Friday, October 16, 2009

Virginia’s New River Trail: More Than Cycling

(Published in SPOKES, June 2010)

I suspect that most of you, like me, keep a file of places that you would like to cycle…some day. Over the years, I have opened this file and pulled out Tom Gibson’s excellent article on the New River Trail (SPOKES, June 2004) and have wondered when I would experience this wonderful trail. Finally, in the late summer of 2009, I found myself enjoying the New River Trail and the surrounding area of southwest Virginia. The trail is only part of the richness of this area. It abounds in outdoor sports, music, arts, antiques, cafés, and restaurants. I spent 3 days there and wished that I planned a much longer vacation. Because it is such a wonderful cycling destination, SPOKES asked me to provide an update to Tom’s article.

The New River Trail is a Virginia State Park that runs northwest 57 miles from the towns of Galax and Fries to the town of Pulaski (near Interstate Highways 81 and 77). Cycling this trail became reality when good friends invited my wife and me to visit them at their summer home in Galax. How much better could it get? Their home sits on a hillside overlooking the Cliffview trail head and a pasture full of wildflowers and horses.

To cycle the trail in one day I selected one of the several shuttle services (Blue Cat Outfitters, located in the town of Fries just off the trail—276-744-2027) to take me to Pulaski for the start of my trip. Blue Cat offered to pick me up in Galax; however, I chose to cycle the trail to Fries. The trail forms a “Y” with Galax and Fries at the top end and Pulaski at the bottom. While Galax and Fries are about 5 road miles apart, they are about 15 trail miles from each other. Thus my cycling day was much longer than the trail’s 57 mile length.

The town of Fries is on the trail’s New River branch and Galax is on the Chestnut Creek branch. My shuttle driver told me that the name “Blue Cat” was derived from a local Native American Tribe. In addition to its shuttle service, Blue Cat offers bike, canoe, kayak, and tube rentals. They also offer guided tours, tipi rentals at their primitive river-side campground, and fishing trips.

The New River is one of the few rivers that flow north. Thus, starting at Pulaski meant that I would be cycling against the flow and presumably “up hill.” However, being a rail trail I figured that the grade increase would be very modest (usually 1 percent inclines). Before hitting the trail I explored Pulaski’s historic district. There I found an active community with interesting shops and restored historic buildings. At the Pulaski trailhead I enjoyed the restored railway station and museum. The museum offers displays of the history and culture of the Pulaski area.

Leaving Pulaski, I quickly saw why the trail has been designated a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Its packed gravel surface led me into a wooded wonderland and after a few miles, I was cycling parallel to the New River. The river is approximately 320 miles long, flowing through the states of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. From what I could see from the trail, the river would be great for water sports.

When I am on a rail trail, I imagine what went before. In the early morning mist I could see a Norfolk and Western freight train hauling lumber to one of Galax’s furniture factories. Once the lumber was unloaded, the train would then be reloaded with the finished furniture before heading north to the train’s main line. Like me, the trains would go through two tunnels, the longest nearly 200 feet; cross three major bridges, the longest at Fries Junction is over 1,000 feet; and, according to trail literature, nearly 30 smaller bridges and trestles. This trail was originally part of the New River Plateau Railroad Company that was eventually absorbed by the Norfolk and Western Railroad. The right-of-way was abandoned in 1985 and later donated for the rail trail.

The day I cycled the trail it was virtually deserted. Our 3 day vacation in the New River Valley was characterized by overcast skies and intermittent afternoon showers. I suspect that many trail users stayed home to avoid the wet weather. However, I did meet a few other trail users, most of which were deer but some were people. Just out of Pulaski I met a group from Ohio who were RV camping nearby and were on their cruiser bikes doing a short ride. They told me that while their trail back home was the best, they really liked the New River Trail. Their big tires were ideal on the packed gravel trail but most any bike would be ok. My touring bike with its 37mm wide tires worked fine.

