A Fine Day for a Bike-and-Hike
There are times when I feel an incredible pull for the forest. It is more than a desire for a stroll through the woods; it's an almost a physical longing - like a craving for a special kind of comfort food. On hot days and on days with stormy weather alike, the forest offers shelter. On days when I'm not feeling great, or can't focus, it promises quiet, a place to gather my thoughts. All I need do is grab my bike and I'll be transported there.
The bike-and-hike is a pretty low-key, low-commitment activity. It requires little special equipment or preparation. A bicycle lock, something to drink, and perhaps a change of footwear is really all that I bring. For walks up rocky, twisty mountain trails I take hiking boots. For meanders through boggy ground I prefer wellies. On a utility bike, I throw this into a pannier or basket. If riding a roadbike with clipless pedals, I tie my walking boots to the saddle rails. It does not need to be any more complicated than that.
The forest, for me, is a place of great medicinal value. It isn't just that the peace and quite help me relax. The effect is physical, visceral, and seems to be most connected to smell.
It is as if whatever unique combination of herbs, mosses and resins that resides in these particular woods, releases some chemical into the air that possesses healing properties.
If I have a headache, it is often cured if I plop myself on a bed of moss and inhale. Mysterious body aches and muscle fatigue are reduced as I grab handfuls of ferns, wading through mud.
In the forest I like to climb trees. Not the tall, branchy ones, but the ones with dramatically bent and twisted trunks that grow almost parallel to the ground. I climb onto them and then crawl along, stopping now and again to simply lie there, face down against the bark, limbs dangling, thinking of nothing, breathing. Sometimes I take a book along and lounge right there in the tree, reading.
In the parts of the forest I love there are not really paths as such. But I know my way through it by feel. I navigate through tangles of thorns and nettles, cross streams, duck my head below low-hanging branches. On occasion, I trip on a twisted root that decides to grab hold of my ankle and fall to the spongy forest floor, so soft it is like a foam safety mat at a children's playground.
I don't transverse this thicket by bike not only because it is dense. A good mountain biker could probably zip through even some of the more tangled parts of it. But to my ear, the forest calls for slower movement. It begs for direct contact: for contact between feet and earth, between hands and branches, between face and moss. The bicycle, while so right in most places, feels like a distracting presence in here.
But the bicycle understands. And it waits outside, tactfully - prepared to take me home once I emerge, rejuvinated and ready for the miles of open road between forest and home.