Sunday, May 26, 2013
By KEN ALLEN
On a recent, cloudless morning early enough for long shadows, I was pedaling south on Route 27 in Belgrade, when the outside bank thermo-meter at the Route 135 junction caught my eye -- 68 degrees.
Before the trip ended three towns later, the temperature would hit the high 80s and humidity would reign, but the constant rushing air from a speeding bicycle would keep me safely cool as long as I hydrated plenty.
By the Belgrade Post Office, two bicyclists heading north waved, putting the morning tally of pedalers at five in five miles -- one per mile. They had all waved, illustrating how this friendly sport oozes camaraderie.
My polarized sunglasses made the blue sky even deeper, like an autumn day, so descriptive cliches popped to mind -- terms like "electric blue," "cerulean bowl" and "cobalt." When I removed the sunglasses to see the natural light, though, the sky looked like summer again.
A west breeze stirred and reminded me of a long-ago column by the late John Cole. His essay celebrated west winds as the best wind, and the thought has stuck in my mind for four decades. Few pensive observers would argue his opinion about west winds, which create that pellucid light that has attracted oil painters and photographers for nearly 200 years.
Lots of bicyclists notice stuff like wind direction, sky color, temperatures and myriad other images, particularly on one of those days when nothing is more pressing than simply deciding how to make ourselves the happiest -- and to hell with the rest.
If someone owns road bikes, and I do, it's fun to pound along at high speeds and try to get, say, from Belgrade Lakes village to Barnes and Noble in Augusta faster than I've ever done it before. Other times like that very morning, though, leisurely pedaling and daydreaming filled the day.
Bicycling continues to grow worldwide, and in Maine it has really exploded. Most Maine bicycle shops have outstanding inventories, too, and in my general area, the amount of stuff in places like Mathieu's in Farmingdale or the L.L. Bean bike shop in Freeport wows me.
The late Jud Strunk once sang about Bill Jones General Store in Farmington, crooning, "If we ain't got it, you don't need it."
That's how I feel about so many Maine bicycle shops, which carry an impressive inventory in a state with so many pedalers living between Kittery and Fort Kent. This state has a solid customer base, for sure.
I also think that guided bicycling road trips between Maine's multiple bed-and-breakfasts and other lodging destinations offer a lucrative tourism option for weekend or weeklong pedals -- or longer. Some folks already sell bicycling packages, and the Internet lists several of them. There's room for more without even counting mountain-biking trips in Maine's woodlands.
Here's the beauty of bicycling tourism. The business doesn't rely on natural boom-and-bust cycles of game-and-fish populations. Maine's current northern deer herd and striped-bass populations jump to mind.
Can you imagine owning a sporting camp in northern Maine these days and trying to sell whitetail-hunting packages where the herd averages one to two deer per mile?
Granted, these businesses may not depend on deer for economic survival, but it surely helps pay the bills after fall anglers, leaf peepers, bird watchers and moose hunters leave and before snowmobilers arrive. The deer woes there sadden folks who remember when this area was the place to go for deer in the entire Northeast.
Stripers have declined since the 1990s, and the glory days then occurred after a prior downturn and recovery with that migratory species.
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