30 at 55

The Kennebec River, not mighty but still beautiful

Last Saturday was my birthday, and to celebrate, my husband, Clif, and I decided to go on a long bike ride, from Hallowell to Richmond and then back again. Round trip, it was about 30 miles.

The day started out gray and there were even a few sprinkles, but by noon the sky had cleared, the sun was out, and the temperature—about 70 degrees—was perfect for bike riding. Clif loaded the bikes in the car, and we headed to Hallowell to pick up the rail trail, which would take us as far as Gardiner, about 5 miles away.

Clif and me, at the beginning of our ride

The rail trail was sheer bliss. What a relief it was to be able to ride on a route where we didn’t have to worry about the cars. All through Maine, I wish there were many trails like the rail trail . True, we had to watch out for pedestrians, but that was not a problem at all. We duly slowed down when we approached pedestrians, and we let them know we were going by on their left.

On the rail trail, we crunched over dry leaves—a reminder that fall has arrived—and to our left, the Kennebec River shimmered in the bright sunlight. Narrow and placid, at least in central Maine, the Kennebec River cannot be called mighty, but it is beautiful, and we would follow the river all the way to Richmond. What is it about water that draws us so? Mountains might have grandeur and deserts their stark beauty, but some elemental part of us seems to respond to water, to love it, to want to be near it.

We stopped in Gardiner—the end of the rail trail—for lunch and had peanut butter sandwiches, Goldfish crackers, and a cookie. Clif and I discussed how the DOT (Department of Transportation) should not essentially be the DOC (Department of Cars), that it should include and accommodate various modes of transportation—from bikes to trains to walking. And while there is plenty of room for improvement, it was heartening to see new sidewalks in Farmingdale, on busy Route 201, going right into Gardiner. So progress has been made, but as is so often the case, it is slow and uneven. (I’m thinking of my terror rides up Pelton Hill, where there are no bike lanes, and the traffic zooms by at 50 miles an hour. “Terror” is not too strong a word to use.)

Lunch on the rail trail

From there, we rode through town to South Gardiner, which with its flat roads and paved breakdown lanes, is another biker’s delight. We left the main road twice to go on two quiet side routes that followed the river and, as a bonus, bypassed two huge hills. We rode past broad fields and plenty of pointed firs. One dog, a border collie, rushed at us, but he didn’t leave his yard, and as Clif put it, “He’s all bark.” Our kind of dog. A little farther on, another dog, a huge Newfoundland, watched serenely as we rode by, and we didn’t hear as much as a soft yip.

A field along the way

Eventually we came to Richmond, which has a splendid little park complete with restrooms, a wonderful amenity when you are biking. We sat by the river and admired the view—Swan Island, an old metal bridge—and all too soon it was time to head back to Hallowell.

The view from the park in Richmond

We dawdled a bit along the way, until we realized that we were running a little late. We had arranged to meet our daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike, at the Liberal Cup in Hallowell, and it was time to stop dawdling. Pedal, pedal, pedal back through South Gardiner, to Gardiner, and onto the rail trail. We were 15 minutes late, which is not too bad, and Shannon and Mike were waiting for us at the Cup.

Let’s just say that after a long bike ride, fish and chips and a cup of cheddar soup tasted pretty darned good, to borrow a phrase from Clif. Then, it was back to our house for cake, ice cream, and presents, which we had around the fire pit.

The title of this piece refers, of course, to the number of miles we rode and to my age. Both Clif and I are so pleased and grateful that we are able to ride this distance at our ages—Clif will soon be 61. Never for one minute do we take our health for granted. We know all too well that life is unpredictable and that bad luck can strike anyone. However, right now, we are both more than able to ride 30 miles on our bike in a day. And the best thing is that the very next day, we went on an 11-mile ride and felt just fine.

I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated my 55th birthday. Well, that’s not quite true. If only our daughter Dee could have joined us. Nevertheless, it was a splendid day.

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