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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker

MY DAILY ESCAPE by Ellen Donker

Enjoying the scenery from my bike

During these last handful of months many of us have taken up new hobbies or revived old interests to keep these brains of ours engaged (maybe distracted) while we hunker down at home. I’ve tried a few myself, usually recruiting my daughter, Madeline, as my partner in discovery. Together we’ve nurtured sourdough starter and nailed killer recipes for waffles and naan. We’ve also made some macramé plant hangers for my ever-expanding plant collection.

Since Madeline is the crafty one of us, I suggested she make a macramé wall hanging using the wooden handle from a pickaxe that her brother Christian destroyed waging war against the beech suckers along our driveway. I thought it’d look lovely above her bed.

I was hoping Madeline would also join me in rediscovering our bikes so we could join all of the other cyclists that now pedal past our house. With six bikes in various states of disrepair, I figured if ever there was a time to get them fixed, it was now. Traffic was low and the weather was perfect. I texted Bill Quick of Borderline Bikes and by the next day he had pulled up to my curb and fixed each one.

When it was time to take my first ride on my newly repaired wheels, Madeline didn’t see the thrill of it. Off I went by myself and that has been the start of a wonderful escape for about an hour four or five mornings a week. Since my bad knees sidelined my running about a decade ago I had never found anything that could really get my heart going without further shredding my knees.

I’ll admit I was nervous about getting back on my bike – not so much the riding part, but being out amid the traffic. I am not alone. I’ve asked several friends to join me and they all cite the same concern. At the start, I had to practice turning my head to scan for cars without taking the whole bike in the same direction, and reacquaint myself with signaling turns. I also learned to steer around sunken sewer grates, fallen branches, parked cars and garbage cans. (Note to self: Tuesday is recycling day in Maplewood.)

The trick about riding around here is figuring out how to venture to other neighborhoods on lesser traveled roads without having to scale too many hills. Would I love to get lost on the many beautiful side streets of Newstead? Absolutely, but as a Maplewoodian I’d never make it above Wyoming Road.

Instead I tend to venture up Parker Avenue with Columbia High School on my left and pedal up that long gradual hill. Of course, the first few times I thought my heart would explode but it was worth the effort to be able to ride around all the quaint streets above Prospect Street. And of course, for every uphill there’s a downhill.

During the past two months I’ve expanded my territory some, biking around Montrose and the long straight streets south of Springfield Avenue. On Sundays, Brookside Drive is closed to traffic from Glen Road to South Orange Avenue and although it features a long, winding hill, it’s worth having a two mile stretch with no traffic. By now, I’ve learned which streets to avoid – those with too much patched pavement, gravel and sloped shoulders. If the DPW wants to know what streets to fix, I’ve got a list.

I do yearn for more bucolic places to ride where I don’t have to pause every 500 feet for a stop sign or constantly scan for cars. But that requires that I either put my bike in the car or map out a route westward. On a recent walk, my friend Diana told me that her husband had just taken a 37-mile ride out to Jockey Hollow. I’m not sure I will get serious enough with biking to travel that far afield. That would require more planning, more time, more courage and some new bike shorts – the kind with pads.

In the meantime, my present routine is serving me well. My knees feel better, my uphill pedaling is less labored and I’m getting out of the house. Madeline still hasn’t ridden with me but she and I completed the wall hanging. We hung it above her bed and it does, indeed, look lovely.

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