I played tourist a bit today. I drove over to another community known as a bit of a tourist destination, for around here, anyways. You can use your imagination to think about why a tiny community in the upper midwest might be a bit of a local tourist destination.
I'd heard the area was beautiful, so I made a copy from the local map from my state gazette/atlas book, and blew it up so I could read it without reading glasses. And waited for the day. Today was the day, still warm enough to make me happy to be outside.
I drove over, and once there, stopped in a local gas station with my map and asked about some road suggestions. The woman behind the counter was kind enough to help me, and also let me use their restroom. Within a few minutes, I was parked in a local municipal lot just off the local highway, and started off on a country road. With the map, it looked like I could make a sort of loop one way, then cross the local highway and make a loop the other way before returning to my car. So that was my plan.
As I road off to one side of the local highway, the countryside gradually became less farmlandish, and more woodsy. I was passed by big trucks towing trailers with ATVs, those little four wheel things people ride around on trails. I smiled and waved, and the ATV folks smiled and waved back. And gave me lots of room on the road (thank you!). I passed a local county forest and ATV park (really!), and a local wilderness area with public hunting (it's not hunting season yet, but seeing the sign did make me think about getting a blaze orange biking jacket). Just on the other side of the wilderness area, I expected to turn back on a road, but when I got there, I realized it was a dirt road, and being a skinny tire biker, I avoid dirt roads. So I just rode further up the country road I was on for a while, turning back after I'd ridden about 11 miles, and well off the section of map I'd brought.
I found a way to make a smaller loop back, one that took me into farm country.
When I was a kid, I was horse crazy. And still, I find horses beautiful, but I've come to the conclusion that riding seriously, or owning a horse, is more committment than I choose to make. Still, when I ride by, I smile at horses and admire them. And when I ride by, most of them look up, in that prey animal way. You can sort of see their brains clicking: look, something that might be a predator? But a danged slow predator. And no legs. And it looks like there's a human attached. Not to worry.
One horse sauntered up to the fence to get a really good look at me as I inched by, working my way slowly up a slight slope. It sauntered faster than I was riding up the hill.
Then I rode along the highway just long enough to get to the next paved county road, and off I went. Hills! There was one hill that I really thought I'd have to walk, but I made it up. And my reward at the top was riding up along a ridge with a beautiful view of the valley off to the side. Wow, just wow.
I think this was one of the best, if not the best, rides I've ever taken. In the past, I've often looked longingly at bikers biking across swaths of the country as I've driven by, but today, I was that biker. I waved and smiled at the ATV folks and at farmers, and they all waved and smiled back. My lungs and legs burned up hills, but managed to get up them. And I felt the freedom of a kid as the worries of the week fell behind.
There are days when I'm especially grateful to be healthy and such. Today, I rode by a farmhouse with what looked like a wheelchair ramp leading up to its front door, and I felt especially grateful. I rode along, grateful to have a bike that helps me feel good, to have lungs and legs that work well together, and to have the freedom and time to just play.
36 miles of feeling that good is hard to beat.