Like Riding a Bicycle

     I needed to find an alternative way to stay healthy while the gym I belong to remains closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. My “workouts” were never strenuous to begin with, but exercising every day helps maintain my muscles and joints. I’m not interested in becoming Arnold Schwarzenegger. I just want to keep my knees in motion so I can continue to walk. Ah, the joy of aging. 

     A stationary bike is my usual exercise machine of choice. With no gym on the horizon and a Peloton beyond my reach, I settled for the next best thing – my son’s bicycle that was gathering dust in the basement. I pumped up the tires and hit the road. 

     Even though I hadn’t ridden a bicycle for years (decades?), I wasn’t concerned about my riding abilities. I believed my skills would come back to me. How hard could it be? It’s like riding a bicycle. There must be some truth to that old saying.

     I would have preferred a ten-speed with easy gears for rolling hills and steep inclines. Instead, I ended up with a messenger bike, made for commuting in the city. This was no mountain bike. But then again, I didn’t plan on climbing any mountains with it.

     I knew I should probably wear a helmet before I ventured onto the open roads of Stoneham. After scouring the basement, the closest thing I could find was a skateboard helmet with a torn sticker on the front that read “SmaSh It Up” in graphic letters. It just didn’t work on someone my age. I was already going to attract enough attention wobbling around on two wheels. I didn’t need a sign on my forehead announcing my arrival. 

     After a few test trips around my block, I loaded my newfound bicycle into my car and headed in search of the legendary Tri-Community Greenway. I probably could have just cycled from my house but I wanted to conserve some energy for the path itself.

     The spring weather was pristine when I arrived at the bike path in central Stoneham. Surprisingly, there were few people in sight. I thought crowds of health nuts would be flocking to the path since experiencing the outdoors is one of the few things people can still enjoy during the pandemic. 

    The bicycle route in Stoneham where I began is beautiful, with stretches of lush shady greenery. It gets even better once you get past a couple of annoying intersections. Crossing four lanes of super busy Route 28 was a challenge. The hidden curves and speeding cars on Montvale Avenue and Maple Street proved equally dangerous, although there were crossing signals to (supposedly) stop traffic. 

     I traveled onward toward Woburn. I passed the famous gelatin factory. I sped through a short graffiti-lined tunnel that took me under a highly-travelled Route 93. I nodded and waved at the occasional person I passed along the trail at a safe social distance. When I arrived at the gates of a group of Woburn cemeteries, I thought I reached a dead end (literally). The bike path signs were tricky to follow at this point. The path coincided with some busy streets. I continued in what I hoped was the right direction and found signs leading me back to the path. Busy Woburn streets transformed into the idyllic Winchester countryside. The dense vegetation on this part of the path was full of indigenous plants that I’m sure were all protected species. Between the babbling brooks and peaceful waterfalls, I felt I journeyed into my own private Jurassic Park. The exotic bird calls strange animal noises added to the otherworldly atmosphere. 

     I didn’t make it to the end of the trail. I’m saving that journey for another day. I biked much further than I planned, and I had a long trip back to Stoneham. 

     On the way home, I stopped to snap a photograph of the Greenway dedication sign honoring Cameron Bain, who spent 30 years turning his vision of a railtrail into a reality. Ironically, I spent 30 years drawing editorial cartoons spotlighting the obstacles supporters faced while trying to bring this project to fruition.

     I’m happy I found a place to exercise my new cycling hobby without fear of being side-swiped by a speeding vehicle. The next time I journey down this path, I’m packing a messenger bag with my lunch and a book to read while I rest on one of the many benches along the way. I’m going to make good use of New England’s short-lived mild weather season by enjoying the great outdoors. When it comes to the Tri-City Community Greenway, great is an understatement.

     Thank you, Cameron Bain. It’s not everyone who can make their dreams a reality. Maybe utilizing this hidden treasure is the antidote we all need right now. I feel better already.

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