Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I've got some swampland to sell you
Have you ever been curious about the sport of mountain biking, but were afraid to try it because you thought it would be like this? Mountain biking doesn't have to be a testosterone-laden sport, though I wouldn't mount that pink basket on the front of your bike just yet.
Rhode Island has a lot of wonderful physical features, but mountains are not among them, so fear not — the state has some excellent places to use your off-road training wheels.
One of my favorite easy rides is the Great Swamp Management Area, in South Kingstown. You won't find any technical riding here, but you will find an abundance of beauty and wildlife. A ride at the Great Swamp is like being part of a living postcard.
My partner, Marge, and I headed to the swamp on Sunday to burn off some of those Fourth of July cookout calories and to take some photos.
The swamp features mostly double-track dirt and gravel roads with just a few tiny pitches. Some sandy stretches provide the toughest challenge (a tip for beginners: switch to a really low gear, keep the front wheel absolutely straight, and pedal like mad through the sand).
There aren't a lot of roads or trails, so it's not the kind of place where you need to worry about getting lost. There are basically two routes: one spur will take you to Worden Pond, the largest freshwater pond in Rhode Island, and the other circles around the swamp. I typically can ride the whole thing, at a moderate pace, in about an hour.
I took up mountain biking nine years ago to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms when ski season ended, and it turned out to be the perfect compliment to skiing. Not only does it offer some of the same exhilaration when riding downhill, but it also uses many of the same muscles and movements, helps develop balance, and helps train your mind and eyes to "pick a line" (tip #2 for beginners: try to look where you WANT to go, not where you DON'T want to go, because you WILL go wherever it is you're looking).
I've never been too keen on road biking, mainly because I have a deep-seated fear of that wild beast known as the Rhode Island Driver. But I've also found it a little boring, like being on auto pilot.
Sure, it's a great cardiovascular workout, but not much else when you're riding mostly flat terrain (note to Lycra-clad cyclists: please don't start hurling your water bottles at me — I obviously know nothing about logging the kind of miles that you do).
With mountain biking, I'm using all of my body, and it's impossible to get lulled into that steady-state rhythm. It's engaging, fun and physical.
If you're still not convinced that two wheels are the way to see the Great Swamp, it's also a nice place for a walk. Just remember to bring some insect repellent, or you might find yourself going for a run instead.