The Great Outdoors?

Hey Boo Boo, Let’s go get us a pic-a-nic basket

Yogi Bear #smarterthantheaveragebear

The World’s Smallest Violin

I’m running out of content. My favorite YouTubers aren’t producing YouTube videos as fast as I’m watching them. I’m also acutely aware that the more mountain bike videos I watch on YouTube, the more more mountain bike gear I want to buy.

What a deal!

I used to read a book a month. I had taken out two books from the library to tide me over for this whole “stay safe, stay home” thing. I finished the second book last weekend. I watched the entire series of Tiger King. That may actually be why I feel like I’m running out of content. What’s going to top that? I guess there are other ways to pass time.

Cabin Fever

I went for a bike ride last weekend. The entire route encompassed about 43 miles, and a lot of it was on the bike path. On a lot of the bike path, there were a lot of people. There were people walking, there were people riding bikes, and some even rollerblading, I guess that’s still a thing. There was one guy on what appeared to be a home made ebike. He was going pretty fast. Some people were wearing masks. Many were less than six feet a part. I was surprised to see how many people were riding bikes without helmets. I think it’s because a lot of people are riding bikes for the first time in a long time. I’m trying imagine the thought process. “Hey I’m bored out of my skull, why don’t I grab that bike out of the garage that I’m too lazy to sell and go for a ride. Wow, this is fun. Something looks different about those other people riding their bikes.”

I didn’t wear a helmet when I rode a bike as a kid. I guess I must have started wearing a helmet on bike rides when I took up mountain biking in my early thirties. I don’t really remember if I wore one for the first time I rode my mountain bike. I probably didn’t. Or maybe I did. I bet I started wearing one because I noticed all the bikers I saw out there were wearing one. Or, maybe after a few rides, I noticed I was the only one not wearing one.

Is that groupthink? Honestly, all those non helmeted bike path riders on rail trail rush hour had me questioning whether or not I really needed to be wearing one either. Perhaps I’m more concerned with fitting in with what the rest of the people are doing than a potential traumatic brain injury. I’m sure I should be past this at my age, but frankly, not fitting in might be more painful. I guess that’s why parents have to ask their children, if all your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you? The answer nowadays, off course, being, “is the GoPro on?”

Over the River, and…

I’m lucky that I live near wooded areas and trails. My parents aren’t particularly outdoorsy people, but in the neighborhood I grew up in, there was a preserved open space of woods and nature trails, Wintergreen Woods. We could walk there from our house, and my parents would take us on strolls through the preserve’s maintained nature paths with wood bridges over streams that filled vernal pools and ponds. I think that is where I first fell in love with the woods.

Now I live in walking distance of a protected reservoir area that links up to hiking and biking trails. I can reach Central CTs Metacomet Trail within a moderate walk. The Metacomet is part of the New England National Scenic Trail, which extends from the Long Island Sound in Southern CT to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border. The Metacomet provides people who live in fairly densely populated areas access to varied and unique terrain including some fairly rugged rocky trails and several striking views.

Last week, while riding my bike, between me and a lookout that I usually have to myself, stood a hiker with a large backpacking pack taking in the view. Apparently he hadn’t noticed me down the hill earlier, waiting for him and the two other hikers he was talking to. The three of them blocked the middle of a trail I wanted to take uphill and I waited patiently (sort of) while he warned “In case you’re heading down that blue trail towards the pond”, which they clearly weren’t, “I saw a bear by the dock”. It was amusing. I’ve done the same thing before. I remember seeing a bobcat for the first time and telling the next biker I saw. What I phrased like a useful warning was just me bragging. Honestly, I still have pictures on my phone of 2 bears I saw last summer, bears are pretty cool. I just didn’t appreciate the group blocking my way to talk about it. Anyway, the same hiker now stood on that lookout. After informing the other hikers, he had headed straight up to the lookout and the other 2 hikers kept heading downhill, clearing the path I wanted to take. When they cleared out, I headed up, then took a right after the spot where they had been talking, and circled away from and then back around to the lookout.

I wanted a good look off that vista when I reached it, but I also wanted to be mindful of social distancing so I waited for the hiker to finish his. The 20 or so yards I stood back from the ledge didn’t stop the hiker from telling me about the bear he saw, even though I’d already heard all about it while he was telling those other hikers, while they were all standing in my way.

Looking back, I’m kind of disappointed in myself for not being more excited about it. I’ve seen a few bears. Not a ton, but apparently it’s just not that big of a deal to me anymore. I’d actually never seen one in the wild until a couple years ago in someone’s front yard on a main street. I was just as excited as that hiker. I’m sure I’ve told that story to scores of people, along with the time I saw a bobcat with kittens, and time I saw the mom and baby bear at the pond, which I shared with the hiker in a not so subtle effort to one up him. It’s a good story.

The hiker walked away from the lookout and back into the woods, giving me a chance to have some serenity and peace. After I had my moment, I headed down the rocky trail leading back into the woods and passed another group of hikers. One stopped to tell me that a hiker had told just them that there was a bear in the woods. I held back the list of smart ass replies that began unfolding in my head (hey, there’s clouds in the sky…did it shit?..) and just smiled, said thanks, and headed deeper into tree cover. Then, from back at the lookout, I heard “Wow”. “Whoah”. ” Look at this!” It was from the group I just passed, apparently seeing the vista that I know so well, for the first time. I turned around to see the hiker’s smiles, gasping faces and amazement. I thought to myself, “Wow, whoah, look at this!”

The Finish Line

I continued on with my ride. It’s a route I take sometimes twice a week during the summer. The turns are all familiar. My body knows from memory when to weight the front wheel, or how far to lean into a turn. I react to the roots and rocks ahead automatically without thinking. My conscious mind somewhat freed up while auto pilot took over, I kept replaying the scene of the hikers reactions to the lookout. As I pedalled back along the trail home, I started to realize how lucky I was. If there is a silver lining to this turbulent time, perhaps it may be that all over the state, and maybe all over the world, more people getting outside, and getting into the woods. And perhaps another silver lining may be that people are having these incredible first time experiences, and perhaps all over the state, and maybe all over the world, there is a grumpy mountain biker who gets to crack a big smile at seeing them have it.

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