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Suburban Diary

Out of hibernation, the Minuteman Bikeway beckons

By Jeri Zeder
March 26, 2009
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Like a good New Englander, I've managed to keep the ache at bay since, oh, about November.

I suspect I'm not alone. Call it human hibernation: We put a piece of ourselves to sleep as we brace for the long, cold, lonely winter and wait for the sun to come.

With April soon to be here, bouncing between days all balmy and sunshine and others with stinging wind and whipping snow, the ache stirs. It causes gardeners to assess the holes in their gloves. It draws students' eyes from textbooks to windows. It makes mothers, weary of stuffing wiggly bodies into snowsuits, imagine their babies outdoors in nothing but diapers and onesies.

It makes me gaze with longing at my bicycle.

When the Minuteman Bikeway iced up last fall, my ache burrowed underground as I retired what an acquaintance calls my "noble steed": my bus-length, comfy as an armchair, blue recumbent. It sleeps all winter, resting on its kickstand at a jaunty angle, the tires flat from neglect. As March yields to April, I'm starting to wonder where we put the tire pump.

Pretty much the only place I ride is on the bike path, usually, but not always, starting at Maple Street in Lexington and pedaling to the Bedford depot and back. I'm sometimes asked by more adventurous riders how I can take the same route nearly every day without getting bored. And the truth is I'm never bored. That's because, even though it is always the same route, it is different every day.

Chalk that up to our restless New England weather and climate. A morning bike ride in May feels nothing like a morning bike ride in September. The low sunshine glaring through naked tree branches in April looks nothing like the sunlight that blinks through the leafy density of July. The fresh, sparkling smells of spring contrast with the rich, earthy odors of autumn's heavy leaves. Ride at a different time of day. Go out after a rain shower. Travel when the sky is blue; travel when the sky is gray.

Ride as each season is born, blossoms, and dies. As your lungs open to each day's new air, your eyes adjust to each day's new light, your skin senses each day's new chill, or warmth, or wind, or humidity, you know the bike path is never the same twice.

You see different people, too. Go out now, and there's that elderly couple conducting their stewardship, faithfully cleaning up the litter on the side of the path. Go out then, and you'll see that trio of moms, three abreast, pushing strollers, their strides purposeful, their voices animated as their babies sleep. That rollerblader who's usually pressing up the hill just before the DPW - did he skip today?

Oh, there's Anne, walking; I'll get off my bike and walk with her awhile so we can catch up. A few weeks of this, and people start exchanging smiles and "good mornings." A little community forms.

Which leads to the next question: What's wrong with a bit of same old, same old?

I love to see what I expect to see. And here's what I expect: to glide by the lovely garden lining the bike path's entry ramp on Maple Street (bless the gardeners and their wildflowers!). To pedal past the aspen grove and its round, shimmering leaves. To spook a wild rabbit nibbling clover under the brush. To hear the songbirds. To crank up to high gear and zoom downhill, nonstop, from Bedford Street to Hartwell Avenue. To hope that the wind is blowing south over the Lexington compost facility. To be ushered forward by Bedford's lush canopy of trees. To turn around and retrace my journey, slower this time, as it's mostly uphill. To sing, out loud, as long as no one's in hearing distance, "Morning Has Broken," because it captures my mood perfectly.

My bike doesn't know it yet, but it's soon going to be hauled out of the garage and taken for an overdue tuneup. I don't like riding in traffic, so I've made arrangements with Louis, a contractor with an enormous van, to drive it to and from the shop for me. He's generously refusing any compensation, but my mom and dad raised me right, so I'm not going to let him get away with that; there's a gift card in Louis's future.

Meanwhile, I've been scoping out the path on foot. Barring some stinky April storm, it looks like all will be clear when my bike's ready. And I'll be riding as often as possible, from April to November, anticipating with every turn of my gears the predictable changes and surprising sameness of the Minuteman Bikeway.

Jeri Zeder lives in Lexington.

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