Where to go on our bike and be able to maintain a safe distance from others when we are out? We usually avoid riding on roads because of the danger of cars not giving enough space as we ride. But traffic has been almost non-existent as we stay home during the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, and suddenly our rural roads are more attractive places to wander on to explore the countryside.
We opted to check out an undeveloped portion of the SNETT in Uxbridge on Chocolog road and see if it was crowded, with the option of doing some road biking if we did not feel this was a good idea. Some folks were just leaving the trailhead when we arrived, so rather than crowd them, we drove around the neighborhood a little to get a feel for the area and how much traffic we might encounter if we ventured out on the road.
When we returned to the trailhead we found only one other car still there. After getting the bike ready, we donned our face masks (and helmets–which are standard for all our bike rides) and headed out. The SNETT in this section of Uxbridge has been cleared, so it offers a wide pathway, but the surface has not been well-compacted and was tough going on our adaptive tandem. We encountered only two other bike riders on the trail, and no walkers while we pedaled along, so we were able to relax and not worry too much about meeting other folks.
But the mud defeated us. We could have managed some mud, but as we looked ahead, we saw this was an area with poor drainage, and until the weather warms up and dries out, this section of trail will offer some pretty messy travel. We knew the nearby road was an option, so we turned around and continued our explore along Chocolog Road.
Unlike some roads, we found the shoulders of this roadway in great condition, and rarely did we have more than one car pass us at a time. We spotted several ponds within view of the road, and lots and lots of stone walls as well.
Some stone walls were in great repair. While many were single, dry-laid (no mortar) stone walls, several sections of roadway offered us views of double stone walls. Two rows of stone laid side by side, allowing for lots of smaller rocks to be deposited in the middle of these walls that are so quintessentially New England.
Some sections of roadway offered only a hint that the road had at one time been lined with stone walls. Other sections had clearly been tended to carefully, and repaired with great skill.
Pedaling, instead of driving past the countryside in our car offered us the opportunity to stop repeatedly and look closer. Shagbark hickory trees lined the roadway, ferns peeked out from leaf litter, and maples seemed to darken ever greener even as we rode past them.
Here was a tiny family graveyard. There some lovely daffodils waved in the gentle breeze. Cows peered at us from behind fencing as we passed them by. Rather than being protected from the elements in our car, we felt the breezes, soaked in the sunshine. and kept pedaling.
Families worked outside in their yards, raking, planting, and cutting firewood to dry for next winter. Children played outside. One, perhaps frustrated, lacrosse player practiced his skills by tossing a ball against a repurposed trampoline, set up against a tree in his yard. A few waved as we passed, but most were occupied in their own lives. They couldn’t see our smiles behind our masks, but yes, we were smiling the whole way.
We are already noticing an increase in traffic from the first days of when life as we knew during the pandemic came to a stop. At first, it was a novelty to spot any cars on the road. But even as we continue to live with much uncertainty, more folks are out. The roads are carrying more traffic, but where to? I am not sure. Before long, we may once again no longer feel safe riding on roads on our bike. And so we will continue to do what we, and many others before us have always done: we will adapt. Be kind, stay safe, and happy trails, wherever you may find them.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress. She is a co-author of the recent community history, Bellingham Now and Then.