Exercise has become so dull and predictable that I practically sleep through a workout. It’s the same old thing on the elliptical and recumbent – up and down, round and round, rote, like an actor playing Hamlet for the gazillionth time. I know every crack in the sidewalks around my neighborhood and every rut on the bike path. It’s Snoozapalooza!
It’s not that I’m slacking physically. I’m just not challenging myself psychologically through exercise, which is the very thing that makes exercise so important to my overall well being. Riding my bike in the same place, walking the same route, and reading books on my elliptical is safe. I like safe. There’s nothing wrong with safe. But safe can be pretty boring and unfulfilling.
I have no excuse other than complacency. I live near a park in which there are at 7 hiking trails, including 3.5 miles of the 35-mile Rachel Carson Trail. I take my grandkids to the playground there all the time, but I do little else than intend to hike there. Same is true for the infinite number of bike trails I’ve yet to discover in western PA. “Some day…”
My great-great-uncle George always used to say, “It’s plenty good the way it is!” George wore loose fitting dentures and had a heavy Norwegian accent, and he’d say “It’s plenty good!” with a dismissive wave of his hand. I loved George, but the man changed nothing. Not even his underwear. My mother used to sneak into his room and take his dirty clothes and wash them on the days he drove 35 miles to Sioux Falls to fill his tank because gas was two cents cheaper there.
I’m not knocking “plenty good.” Things ARE plenty good the way they are right now, but plenty good doesn’t translate to growth. And without growth, I would become complacent in more than just my exercise life. Good grief, the last thing I want to do is become that person who does nothing but talk about “the good old days.” That would be a big “Uffda!”
So last week, I got off my complacent butt and went to the park and hiked Pond Trail, which took me to…of all things…a pond. A really lovely pond with a wooden birding lookout made by a Boy Scout for his Eagle Scout project. It was a fairly easy hike, but the change of scenery was just enough to call out the part of me that welcomes and embraces change and challenge. That lead to this weekend in which I tried not one, but TWO new bike trails.
Saturday, I decided on a 13-mile stretch of the Allegheny Trail. I was a little nervous about it since I’d never been to the town where the trailhead was, and I didn’t want to look like a tourist. I wasn’t 100 percent sure (certainty is big for me) how to get to the parking lot described on the trail’s website, and Google was no help. So with nothing more than a good sense of direction, BF and I loaded the bikes and drove northeast.
A few miles in, Colton asked, “Do you know where you’re going?”
“Kind of,” I said, handing him the printed directions to the parking lot. “I can get us to instruction number 4, then you need to read the rest to me.”
“Ok, Puddin’,” he said. (That’s my nickname. Puddin’. No, you can’t call me that.)
As we got closer to the road to the parking lot, Colton said the directions were to drive past the entrance to the marina. What did I do? I drove into the entrance to the marina. Tourist! At least I turned around without running over the fisherman carrying a bucket of bait and an oar, and I eventually found the parking lot. We unloaded the bikes and started riding.
It started out pretty.
Then it got kind of industrial and urban.
When the trail stopped abruptly with no signs of where to go, I asked a biker who was coming the other way where the trail picked up. He said the next part of the trail went through town and that the gravel trail picked up at the power plant near the bridge. Goody. A bridge.
We followed his instructions and soon I could see the bridge in the distance.
Living here in the land of rivers, bridges are hard to avoid, so I suck them up and think happy thoughts when I’m driving over them or riding under them. Stopping to take photos was actually therapeutic. They’re concrete and steel, for cryin’ out loud. They aren’t going to grow legs and chase me, right?
We continued on into Kittanning.
Having passed – up close and personal – several bars and living rooms (there’s a stretch of trail in which the path itself is literally a front yard), we concluded we’d had enough urban and turned around at the 6.5-mile mark. We biked back to the car and agreed we were glad for the experience, but not enthralled. Too many people, too many roads, too many stop and starts.
Today, Colton wanted to head north of the Flannel Curtain to see his parents and do some work around their house. I really wanted to ride again, so I searched online for a trail near Meadville. I found the Ernst Trail, a rails-to-trails renovation that is 5 miles in one direction and runs along French Creek. No traffic, no towns. Perfect. Colton loaded up his hedge trimmers and I threw my bike on the rack and we were off.
I got to the trail at 2:45. It looked promising.
A quarter mile in, I was treated to this.
There was a slight incline all the way, which I knew would bring great coasting opportunities coming the other direction. And since the temperature was 86 degrees, the breeze would be welcomed.
The last quarter mile was steeper than the previous 4.75, and I had to downshift to 2. When I got to the top, I turned around and coasted down the hill. ‘You can do that again,’ I thought, and I downshifted and charged back up the hill. My thighs might hate me tomorrow, but the downhill was sooo worth it. I felt powerful. Best of all, I felt psychologically challenged again.
Tomorrow I’m going to hike a 2-mile loop in my local park. It is rated as easy-moderate, so I’ll probably do it twice. Or perhaps I’ll go back to the Pond Trail and do some bird watching. Either way, it will be my own personal mental-health-through-exercise adventure. Uncle George wouldn’t understand, but “plenty good” isn’t good enough anymore.