Near Foster Falls Park, I met a family who were exploring a small cave adjacent to the trail. As I arrived, a father and his young son were emerging into the light. After posing for a photograph, they told me that the cave went into the mountain about 30 feet. Once inside they found old bones and evidence of earlier explorers. Being somewhat claustrophobic, I accepted their report at face value and wished them well as I continued cycling on the trail to the wide open spaces of Foster Falls Park. The park is on the trail so stopping there should be part of your journey.

On the trail there is little in the way of refreshments. However, I was able to purchase light snacks and drinks at the restored railway station in Foster Falls Park. The store manager, Marilyn Rudy, told me that the park rents bikes, canoes, kayaks, float tubes, and horses. In addition to the train depot, other historic attractions include an old iron furnace, caboose, and a hotel and grist mill that have not yet been restored. The park also has an outdoor amphitheater that is used during the summer. Two festivals are held annually at Foster Falls. In early September, the park hosts the Railway Festival and on the third Saturday in September it hosts the Wythe County Heritage Day event.

A few miles north of Foster Falls Park is a 200 year old shot tower. According to Wikipedia, “lead was hoisted to the top of the tower using block and tackle and oxen. The lead was melted in a retort and then poured through a sieve at the top of the tower. The droplets of molten lead would become round during the 150-foot descent. The shot would collect in a kettle of water and workers would enter through a 110-foot access tunnel located near the bank of the New River to retrieve the shot from the kettle.”

The New River Trail State Park offers four unique campgrounds: Cliffview, Millrace, Baker Island and Double Shoals. I stopped at the Cliffview campground and was impressed. The facilities are primitive but well built. In fact the pit toilets here and elsewhere along the trail were in stone buildings and very clean.
The trail is accented with several interesting pieces of trail art. Just outside of Pulaski, I enjoyed the Ghost Train Sculpture by Harry McDaniel. It consists of five abstract sculptures on poles and telescopes placed at each end. Looking through the first telescope I saw the silhouette of a locomotive and from the other telescope I saw the silhouette of a caboose. The other sculpture near Galax was more abstract but I believe that it depicted the wild and scenic New River.

For the more traditional rail-trail cyclists several railroad artifacts remain. These include the mile-marker obelisks, warning signal light fixture, and tunnel warning device with tentacles hanging over the trail like a “brushless carwash” that warned trainmen to duck or get off the top of the train.
Before arriving back at Galax, it rained heavily for about 45 minutes. Luckily, I planned for this possibility by carrying appropriate rain gear—3 plastic bags for my wallet, cell phone, and camera. Since it was very warm, I did not carry any other rain gear and enjoyed the cooling effect of the soaking I received. At the Galax trail head, I had to climb the hill back to my friend’s house. After getting cleaned up and enjoying wine on their deck we headed into Galax for dinner.

Galax has a vibrant downtown with art, music, coffee shops, cafés and restaurants, and antiques. It is the home of the Jeff Matthews Museum with Civil War and Native American artifacts, the Old Cranks Motorcar Museum and the Rex Theater. This Theater offers live music which is often free during its Friday night radio broadcasts. In addition, Galax has hosted the Annual Fiddler’s Convention since 1935 and is on Virginia’s “Crooked Road” music heritage trail. (This 300 mile trail through Southwest Virginia is also included in my file of great places that I want to cycle). Finally, the Blue Ridge Music Center is only 12 miles outside of Galax.

After a night on the town, my wife and I packed our car in an early morning rain for our return trip home to Northern Virginia. We hated to leave and seriously talked about looking for a realtor so we could also live in the New River paradise.

click here for more photos

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Places I Go and People I Meet

Pedaling where Lewis and Clark Paddled

The simple chalkboard menu read: “Monday: salmon patties, tater tots, coleslaw, strawberry cake and sweet tea. Tuesday…” If we wanted a hamburger we would have had to wait until Thursday. So it was salmon patties for all. We were hungry and the food was good. It was served with a smile and lots of conversation. In our spandex, we sat at a long table with farmers in coveralls and flannel shirts. One man joked that he also cycled—“the real kind with a motor.” He was called Preacher. Preacher was a grizzled man with lots of tattoos but a warming smile and full of talk. He had just returned from a rally in Arkansas where he rode his 3-wheeled motorcycle. “At the rally, I saw naked women riding motor cycles.” Preacher, a retired Missouri River pilot, is now a farmer. This particular café was between Jefferson City and Boonville, Missouri. Like many small towns that we cycled through, this café did not look like anything special—cinderblock structure, gravel parking lot with non-operating gasoline pumps, and a sign offering gas, food, and groceries. What was special was inside!

