deserve the break from the more serious side of life?
Seneca Falls is most well known as the birthplace of Woman’s Rights. The small museum on its history is closed, but a tourist focused shop filled with all kinds of memorabilia is open. We go there after we eat. It is already dark and late, and we quickly look at all the merchandise, from socks to signs to shirts-both serious and humorous. I am attracted to the humorous cards and purchase a couple with the excuse that some friends will appreciate them, but also buy duplicates for myself.
We need to rush to catch what someone just informed us is the last bus back to our campsite, as it starts to rain once again. We make our way through the sucking mud, barefoot to keep our shoes clean, taking huge steps and wiping our feet on one of the towels before we enter the tent. It is damp and uncomfortable and my dry bed at home reaches a new level of appreciation. But we are exhausted and crawl under our towels/blankets, thankful for their dry caress.
It rained last night, and this morning fits of showers pepper the ride. I no sooner stop to don my rain gear than it stops and I begin to sweat. Then I stop again to remove my new ‘breathable’ Gore-Tex raincoat, only to have the rain return and force another stop. Thankfully, the fits die down to hovering clouds. We bike into a town with gigantic murals painted on the concrete support wall of a bridge. There are scenes of men with shovels working on the canal and scenes of women and children busy with daily tasks. The people are plain and the colors are muted, but the energy and determination of hard work intertwined in a full life radiates from the stone. I can’t stop staring at the paintings. Were my ancestors part of this creation that passes only a few dozen miles from the home where I grew up? No one ever mentioned it. No one ever talked much about anything from the past. But hard physical work and determination are part of the energy of my heritage that pulls me into these scenes.
One of the rest stops today is in Palmyra, the home of Joseph Smith—founder of the Mormon religion. I had no idea something that seemed far away in Salt Lake City started so close to home. According to information received somewhere (literature? sign? lecture? word of mouth?) over 200 historic buildings exist in just one square mile of this town. Opportunities for lessons in history and camaraderie are abundant. I take advantage of some and let others slip by. The physical activity- tuned to the rhythmic movement of my pedals, scenery, open space, fresh air, and the quiet despite the large number of riders on this trip-contribute to softening the buzz of the never-ending demands at home. Out here on the trail I am constantly watching for ruts, other riders and markers that indicate where to turn. But that intense external focus seems to facilitate intense internal focus. I wonder where I am headed in life, am amazed that I am here doing this ride, and notice my growing desire to be back home—the place I have been running away from for years. Within the challenge of each day’s ride, moments of contentment hint at inner peace.
The small town of Lyons greets us with a set of temporary signs stating that the Peppermint Museum is open. The crowd of bikers signal the small building that I could have easily missed. Apparently peppermint was widely grown in this area, creating an oversupply of peppermint oil used in medicines and teas. The opening of the canal created an opportunity to export the oil to Europe, where it won multiple medals. This town became the peppermint capital of the world for many years! They also used the oil in the making of gum and candy at the Beechnut factory located further along the trail. I buy a small bottle to add to my tea and realize it is the first memento of the trip I have acquired (except for the impending pebbly scars on my arm from my fall)!
The afternoon rest stop is in Clyde. There is a small fair on the greens. I wander a bit and get ice cream before continuing on. The afternoon’s trip takes us past the lush green fields of Amish farmlands. We travel on a country road, with little traffic and an occasional horse-drawn carriage. Rolling hills stretch as far as my eye can see. I effort my way up each hill, passing my tent mate several times because she passes me on each downhill, where gravity increases speed and distance with ease. But fear of the speed and another fall force me to apply my brakes as I try to gain control over the bike that wants to follow the pull of nature. Along the way, a group of bikers are gathered at a farm. I stop to find children, well prepared for our passing, selling home-baked goods. I can’t resist a huge chocolate chip cookie and wonder if after riding 400 miles on my bike I will actually gain weight! ‘Keeping my energy up’ seems like a good excuse to indulge. By the time we reach our evening tent site at Mynderse Academy in Seneca Falls, I have ventured across enough rolling hills to last me a lifetime.