Karen Goes, Cycling

Cycling on local trails in Georgia, I get to see nature that awes me. One day a pileated woodpecker flew beside me for 20 yards on the Silver Comet Trail. Before the pandemic I was riding more on Big Creek Greenway, a path in a streambed north of Atlanta. There a Great Blue Heron was feeding in the shallow puddle of a drying pond and I didn’t know there were otters at Big Creek until I saw them one day. One of the coolest sights was when a Great Blue Heron flew from the stream below to the bridge I was about to cross, and then, just as I approached flew on across right in front of me. Deer are often out on many trails. Oh, to have had a camera going for some of these sights.

Sometimes the interesting things I see are people, all kinds.  A person on stilts, on a pennyfarthing, on a stand up bike with no seat, even, once, a person walking with his head buried in a textbook. He never looked up as far as I could see. I don’t know why he didn’t walk into people. One day I saw a woman tethered to her phone (not as in listening to great music and working out in the zone, but, as in, really never letting go of being connected to the device). Do those people get the same benefits from being out on the trail as people who are attuned to their surroundings, or is it merely cardio benefits for them? And, where do the benefits of being in nature come from? I mean there are obvious things like vitamin D coming from the sun and the endorphins that come from the exercise itself, but what about things like your mind space? So, I read some things, including Nature Fix by Florence Williams and while I began as a skeptic about some things, like bird calls having a positive effect, she did convince me in the end that they do.

So, my next thought was; just as the person who is wired outdoors loses some of the benefit of being in nature (and some of the safety in being alert), maybe there’s a way for people who are home bound to gather some benefits of being outdoors. I don’t just manage to get myself back on the bike when the outdoors is part of the picture, I want to (most days) ;). How can people who would attend to nature and their surroundings if they could get some of those benefits? What if I video a large amount of trail time, capture some of the more extraordinary wildlife sightings as well as changing seasons and provide a varied distraction for people to watch while exercising?

Video isn’t the whole outdoor experience and can’t provide all of the outdoor benefits. But, maybe, at bare minimum, it could help people who can’t get out, or can’t get out as often as they need to, find a more enjoyable experience for exercise and help with the motivation to get back on that stationary bike or other cardio machine. I want to collect video that could be used to give a more varied experience for the homebound, or those who don’t get to travel for exercise as much as they’d like to, an experience that is closer to nature, or just enough different to help with motivation. Maybe it could even be a meditation guide for some.

When I first thought of this plan fitness centers were open and I used one. I’ve kept my membership to the Y current through the pandemic so far, but haven’t been in for months, not since the first Covid-19 cases came to town. When I did go, I primarily used strength training. I’d never really do cardio for more than short 20 minute span, sometimes less, usually on the water rower to give my arms some attention (maybe I’m a sucker for a gimmick, but I really like it better than traditional rowers). Back when I did use stationary bikes there was never a cycling video that provided variety, or even actual real scenery to watch, and daytime TV choices on other available screens fall way short of inspiring. If I couldn’t cycle outdoors, I’m not sure I’d have the motivation to keep going. If my video helps people who can’t get out there in person, get out there in spirit, that would make me pretty happy.

A base goal could be to film my roughly hour long ride 2 or 3 times a week for a year (originally planned on the Big Creek Greenway, a paved multi-use trail that goes north-south along the Big Creek stream bed in the suburbs north of Atlanta), but now more likely to be on more remote areas of the Silver Comet). Partly a photography or data/film collection project to capture nature and the changing seasons on, but there was/is a creative aspect too. At the lowest level of funding, the project would just subsidize rides that I already take and commit me to filming them. I would capture video that as long as some people want to work out, and it would provide an experience for people that changes weekly with the seasons.

When the Shelter in Place order was given, outdoors was one of the few escapes people had. The bike shops sold out and the trails were filled with crowds (on those trails that were open). The numbers of people wearing masks was, and still is, very low. The best research that seems to be available points to 20 foot distances being more appropriate for cyclists because of speed and exertion than the 6 ft recommendations for people who are stationary or moving slowly. That’s a nearly impossible distance to maintain on the Greenway. The base plan needed to be altered before I got it out in front of people.

I had been building up to my plan, researching successful Kickstarters, and working toward one of my own. But, now Big Creek was filled with so many people, and the Silver Comet was closed in the two closest counties. We went out to Big Creek in the early morning one Sunday, normally the slowest time there, to see if that was doable. Out of 100 or so people we saw spread out over 8 miles, one other couple had masks on, and many were walking 2 or 3 abreast, so that didn’t allow safe passing distance. As that ride ended the numbers of people on the trail increased markedly.  That was an unpredictable risk too, choosing to start a ride with conditions at one level, and finishing at another level. I thought my plan was on indefinite hold. I settled into sheltering. And, I thought I was doing fine. I was so wrong.

A friend posted about going out past the two closed counties to ride the Silver Comet (SC) where it was open. She’s someone I’ve worked Support and Gear (SAG) for on overnight rides for the entire length of Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga trails. Together they make the longest paved paved path in the Rails to Trails (RTT) system. I had ridden my bike out as far as she was driving, and I had driven out there if I was working SAG for her, but I’ve always tried to limit the amount of gas and transportation expense I was willing to use in order to cycle. It seemed too much to drive that far for a bike ride, and to spend more time in the car than I do on the trail. But, we did it. Russ and I went out there for what turned out to be a ride that was both pathetic and necessary. 12 miles was all we had in us. But it was a very important 12 miles. I felt alive again after not having realized how far from that I had drifted. I said to Russ “If I get sick, you need to remind me that there are things I still want to do.” I didn’t know that my voice was going to tremble when I said it. I started going out often, and as I did, I realized that my project is more important now than ever, and that I have to build back up to spending more time on the trail than I do in the car, even when I have to drive this far.

So, now my base goal is to get an hour of video per week at the most sensible place, whether it’s the Silver Comet, or the Greenway. I’ll stay flexible as conditions change.

This will be a stretch in many ways. I’ll be happy enough to have the base goal fund, but the big dream is to make the stretch goal. At a higher level of funding, I will film the entire Silver Comet and adjoining Chief Ladiga trail in two directions weekly. For this, I will have to reach a level of physical output that I have never before sustained. I’ve done a century before. I’ve done the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga together before, but not repeatedly twice a week. And, though the goal is to get a year’s filmed record of the longest paved RTT trail in the country, I really expect it to consume me for 2 years. While building up, increases in mileage of 10% per week are recommended. I may have good weeks, but I’ll likely suffer setbacks if I try to build up faster than that over time. I won’t be able to stop that level of riding abruptly either. I expect to fill in weather or other unavoidable gaps that may happen by continuing to film as I slow my level of riding gradually.

I’ll be sharing my best film shots with supporters and making some digital wallpaper calendars with different themes. Some of the unbelievable things I see while riding are wild life, and some of them are crazy stupid. I also hope to get some good footage for a multi-use trail safety video. I do understand that this will be grueling at times and there will be days when I wonder what I was thinking. I’m looking forward to the challenge, and working through it to the other side.