I and my friends, Joe (from New York State) and Hans-Peter (from Switzerland) started our westward journey in St. Louis Missouri. We planned a route that followed Lewis and Clark’s travels up the Missouri River as they explored the Louisiana Territory for President Jefferson. Like Lewis and Clark we met many interesting people along the way. Cycling out of St. Louis, we met the first of many new friends: the café owner who served us breakfast; the city guide who got paid to ride his bike and answer questions from tourists; and the park rangers who snapped group photos for us under the Gateway Arch. Our daily narrative, photos, mileage, and maps can be found at

Once we crossed the Missouri River we cycled much of the 225 mile Katy Trail that follows the Missouri River to Kansas City. In Defiance, Missouri we stopped to get coffee and decide if we would cycle to Daniel Boone’s Missouri home. As we pulled into town (3 stores, a bar, and several homes), we were met by the owner of those 3 stores (a general store/bike shop/gift boutique). While very friendly she was also very cruel. She let us smell her special coffee beans that just came out of the roaster but then told us that her coffee service was not yet in operation. She sent us across the street to the bar for coffee. We were crushed and had to settle for weak coffee and the smell of stale beer.

Further along the Katy Trail we met John. He offered to cycle with us to the next village to show us where to get good coffee. John seemed to know all the farmers gathered outside the café/general store. Once inside, he introduced us to Britney, the effervescent teenage store manger, coffee maker, and breakfast server. She sat with us and joined in our conversation. She did not have a menu but offered to make us several styles of egg. One style was called “daddy eggs,” a term that none of us knew. When asked, both John and Britney gave us the “look” that meant everybody knows daddy eggs. So we each ordered a daddy egg and as best as we can determine it is an egg fried in a ring with its yoke broken but not scrambled.

Later that morning, we met several cyclists who reported flood problems on the Katy Trail 2 days ahead. One couple told us that they cycled several miles in near knee-deep water and lugged their bikes over another section where the cliff collapsed and blocked the trail. This information took us off the Katy Trail and on the road where we met Preacher.

Days later, we stopped at the historic town of Arrow Rock, Missouri. While the docents provided interesting discussions of the town’s history and restoration, we got a different perspective on local history as we cycled out of town. An elderly gentleman waved us to a stop in front of his home. He told us that he was the fifth generation to live there. The home was built in 1835 by a great grandfather. He built the house for his wife before he left to make his fortune by taking trade goods to California, a 2 year journey. When he returned home his wife was pregnant…she then moved out to live with his best friend who owned the Arrow Rock Tavern.

Our arrival in St. Joseph, Missouri had 2 surprises. First, we were met by a local television reporter who filmed our arrival and interviewed us for the nightly news. She was particularly interested in Hans-Peter’s journeys in the United States. The second surprise was when friends from Chicago met us at our hotel. They had been tracking our progress from our blog and decided to meet us for drinks and personal updates of our journey.
In the town of Rock Port, Missouri, we were struggling with the fact that the town’s only restaurant was closed. However, we did find a grocery store. Rather than locking up our bikes we decided go in the store separately. Joe went in first but took forever to return. We soon found out that we were the central attraction and the crowd was growing by the minute. The 2 store employees could not do enough for us. While helping us get food they had lots of questions and comments. They were not alone and other customers were just as curious. The town doctor walked in and he was introduced as being an avid cyclist…so our story began again. Dr. Mike is a family doctor and a 3rd generation doctor in a family full of country doctors. He enjoys the rural life and the freedom it provides him to roam on his cycle. He and his wife have cycled in many states and in Europe. He examined our bikes like he would new patients, commenting on their differences and similarities. Our simple grocery stop took an hour but it was an hour well spent.

