I love traveling by bicycle. Whether it is pedaling across the bridge into Portland or touring the greenways of the Twin Cities, I love being able to use my own strength and energy to propel my bike forward. You arrive perhaps more tired than when you left but you travel at a human pace, knowing exactly how you got there. When pedaling along, you can observe your surroundings in detail and stop whenever you want, wherever you want at a moment’s notice. You feel the air, the sun, the rain, you smell the sweetness of late spring. Sometimes, of course, you are fighting against the wind, and you can’t avoid the occasional smell of festering roadkill. But whether gliding easily down a hill or working your tired legs to get back up, you feel alive and connected to the world as you pass through it. The bumps in the road, the sounds of birds and trucks, the deer crashing through the wooded roadside, you get to hear and feel and see so much more than if you are just passing through in a car.
Last weekend we embarked on our first bike tour with Amos. It may have been our first bike tour since we rode across the United States seven years ago! I have been wanting to explore the Eastern Trail and this section crosses the street less than a quarter mile from our house. In Southern Maine, the route goes from South Portland to the border of New Hampshire. It is part of the East Coast Greenway that goes all the way from Key West, Florida to Calais, Maine along roads and trails.
We had near perfect weather on our two day trip. The sun was warm but the route was shaded with sweet smelling piney woods. From South Portland to Kennebunk, most of the route is on trails which used to be part of a railroad and is now occupied by a natural gas pipeline and shared with bicyclists, walkers, and runners. Most of the trails are packed dirt, which, except for a few soft spots, was fine for the tires of my touring bike. Bridges take you over many of the major roads, though there is some navigating through the streets of Saco and Biddeford and few other areas. Signs for the east coast greenway marked almost every turn which made it easy to follow the route. We brought a trail map but barely used it, so, of course we missed the one turn that wasn’t marked. After going a little off the route we were able to find the trail again without too much trouble.
Amos seems to enjoy traveling in our bike trailer, pulled behind Ray’s bicycle, much more than sitting in a car seat on a long drive. We stopped a few times each day for snacks, lunch, and to stretch, rest and play. It was easy to stop along the trails but on the roads it was trickier to find places to stop since most people probably don’t want strangers picnicking on their lawn. For several miles, while we searched for a place we could take a break, I imagined that more people should build benches on the edge of their lawns or put up signs, “Feel free to take a break here.” But most people don’t travel for miles without a car looking for a source of water and a flat shady spot to rest.
Our bike touring doesn’t take us to very remote areas, but when you are a few hours or more from home with most everything you need in your panniers and trailer, you feel lighter, your only responsibility is to pedal, take care of your body, and enjoy your surroundings. When traveling by bicycle I feel a greater sense of trust that everything will work out because sometimes you have no other choice. Our relatively smooth travel was derailed, literally, when Ray’s chain got stuck in his crank. We weren’t sure if we would be able to go on so Amos and I had ate peanut butter and jam sandwiches next to someone’s mail box while Ray tried to pull the chain unstuck. On this short tour close to home Ray didn’t pack tools or a repair kit. We could have called someone to come pick us up but luckily our trip didn’t have to end there. Our unexpected rescuer pulled into his driveway, next to our picnic spot. He had a set of allen wrenches in his trunk, as if he helped stranded cyclists all the time, and Ray was able to fix his chain.
Other than the trouble Amos had falling asleep in the tent (10 pm, toddler running around, pulling hair, climbing over sleeping bags) the rest of the trip went very smoothly. We biked from South Portland to Berwick and back, about 50 miles each way. I hope that we have many more family bike tours ahead of us. There are so many places to pedal and roads to see.