Country commute: Adventure happens every day on the bicycle

Country commute: Adventure happens every day on the bicycle

Image Credit: John C. Lorson

My boss once asked what I liked most about my job, and I answered as honestly as I could and without hesitation: “My daily commute to and from work.”

As one might imagine, my response didn’t go over all that well, but after an explanation of how the trip fits perfectly into the delicate balance of life and work, she seemed to understand.

It’s not that there aren’t a thousand things to love about my job in natural resources conservation. It’s easily a dream come true for a guy who grew up reading the works of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold. The very awareness of the natural world at the heart of the teachings of those venerated “fathers of conservation” plays an incredibly large role in my willingness to hop on a bicycle nearly every work day of the year and pedal between my home in Orrville and office in Millersburg.

Even in an automobile, a daily trip through the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country is beautiful and unique. Broad fields of row crops, livestock grazing in verdant pastures and the unique sights of Amish culture and “English” farm life make for an interesting trip at any speed.

But take away the gas pedal and drop down to 15 or 20 mph and you’ll see an entirely different world — a world of wild turkeys, white-tailed deer and the occasional red fox. Birds of every description dot the route as winter surrenders to spring. Wildflowers, tiny as a thimble and delicate as glass, line the way in the springtime while summertime brings frogs, snakes and turtles along with the young of the year for every woodland, wetland and farmland species.

Finally, all throughout the route at random intervals, polite waves and smiling faces punctuate your passage. These are the things I get to experience before work each day because of the way I choose to travel. No matter what the day may give or take from me, I have lived that much already.

On late spring mornings, the ride is a Disney movie of bluebirds winging along near my shoulder and cottontail rabbits leading the way down a green corridor humming with new life. The deep of summer lends a bit of peril with the random, confused dashings of suicidal groundhogs and kamikaze squirrels. I was once taken to the tarmac by a groundhog that dashed from the hidden safety of the underbrush beside the trail directly into my front wheel. As I skidded across the pavement, leaving a trail of bright polyester and elbow skin, the groundhog simply got to its feet, regarded me with a look of disgust and waddled away.

The wonders, joys and occasional perils of a daily bicycle trip are a gift to me and also offer broad benefits to those around me. Whether solving a perplexing problem from the office, wrestling a family matter that demands deeper consideration or simply mining the gray lump of clay strapped to the underside of my helmet for a clever writing idea, it is in the quiet meditation of the miles that my greatest thoughts are born. I sincerely believe my traveling habit, now in its 13th year, has made me a better man.

The trip from my own back door to the office takes about an hour and 20 minutes, give or take. The biggest variables are the “give” of a tailwind or the “take” of a brisk wind in my face. One time a freak Groundhog Day snowstorm pushed my ride home into the realm of “epic” with an almost three-hour trip. Smarter men would have bailed. I did it for the love of adventure and — as my wife would so readily agree — the idiocy of pride. She was not happy.

My own grown children roll their eyes at my talk of adventure. For them and so many others, adventure lives in a faraway place, wears an expensive price tag and happens only once in a great while. My adventure begins just outside my backyard gate, costs next to nothing and happens every single day. It may not be big, but the adventure is all mine.

I can confidently say of my own trip back and forth to work that it would not be possible if not for that glorious 10-mile stretch of horse-spattered asphalt running between Fredericksburg and Millersburg. Without the Holmes County Rail Trail, I, along with the thousands of cyclists, runners, hikers, horsemen and buggy drivers who travel the route in a given year, would have no reasonably safe travel option in and out of Millersburg. To say the trail has saved lives is likely a gross understatement. Furthermore, to imagine the benefits of the trail stop with safety is mere foolishness.

In testament to the trail’s economic impact, nearly every single day of the spring, summer and fall I pass riders coming in and out of Millersburg “on the long haul” of the Ohio to Erie Trail. The stretch through Holmes County is legendary for its beauty, hospitality and (in just a few places) its hills. I’ve met riders traveling from Nashville to New Hampshire, from New York to New Orleans and from Boston to L.A.

All of them regarded the Holmes County Trail as one of the best they’d traveled.

My own “cycle of the seasons” begins with winter. Short days, tough weather and some of the loneliest of rides of the year lead to the slow unfolding of springtime. The push through the winter always feels as if I’m riding toward something better — a concept entirely consistent with my reasons for riding in the first place. Grab a bike and join me. You’ll be better for it.

Email Lorson at jlorson@alonovus.com and follow him on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.