Our morning in Tarkio, Missouri started out with breakfast at a farmers’ café. Again our spandex did not seem to matter to the blue jean clad farmers. They were thrilled to tell Hans-Peter about American farm sizes and farming methods. When it was time for us to leave, the waitress told us that one of the farmers paid for our breakfast before he left. Wow, what a wonderful start to a great day!

Leaving Missouri, we cycled on the Wabash Trail to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Along the trail, we met a man picking mushrooms. He carried a golf club that he swung to chase the snakes away. The mushroom picker revealed that he lived in Council Bluffs, our day’s destination. Getting there would result in an 88 mile day, a long cycling day for Hans-Peter. Hans-Peter accepted a ride with his new friend but Joe and I cycled on; making this our longest, but not our hardest, cycling day.

We took a layover day in Council Bluffs to get some bike work done. My bike took only minutes to repair but Joe's took hours. Steve Batten, the owner of the True Wheel Bicycle Co, took charge of Joe's bike and as soon as one problem was fixed another was revealed. In the end, Joe was thrilled with Steve’s diagnostic and repair skills and the resulting price. The next morning, as we were leaving Council Bluffs, we passed several groups of children heading to school. One little boy got excited at seeing us and started to wave his arms and yell, “hasta la vista, amigo.” We were disappointed that we did not photograph the boy, but some memories are worth a thousand pictures.

Although Sioux City, Iowa was our destination, we camped in S. Sioux City, Nebraska. You could say that we were having a one-night-stand in Nebraska because this was our only night in this state. Just before crossing the Missouri River, we stopped at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and met the director and some of his staff. They asked if we had a blog and, of course, we obliged and gave them our address. The next morning we met 2 workmen near our campground who recommended that we have breakfast at the nearby Townhouse Café. The owner, Mrs. Curry greeted us with fresh coffee, good food and genuine curiosity about our travels. She has owned and operated this café for 16 years; serving food from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. She said that she likes her café and having family nearby but she would also like to travel.

We headed northwest out of Nebraska, through the corner of Iowa and into South Dakota. A strong tail wind pushed us quickly to the town of Elk Point. Upon entering the town, we were told that the best place to eat was the Legion Hall. So we headed down Main Street for our second breakfast. As soon as we entered the Hall, we knew that we were at the right place. A group of women were there for their weekly gathering. They quickly took charge and welcomed us to Elk Point. Sylvia, a spry woman, wanted to trade her electric scooter for one of our bikes. While no trade occurred, she enjoyed posing for pictures. Within 5 minutes of our arrival, Kelly Kruithoff, Editor of the Leader-Courier Newspaper showed up with camera and note pad. We became multimedia cyclists.
We were welcomed into South Dakota by the lovely ladies of Elk Point. However, the next day, South Dakota showed us a very different kind of welcome. We had strong north winds and cold temperatures. After 7 hours of cycling, we only covered 33 miles. To add insult to our day, we cycled a circuitous route of country roads. The direct route on the highway was only 23 miles. So the day was mostly about the “suffering cyclists” and not lovely ladies and cafés.
The next day, we arrived in Springfield, South Dakota before noon and stopped at the Libby Stake House for lunch. Everyone in the restaurant was dressed in their Sunday clothes except for us in our spandex. While we were trying to discuss our day’s destination and eat lunch, we were swamped by other patrons who either wanted to hear about our trip or provide input to our plans. Two middle aged women wanted Joe to go to the casinos with them. A grain storage operator had a thousand questions about us, our bikes, the routes, etc. A business man offered Hans-Peter some alternatives to our route. Four road cyclists told us that they were the ones that yelled encouragement to us as we battled yesterday’s head winds.

On our way to Pierre, South Dakota, we cycled together until Fort Thompson where Hans-Peter decided to spend the night. Joe and I cycled on. In hind sight our decision was “stupid.” Our journey turned out longer, windier, hotter, and with more hills than anticipated. It was totally desolate. I decided to hitchhike but Joe kept cycling. Since there were no passing cars, trucks, or planes, I kept moving, trying to catch Joe. As the day wore on and it got later I was worried about reaching Pierre. It was hours before I got a ride. However, I did not see Joe as I sped into town in a big pickup. When I got to our hotel, Joe had already settled into our room. He told me that he was picked up hours earlier by a trucker who said that he felt bad about not picking up the first cyclist he saw.

