Following this debilitating post-election week, I found myself aching for solitude and solace.
The autumn day is sunny and bright, with few white clouds slowly drifting across the pale blue sky. Below, sun rays brighten the dwindling yellow, orange, and browning leaves that remain on the trees. The slight breeze is tender, inviting me into the day to share what I know are exquisite delights that I cannot feel.
A bicycle rack has been strapped to my car much of the summer. My bike rolls easily through the basement door onto the grassy driveway to the car. A squeeze on each tire reveals a firmness that will not need extra air today. Good. I’m anxious to be on my way.
One hand firmly grasping the bar beneath the handlebars and the other beneath the seat, with my knees bent, I straighten my legs and elevate the bike to the rack. It’s heavy and sometimes I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to be independent with this particular task. It’s an important question for a woman in her seventh decade who lives alone and cherishes that solitude. And loves biking.
Soon, the Trek is securely in place, the helmet, gloves, and water bottle tucked in the front seat, and my car starts out on the twenty-five mile journey to Piney River. In all of Albemarle and Nelson Counties, Piney River is my favorite place to ride. It is off highway and thus safe from traffic on the narrow windy country roads in my area. The drive is pleasant as I pass by some of my favorite landmarks along the way—the antique shop; the yard with a front garden filled with brilliant red canna lilies; a favorite café, Basic Necessities.
Half an hour later, I reach the sharp turn that unveils the Piney River trailhead entrance on the left side of the road. I park, unload my bike and accessories for a ride, and soon pedal over the concrete path onto the soft grassy path alongside the gently flowing river. In another lifetime, this path was the railroad track for the former Virginia Blue Ridge Railway that closed in 1981.
As I leave the busy road behind and enter onto the six-mile hiking, biking, and horseback trail, I am quickly embraced by silence broken only by the gentle trickling of the river, occasional lovely birdsongs, and the whisper of my tires circling over dying fallen rust-colored leaves. My body relaxes and I become more aware of the sensations I always experience in this place that is sacred to me. As I pedal on, I savor the feel of bright sunshine warming my body, the muscles in my legs pushing the pedals of the serenity of the pastoral scenes everywhere I look as I travel on. A mile iint0 the ride, I pedal over a wooden bridge where the river then moves to my left.
I notice something dark on the trail ahead and, as I approach, see a black snake curled like a garden hose basking in the day’s heavenly warmth. We notice each other without alarm.
A few miles later my tires thump across another wooden bridge beneath which the river crosses to my right side now. Then I break out into country, with a fifty-or-so-acre meadow on the river side and multiple trees on the other bank. Several former and at least one active farm border the trail now and in the next meadow several black cows dot the green pasture grass.
When I cross the third bridge, I remember the summer day a small pink pair of flip flops lay on the bridge edge. I looked around for the little person who wore them but no one was in the area. Ever Miss Marple seeking clues, I parked the bike and looked under the bridge where silence greeted me. I sent a thought of safety to the child and envisioned her playing happily along the trail, barefooted.
I ride next beneath a huge bridge supporting a large, noisy major highway above me and quickly pedal on until I return to the serene, sweet solitude ahead. In a little while, I’ve reached the end of the trail, apparently privately owned land behind the fence that stops me. Paused, grateful for this place and the feel of my body filled with increasingly pleasure, I sip some water, then turn around and begin to ride back. The occasional hikers and bikers I pass acknowledge my presence with a smile or a nod, silently conveying their gratefulness for their moments here with Mother Nature, as I am.
In awhile, I stop near a middle-aged couple who are sharing their granola bars with an orange tabby who approached them as they rested by at the river. We talk briefly about the beauty of the day, the sparkling loveliness of the river, and friendliness of the cat, then say good-bye. These contacts buoy the silent shadows of concern for the people of our country.
When, about an hour after starting out, I return to the trailhead entrance, I’m tired. On my best days, after resting briefly, I again ride the full trail round trip, tallying up 25 miles for the day. Other days, I ride until my body signals it’s time stop—like today, a low energy day. Reluctantly, I walk my bike out to the parking lot, remove my helmet and gloves, and prepare to leave for home. I don’t want to leave… my heart aches to remain here…. Yet as I drive back into the world, I slowly realize that today’s respite into the sacred refuge that is Piney River has ever-so-gently reminded me again that our world is embraced by a greater power than we. I gratefully open to that flicker of light slicing into the darkness that pervaded my soul three days ago.