Scrupulously observing posted speed limits and respecting all traffic signs and signals, I can drive my mini-van the 1.9 miles from my house to Lowe’s Foods (the closest grocery store) in 6 minutes.
I can make the same trip in 5 minutes, 45 seconds by riding my bicycle on the greenway trail along Lovills Creek.
This is not bragging. I am — as regulars on the cycling and walking path can attest — a plodding pedaler. As a gimp-kneed, overweight desk jockey carrying a spare tire instead of riding one, I sometimes amaze myself when I swing a leg high enough to clear the old Schwinn’s saddle. It’s a testament to bicycles’ tough construction that I can sit on one without collapsing it.
Obviously, to everyone who sees me, I need exercise. Walking is good, but cross-training with a bicycle pumps up my heart and lungs, strengthens my legs and improves flexibility in my knees. It’s also helping me lose weight — 5 pounds since I started two weeks ago.
I also find that riding on the Emily Taylor Greenway is good for my psychological health. The scenery, the rippling water, the pleasant passing people and the gently rolling path soothe me. I can focus on the ride and put other cares and concerns out of my mind. Alternately, I can let my mind wander to other thoughts, such as articles, columns and how to communicate with my teen-aged sons.
Lately, I’ve thought a lot about bicycling in Surry County. Every year, I see more riders in and around Mount Airy. Since visiting the greenway has become my regular habit, I’m amazed by the number of bicyclists I meet. Almost every sports-page story about one of the Surry County road tours mentions riders coming from out of county and out of state.
But there is still a lot of room for bicycling to grow for recreation, fitness and practical purposes. That trip to Lowe’s I mentioned? At 52.2 cents per mile (the AAA Carolinas 2007 estimate for operating an average automobile), each drive to the grocery store costs me about $2. Mind you, that estimate was made when gasoline cost $2.26 a gallon; now it's around $3.05. Anyway, in two years or less, I could save myself the price of a pretty good bike, not to mention improving my health and possibly avoiding some medical bills. Plenty of other people could benefit from cycling, too.
I asked some folks in the know about what’s needed to make Surry County more “bike friendly.” I talked with Richard Rhoden at Foothills Cycling; Dr. Mac Sumner, the Mount Airy dentist who helped create Bikestock; Darren Lewis at the Reeves Community Center in Mount Airy; Vonda Martin at the Armfield & Civic Recreation Center in Pilot Mountain; Sheila Jones at Mountain Valley Hospice & Palliative Care Center, which sponsors both Tour de Mayberry and Bikestock; and Mike Wetzel, department head of Surry County Parks & Recreation. It’s easy to find a lot of people in Surry with a serious interest in bicycling.
Back in 2004, many such people helped Surry’s recreation and planning departments map out bike routes that link Surry County’s towns, cities, parks and special attractions. You can find the map posted in places such as The Good Life Cafe in Mount Airy. You also can download copies from the Web at http://www.co.surry.nc.us/Departments/ParksAndRecreation/ScenicBikewayMap.htm.
Wetzel told me that to his knowledge the map has never been published. I’d sure like to see someone help the county do that. A PDF copy looks fine on my monitor, but not coming off a black-and-white laserprinter.
With some donations from local clubs or organizations, and perhaps some sponsors’ names around the edges to defray the cost, I’d bet someone could hire SouthData or one of the area’s other printers to run off plenty of maps for distribution through the chamber, bike clubs, retailers and motels.
I admit my own self-interest. My legs one of these days will be up to taking a longer trip and tackling more hills. Then I’ll need a map (and probably a compass, a guide, a GPS navigator, etc.; my brain’s “bump of direction” seems to have passed out of warranty).
But, seriously, bicycling is a good sport for aging Baby Boomers and Surry County is a beautiful place to ride. Putting road-tour maps in riders’ saddlebags and fannypacks seems like one more good turn of the crankset ... into the future.
Steve Welker is the editor of SurryBusiness.com.