Leaving Pierre was a lot easier than getting there. About 30 miles into our route, we met 3 other cyclists. These guys were cycling the Lewis and Clark route in sections and this was their last one. Dave, Terry, and Lauren are from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota and were taking turns driving a support van. At that point, we had planned to head 12 miles east to Onida for the night. However, these guys were heading north. While their route was twice as long as our planned route, it had a strong tail wind. We chose their route and flew at 20-25 mph for the next 25 miles to an alternative lodging. Even with these great tail winds, we made one stop. We saw a man sitting on the tailgate of his truck holding a sign that read “OLD GUYS WELCOME.” The man knew our names and knew our eating habits. Craig McIntyre, South Dakota’s State Bicycle Coordinator, had been following our blog and decided to give us a big boost. When he brought out the caramel sticky buns, 2 kinds of cookies, and several types of drinks we knew that he seriously followed our journey. Leaving Pierre was much nicer than getting there.
About half way into a 61 mile day, we stopped in the town of Kenel on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. It was the only food stop on the day’s route. We pulled in just as the owner, Ernest Martinez, arrived to open his store. He apologized for the lack of provisions and said that he expected a big order this week’s Pow Wow. We selected a healthy lunch of oatmeal-raisin cookies and orange soda. While we munched, the real richness of our lunch emerged. Ernest told us about his grandfather, John Bear King, a WWII Code Talker. Ernest was proud to represent his family at the 2007 dedication of Code Talker Hall at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. Despite the popular belief that all code talkers were Navajo, many native tribes provided them. He showed us plaques awarded to his grandfather and a medal that lists all the Tribes that provided code talkers.

About 20 miles outside of Bismarck, North Dakota, we were exhausted from the headwinds and suffering from the cold temperatures. I asked a farmer if we could take a break in his barn to get out of the wind and cold. Instead, Arlan invited us into his home for coffee. When he opened the door he yelled to Shirley that “they had company.” Arlan said that he has 2 sections of land (1,380 acres) overlooking the Missouri. He has about 400 head of cattle that he grazes on this land. During 2004, the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, Arlan said that lots of cyclists passed by and some stopped to enjoy his view of the river. Before we headed back into the wind, Shirley said “that the North Dakota wind never stops and when it does they declare a holiday.”

We cycled through parts of The Little Missouri National Grassland in North Dakota and stopped in Grassy Butte for quick refreshment. Like most towns its size, it had one “do it all store.” This one sold plumbing and automotive parts as well as light groceries and snacks. The owner, Don Trotter told us that “the coffee was free because some things in life should be.” Next, he offered us some of his wife’s home made cake. He said that despite the fact that he tries to sell pastries, she is always bringing in a cake to share. Don showed us a 5 foot skinned snake and said that it came from his farm. He had a “live and let live” philosophy about snakes. In fact, the snake kept his farm free of mice. However, when he got a new dog, things changed. The dog and the snake decided that the farm was not big enough for both of them. The dog lived.

From the Grasslands, we cycled into the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was spectacular! We dropped down into the park and then had to climb out. However, that did not distract from our wonderful day. In the Park, Joe asked the Ranger where he could photograph buffalo. The Ranger gave Joe a cautious look and said “buffalo don’t like bicyclists.” He went on to explain that buffalo have poor eyesight and when they see a bicyclist, they think it is competition. Joe joked that he was fast but the Ranger quickly gave him a reality check. He said that “buffalo can run up to 35mph and they can get that fast in just 2 strides. While Joe still took some buffalo pictures, he made sure that I was always between him and the buffalo.

Just before we left North Dakota, we stopped at both Fort Buford and Fort Union. Fort Buford was established in 1866 and housed both cavalry and infantry units. Fort Union was not a military fort but rather a trading post. Fort Union dominated the area’s fur trade between 1828 and 1867. It belonged to John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company. Lisa and Dave were dressed in period costumes. They described life at the fort and served us boiled coffee in tin mugs.

