The muscle, mind, and heart of a long bicycle ride

Sheridan Terminus of the Monon Trail

Sheridan Terminus of the Monon Trail

A custom practiced by many open road cyclists is to do a birthday ride: a mile for every year of life. I’ve kept the practice many of my cycling years, but for some reason it keeps getting harder. “Of course, it will,” some would say. “More years of life, more miles to ride, and fewer muscles!”

Twice in recent years, I met the challenge by signing up for sponsored rides. The loneliness of the road was dispelled by hundreds of other cyclists so that at no point was I out of sight of others who were wending their way over the beautiful terrain of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

This year, however, I would be doing it on my own. No century ride to join and no cycling buddy to keep me company. Even so, I was determined to devote my birthday to this purpose. The simplest way would be to take Lafayette Road to the 30-mile mark at Lebanon, continue on this same road until my bike computer read 42.5 miles, and then reverse course to come back home.

The night before, however, I didn’t sleep well, and the weather forecast was unfavorable. At breakfast, I knew that the birthday ride was dead, for that day, anyway. The next day’s forecast was better, but I had appointments scheduled. The next day had an even better forecast and I decided that I would do my ride that day. Even so, I worried. The muscles of my aging body could probably power me that many miles, but motivation had withered away.

Then came an idea. At Lebanon I would abandon Lafayette Road and improvise a new route: northeast a few miles to State Road 47 and then east on that rural highway to the town of Sheridan. There I would travel southeasterly on State Road 38 until I stumbled onto the northern terminus of the Monon Trail.

Built on the abandoned route of an abandoned railroad, the trail’s southern terminus is on 10th Street, only a few blocks from my downtown Indianapolis home. The sections I’ve already traveled are wide and nicely paved, and cut a straight line through long established neighborhoods of Broad Ripple and Nora. In recent times it has been pushed further north through Carmel and on to 191st Street in Westfield.

On previous visits to Indianapolis, I have cycled as far north as Carmel, and my birthday ride would give me the chance to explore the northernmost section and ride the trail from top to bottom. My online searches, however, provided ambiguous or conflicting information about the upper segments of the trail. Clearly the physical challenge would be overshadowed by the intellectual excitement of actually finding the elusive trail and keeping on it.

Wednesday morning was beautiful, the best day of the week. The ride to Lebanon was fine. Drying corn that had been twelve feet tall when I went this way a month earlier had been harvested and the stalks cut down and removed.

At Lebanon I snacked a little and continued on my newly devised route. Now beyond the immediate signs of urban sprawl, I was riding through what looked like an updated version of traditional Indiana farm country, quiet and peaceful. At Sheridan, with my odometer reading forty-nine miles, I took a lunch break at a Dairy Queen at the junction with State Road 38 where I would back toward the city.

The high school girl who took my order told me that I didn’t have to ride to 191st Street because the Monon started right there in Sheridan, but her instructions on finding it were vague.

A couple who looked past retirement age sitting at another table came to my rescue. He had been the project manager for building the short section of the trail that travels through Sheridan. He described his work on the project and told me how to find the trailhead, which was less than a quarter of a mile from where we were sitting.

He too was vague in describing the trail south of Sheridan, and I soon discovered that it exists in disconnected segments, with virtually no signage to tell trail users how to move from one section to they next. A farmer standing near his shed and staff at a city park in Westfield filled in the missing information and I kept moving south, but this stopping and starting ate up time. At Broad Ripple, I left the trail to find supper, but daylight was fading and instead of eating I scurried south on familiar city streets to get home before dark.

Between the Dairy Queen and the trail head, my bike computer disappeared. Using Google maps for the computer less section, my estimate is that I fell short of my 85-mile goal by 5 or 6 miles. Close enough! At home, feasting on a Subway sandwich, I massaged sore muscles with my heart rejoicing.

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