Sunday, August 30, 2009

53, Going on 92

With my wife attending the state fair today with a girlfriend (thanks be to God; I hate the fair), I drove down early to Cannon Falls, Minnesota and rode the valley bike trail. The paved trail runs 19 miles from Cannon Falls to Red Wing along the converted bed of the Chicago Northern railroad line. The Cannon River meanders between bluffs and over a couple of waterfalls on the way to the Mississippi River, and the railway bed/bike trail runs along side on the south bank of the river. In the old days, I occasionally hiked this rail bed, but a decade or so the railroad ties were removed and a paved bike trail laid. Most of the rail runs through hardwood forests, though there are a couple of stretches through open meadows. The summer has been cool here, and autumn is just about upon us. The sumac is starting to turn, and the wind is brisk, out of the north. I can see my breath in the air at the beginning of my ride.

Some days it is wild flowers that draw my attention, but today it was the birds. A partial list: brown thrasher; hairy woodpecker; catbird; wild turkey; gold finch; alder flycatcher; bald eagle; killdeer.

I'm really just starting to get my aging legs in bike shape, but suddenly I realized that I had passed mile post 15 , which meant that I had another 15 miles to get back to the car. At mile 24 on the way back, I stopped to rest, and was shortly joined by another lone biker, named older fellow named George, riding a casual cruiser much like mine. We are odd men out, because most everyone is riding much more stylish mountain-style bikes than ours. I'm pretty slow, but that's really fine by me. I long since got used to riding at a leisurely pace that actually lets me identify the birds I see.

George and I chatted for a few minutes, and he mentioned that he lived in Cannon Falls and rode out to milepost 7 almost every day on this trail. I felt just slightly self satisfied, mentioning that I had gone to milepost 15 that morning.

"Yes," George mused. "I used to occasionally go to Red Wing and back (a round trip of 38 miles), but that's a bit far for me these days. Once I turned 80, I began to find that 15 or 20 miles was plenty."

"80?" I said, quite shocked. "How old are you now, George?"

"I turned 92 in June," he replied, mounting his bike again. "Nice to meet you, young fellow."

I watched George ride away, and spent a few minutes finishing my sandwich, wondering if 40 years from now I'll still be in the mood for biking. I rode at a decent clip the six miles back to Cannon Falls, but it wasn't until the outskirts of town that I caught up to George.

I told myself that had I not already done 25 miles, I'd surely have caught him much sooner.


Molly said...

We used to live in the western suburbs of Minneapolis and loved the bike trails! I remember well the bright blaze of the sumac this time of year and how you could feel the approach of Fall this early! Here's to still being able to climb on the bike when you're George's age!

Jerri said...

Doesn't matter how fast you go, only *that* you go. Enjoy the ride.

Anonymous said...

I bet that trail is a beauty. As I recall, the drive up the Mississippi River in that area is fabulous.

Good for George. Good for you too - I haven't biked in a couple of years (I've got to get back into it).