Crossing into Montana, our cycling got easier as our direction changed from north to west. In Culbertson, we stopped at the local museum. Not only was it free, it had great exhibits and the ladies served us home baked cookies. The museum was filled with artifacts from the surrounding community and depicts life over the last 100 years. At our hotel, we met Robert, a youngster at 60. He was cycling from Seattle to Minnesota along the northern tier of the United States. He took 3 weeks off work to do this and needed to average 77 miles a day to meet his goal. He told us that he is "not smelling the rose but looking for bragging rights." We had dinner together but found it difficult to wish each other great tail winds…since we are going in the opposite direction.

We continued westward through Montana and ended up in Havre after 1600 miles of cycling. At that point, our paths separated. Joe met friends from his home town and packed his bike in their van for his return trip. I boarded Amtrak for my trip home and Hans-Peter cycled to Portland, Oregon for his flight back to Switzerland. It was a great bike trip that gave us wonderful memories of the places and people along the way.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Ageing Cyclist

While this is my story, you may find similarities in your life. I have been a cyclist since I got my first bicycle. I was a young boy then and that seems like a long time ago. Well, in fact, it was a long time ago! With a career, wife, and children I did not cycle very often in my middle years. I still have my wife, but I am retired and my children are on their own. Cycling has again become an important part of my life.

During my non-cycling years, I was not a complete slug. I was a compulsive runner. My transition back to cycling occurred when my body could no longer endure the punishment of running. In hind sight I was not too bright. The doctor told me that I should quit running to heal the stress fractures in both of my feet. I ran 3 years beyond my doctor’s recommendation. Eventually, I traded my running shoes for cycling shoes.

I restarted my cycling where my running left off—punishing my body. I was not an efficient runner nor was I an efficient cyclist. Spinning was for wimps and smelling the roses was for slow pokes. Now that I am even older, parts of my body and mind are telling me to smarten up. Knee pains at the start of a journey across the United States sure smartened me up to spinning. However, I am a slow learner. Just in case you are feeling sorry for me, I am not in a nursing home and I am only 63 years of age.


I sometimes wonder if childhood events foretell what is to come. My first bike was a “3-speed English” bike. It had an internal gear hub, skinny frame, even skinnier tires, and hand breaks. Today these bikes are known as road bikes. I don’t remember why I got an English bike. I do remember that I initially resented being different from my friends. They all had the big cruiser bikes that were popular in the 1950s (before many of you were born). However, I quickly found out that my English bike was lighter and could climb better than my friends’ cruisers. That bike would not compare favorably to today’s road bikes. However, it would be considered a classic. Cruiser bikes are back in vogue and internal hubs are again gaining popularity. Bikes@Vienna has a bike on display with an internal 8 speed hub. Perhaps I am also a classic and may yet have a rebound.

Until I learned to drive, I went every where on my English bike. I took it to the swimming pool, the store, and even to see my girlfriend (who became my wife). In fact, I also used my English bike as a mountain bike. Don’t get me wrong, it was a road bike but that did not stop me from taking it into the woods and over jumps. I abused and enjoyed my childhood bike. I did not worry about miles or hills. Nor did I worry about the temperature or the weather. I even joyfully remember the reckless abandon of my youthful cycling—racing down hills thru intersections and disregarding stop signs. Just so you know that I was not completely stupid, I quit this practice after the first time I got hit by a car. However, I proudly beat my friend to the bottom of the hill! Also, I was very lucky with only minor injuries to my body. While my bike did not fare as well, I was able to replace its damaged parts with those from a discarded English bike.


No, I don’t want to rediscover how foolish I was. Nor do I want to cycle on a 3-speed bike. Rather I want to get back to that youthful feeling of freedom that the bike of my youth provided. As a youth I did not concern myself with putting in X miles over X time to maintain my fitness and prowess as a cyclist. As I free my mind I also need to take care of my body. Mind and body are not separate and they both must be nurtured.

