I bought a lightweight bicycle when I was in my mid-thirties to help control my weight. While out on an early morning ride, I came upon another fellow about my age on a bicycle, clad helmet to toe like a pro biker on the cover of Bicycling Magazine. He stopped so I stopped. Through the dawn’s early light, I discovered that I knew him, an archeology professor at my college. We talked about the cycling sport a bit as we rode on together and discovered that we had a lot in common. It was as if Tom Sawyer had discovered his Huckleberry Finn.
He was a veteran as I was and we had been reading some of the same books and articles. Before our conversation was over, we had ridden about 12 miles and agreed to meet the next morning for another ride. He brought me some copies of Bicycling and American Wheelman and we were off on what became our customary route, a large rural loop of around 15 miles. I started looking a little more trim in no time and, surprisingly, my appetite was under control. I bought a helmet and all the other bright garb of a bicyclist, joined the Arkansas Bicycle Club with my new friend and accompanied him to some of their rides.
Two of these were most interesting. They were late summer or fall rides that required participants to condition beforehand to endure the events. One was the century ride, a 100-mile loop starting at Brinkley, you know, the flat farm country. On this ride, the only enemy was the wind, as there were no hills whatsoever. The other interesting ride was the Rich Mountain tour, an 80-plus mile loop that started at the Mena School and went up the mountain and circled over through eastern Oklahoma. We did this ride in the fall of the year when the colors were vibrantly beautiful. Biologists tell us that those colors are there all year, but that the green of chlorophyll breaks down in the autumn, revealing the true colors underneath. That ride certainly showed the riders’ true colors. It was hard pumping going up the hills and a little scary going down them, especially when the brake pads smoked and spit little bits of rubber. The first time I ever cycled around a speeding car was on this ride.
My bicycle companion retired and moved to New York, where he still rides the upstate backroads. I, of course, make my home in Southwest Arkansas, where I meander around on a mountain bike. Although I don’t have the energy and drive to ride long distances, I still enjoy experiencing the countryside from my bike. You can see so much more on a bike ride than you can from a car. Here is a list of some of the things I recently saw on the backroads out towards Grandview Prairie: big snake skeleton, several sail armadillos (flat enough to sail away), a perfectly good, new-looking radio aerial, a sign that said “Far Would,” (a joke, I think), an althea bush in full bloom that gave a new meaning to the word violet, skid marks that told me someone tried to stop before driving into the woods, but went on in there anyway. Huckleberry Finn said, “It’s lovely on a raft.” I say, “On a bike, too, Huck.”