April is finally here and it’s looking like spring. Snow is mostly gone from my yard and crocuses are in bloom. Migrating birds and buzzards are showing up again in the neighborhood. Winter ski stuff has been washed and ready to put away. Skis are waiting to be storage waxed. Others may still be out there skiing, but I’m ready to move on to spring cycling.
One bike is out of the basement and has already made its first ride around the block. This week, I waited for a decent day to take her out again. A “decent” day for me is one that’s not too cold — 40s and below are not pleasant riding conditions. I have gear for cold-weather riding, but I don’t have the desire. I’m not a fan of rainy day riding either unless I have no choice. Super windy days are not fun either and a little scary. With a wide-open schedule this time of year, I can be choosy about when and where I ride.
The “decent” day came on Tuesday. It wasn’t raining, and, although cool at the start, promised to be warmer in the afternoon. When temperatures climbed into the 50s, I got out my riding gear. I didn’t have a particular ride in mind, I just wanted to spin for an hour or so.
Tuesday was going to be an “easy” day — no big hills, no hammering the pedals. All I wanted was a nice, scenic ride. I considered the choices nearby. Doing the Kanc/Passaconaway Road loop came to mind. It’s one of my favorites, but I knew it was too early. The weekend before, Peter and I checked out the winter — closed section of Passaconaway. It was still snow-covered — best to save that ride for later.
My second choice was West Side Road. It’s scenic and not too taxing. Traveling from Conway to North Conway with wide shoulders and not too much traffic to negotiate, makes for a pleasant ride. On my agenda was also a trip to White Birch Books to buy Easter cards. Why not use the bike for transportation and exercise?
With a plan in my head and my gravel grinder ready to go, I saddled up. There’s a lot of leftover winter sand on the roads, and its wider tires made it a steadier, though slower steed, than my road bike. It can roll right over sticks left on the road by recent wind storms and was nimble enough to avoid manure spreader debris.
Negotiating traffic, parked cars and potholes in Conway Village is always a challenge. It gives me a chance to try out my cycle know-how. I was prepared and very visible with my bright clothing and front and rear flashing lights. Positioning myself in the lane where drivers could see me, I signaled my intentions to turn, stop or move over. My “old lady” rearview mirror (necessitated by a stiff neck) kept me aware of what traffic behind me was doing. Successfully sliding over into the left-hand turn lane at the light is tricky, but I made it. Waiting in a line of cars for the light to change, I made sure I was in low gear, with my pedal in the “ready” position.
The light turned green and I was off, making the turn quickly and smoothly onto Washington Street. The first part of it has “hidden” dangers — people crossing the street suddenly in front of you, car doors opening right as you come by and cars pulling out from driveways. I was “high alert” and paying attention.
Past the fountain and Saco River Bridge turnoff, the road widens as it becomes West Side Road. There its “rural” nature took over as I pedaled past farms and fields, spotting cows and horses grazing. The spring smell of manure was in the air as I cycled up the road. Early afternoon, I only saw one other cyclist. When I rode back later, more riders and runners were out, getting their late-afternoon exercise. West Side Road is a good place to go for that.
Arriving at River Road, I turned right by the strawberry farm and cycled into town. North Conway Village traffic was light, but I still had to watch out for pedestrians crossing, cars turning and lights changing. The pull-in parking spaces by Schouler Park always make me nervous. Who knows when somebody will back out without looking? Will they even see me if they do? I gave them wide berth and watched for backup lights.
At White Birch Books, I parked my bike on the porch, out of sight. I forgot to bring a bike lock, but I wasn’t too worried. Once inside, I bought some beautiful cards for my sisters. The problem of how to carry them home without damaging them presented itself. By repacking my front handlebar pack, I was able to fit them in without crushing them. That’s the problem with shopping by bike — figuring out how to get your purchases home.
It was time to head back. I made it through town, positioned myself in the left turn lane at River Road junction and made the turn successfully. I rode over First Bridge, noticing the swollen river. Bypassing the West Side Road turn, I continued to the Echo Lake turnoff, also known as “Old West Side Road.”
I like this section of road. It’s shady in the hot months and quiet in the spring. Passing Echo Lake, I saw some snow and ice still there. Cars parked outside the gate indicated walkers inside. I didn’t see any evidence yet of mountain bikers. I suspect trails there may be too soft to ride.
Back on West Side, I anticipated a quick cruise back home. A headwind proved me wrong! The ride back took a little longer than expected, but it was still good exercise. Rounding the corner at the Route 16 light, I was on the homestretch and out of the wind. I arrived home with at about 15 miles of spinning under my saddle. Check off another good early season ride.
Dust off your bikes, watch for those “decent” days and grab the chance of a great spring ride. It doesn’t have to be long, hard or epic. A nice spin around the block or to town and back will get you out of winter mode. April here’s, get out and ride.
Sally McMurdo is a bike safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.