Taking care of my body

First things first. As I get older I am learning to change and adapt. It’s not that long ago that I would have ridden through pain and that would have been considered a good thing. Didn’t our high school coaches tell us to “tough it out.” Today, I cycle with a 27-gear touring bike and my body appreciates those easy gears. It is a great bike and has transported me about 25,000 miles over the last 8 years. However, my new aches and pains (that I would have dismissed in my earlier years) are lingering to the point that they are annoying. As last summer drew to a close, I suffered from a stiff and sore neck. I tried to ignore the problem as long as I could but it would not go away. Eventually, I admitted that I had a muscle imbalance from using my drop handle bar and I needed to do something to fix the problem. What could I do: (1) purchase a new bicycle (2) replace my drop bar with a flat one, or (3) work with a physical therapist? I chose “all of the above.”

Lance Armstrong said, “It is not about the bike.” However, sometimes a new bike may be the answer to that needed change demanded by our bodies. It sure helped me. I tested many different recumbents, trikes, and other style bikes. Not only did I need a change in position to relieve that pain in my neck, I also wanted something that would be fun. However, I did not try a tricycle or Big Wheels. I did try a racing trike and liked its quickness and maneuverability. It reminded me of the Big Wheels my children loved. Maybe when I am older, I will use a tricycle. That is, if can I figure out how to attached panniers to it. Then I can keep taking multiple day/week/month cycling trips to and from the nursing home. In the end I purchased a recumbent bike that allows me to sit upright and not strain my neck muscles. Yes, recumbent cycles can be cool.

While the new bike is nice, I did not want to give up my touring bike. After some research, I purchased a butterfly handle bar that turned my cool looking road bike into a European touring bike. I bet that you thought I would say that it made my bike look___________ (add your own term for “less cool”). Getting older allows me to put a positive spin on events and totally disregard the popular racing image prevalent in U.S. cycling. Instead of looking like a “racer,” I will now cycle with a European flair. Also, without the drop bar I have an excuse for being slow.

Finally, I saw a doctor and had my neck x-rayed; nothing broken and no arthritis. The doctor sent me to a physical therapist. She gave great massages and put me on a series of strengthening and stretching exercises. She also told me that “at my age” I needed to take better care of my body and get off the drop handle bar. It took several months of serious work but the pain is gone and most of my mobility has returned.

Taking care of my mind

Taking care of my body was relatively easy; ha ha ha. The real challenge is taking care of my mind. When I am on my bike, I sometimes still focus on fitness and prowess with miles covered and time spent. Feeling cool with a European looking handle bar and recumbent is just a start on my new mindset. Sometimes, but not often enough, I focus on the moment (a Zen thing), my location, the company I keep, the weather, or just being alone and lost in my thoughts. However, I still want to enjoy the carefree cycling of my youth. No, I don’t want a 3-speed bike nor do I want to race down hills ignoring stop signs. Rather I want to let my mind free to soar with the wind until I drop and then lie in a grassy meadow to watch the clouds go by.

I am not yet where I want to be. This year I plan to cycle the Lewis and Clark trail from St. Louis, Missouri to Astoria, Oregon. I figured that this is a good opportunity for me to work on my mind set. But, this was not as easy as I had hoped. I wanted to do the trip in 2-months time which requires a modest 55 mile-a-day average. However, one of my 3 cycling companions thought that this would be difficult for him. He offered to let us go on without him. My initial response was “I want to do more miles per day not less…this sucks.”

After taking a deep breath, I thought about my goal of freeing my mind and rediscovering that lost youthful abandon. Because I enjoy my friend’s company, a new plan emerged. We reduced the average daily mileage to 45 and extended the number of days on the road. This is “now” a good thing. It means that I will have more opportunities for smelling the roses each day. I can take longer stops and enjoy more side trips. Heck, Lewis & Clark did not try to do this trip in 2-months. Their journey took 2 years. They discovered new lands, found new plants and animals, met different cultures, and their trip resulted in many books. When I get home I don’t want to find my journal filled with miles, elevations, and time on the road. Rather, I want to read about the wondrous things I saw and did. Especially, I want to read that my journey was really about smelling the roses and laying in meadows watching clouds move across the sky.
You can be the judge of my success. Check out our Lewis and Clark trip travel blog at