This article is part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trail Moments initiative—to elevate new and tried-and-true trail voices around the country, and how trails have impacted the lives of Americans during COVID-19. Learn more at trailmoments.org and #TrailMoments on social media.
Prior to the pandemic, my husband Albert and I traveled extensively both for our jobs and personally. You could find us in Hawaii one month and Italy the next. In March 2020, COVID hit, and the world came to a screeching halt. For the next several months, we only left the house to obtain essential items. As a result of our self-imposed hibernation, we started to pack on pounds and experience mental stress and COVID fatigue. Let me tell you, the mirror became our enemy!
A few of my female friends and I decided to purchase bikes. It would get us out of the house for a little fun with exercise as a byproduct. Now Albert vehemently proclaimed that he would never ride a bike and that we had lost our minds, as he had a misconception about biking causing prostate cancer. But four weeks into our bike rides, Albert noticed the change in my mood and overall happiness. He finally relented and purchased his first bike off Facebook Marketplace for $100. I affectionally call his bike “Big Blue,” as it weighs almost 40 pounds.
Although our first ride together was only 5 miles, the after-effects were excruciating: muscle pain, fatigue and a few choice words. But despite the Florida heat and the muscle pain, we were not deterred from riding. We became a daily fixture on the sidewalks of our neighborhood. Soon, we became known as “the riding couple” on the weekends. From horn blowing to friendly waves, strangers would see us and comment about our rides and dedication. We continued a few more months on the sidewalks in our neighborhood, where we racked up more than 1,100 miles. Shortly thereafter, we were introduced to the trail life.
The Trail Life
Our first trail was the Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail, an 18-mile route in northeastern Florida. We unloaded our bikes in St. Augustine and pedaled toward Palatka. On our return to St. Augustine with about 10 miles left, the Florida heat had taken its toll on me, and I simply could not go any farther. Albert had to finish the ride with urgency to retrieve our car and pick me up. Despite my failure to complete my first trail, I was not going to give up that easily. The following week, we rode the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail-Trail, a 14.5-mile route in our hometown. We aced it. Yes, it was still 95 degrees, but I was totally prepared and sufficiently hydrated. That ride was the beginning of our weekend trail adventures and the birth of us wanting to explore every trail in Florida.
Each week we would explore new trails. Not only were we building our endurance, but we were also reshaping our bodies, minds and souls. One Saturday, we noticed a few bikers would seem to fly by us as if we were standing still. Now you must understand that we are both competitive people, so that visual did not sit very well—AT ALL. We decided that the next biker that passed us, we would keep pace. Take a moment and picture this: a biker rides by doing about 18 or 19 mph, and we give chase. After about two blocks, we had difficulty breathing, and the Apple watch indicated “critical zone/heart failure.” Once recovered, we realized that our 40-pound bikes (one loaded down with a large cooler) were the issue—we were not ready for true speed. It was at this point we decided to invest in lighter and faster bikes.
We continued our adventures well into the holidays and into the New Year. Each week, we would post our rides to social media noting the distance and speed traveled, the scenery and—most interesting—the wildlife. These posts elicited varied responses from “congratulations” and “well done” to “that seems easy.” The first person that said it was easy was my daughter. She proceeded to declare she could do the ride and do it faster than us. She said there was no way two people aged 50+ could outride a 25-year-old.
By this time, we had in excess of five bikes (I’m a little embarrassed to give the exact number). The morning of our family ride, my daughter chose her bike and made the necessary adjustments to fit her height. She even did a practice ride around the block to get her heart rate up and ready. We headed to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail-Trail, unloaded the bikes at the Jacksonville end and gave her one last chance to recant her statement. She was even more adamant that she would be waiting for us with emergency services and a breathing machine at the end of the ride. It’s about to go down, we thought.
The challenge began, and I must admit, she kept pace within 100 meters of us for the first 4 miles. At this point, Albert looked at me and said, “Let’s go.” My daughter continued to get smaller and smaller in the distance. We stopped at the 12-mile marker, as we were not able to see her in the rearview, and waited about 10 minutes; we still had 2.5 miles to complete. Just as we decided to backtrack and find her, we spotted her coming in the distance. As she approached us, she looked tired and deflated. She sheepishly muttered under her breath, “I cannot go any farther.”
We continued to the end of the trail while she headed back to the car. Once we reached Baldwin, we rested for five minutes and proceeded to return to Jacksonville. Even with a 5-mile head start, we arrived back to the car at the same time my daughter arrived. By 1:30 p.m., she was napping and probably on her third dream. Since her schooling by the old folks, she has never mentioned our age. The lesson: Never underestimate the older folks.
About a month later, my second daughter came to town to redeem her sister’s honor. She is three years older and considered herself much fitter, as she rides her Peloton daily. We gave her the same opportunity as her sister. She selected her bike, all while talking trash about her exploits on the Peloton and her ability to school Albert and me. Once again, we headed to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail-Trail—this time with Daughter #2 in tow. After 2 miles, we didn’t see her. We completed the trail and waited 20 minutes. Upon her arrival, her first words were, “This is NOT the Peloton.”
Riding the trails has not only made us healthier and happier, but has also allowed us to become a part of the rails-to-trails family. And it was a way to cope psychologically with the challenges we faced during the pandemic. Albert lost his mom to COVID, and riding the trails became an important coping mechanism. I believe she gives Albert strength each week to do something he was so against a year ago. Riding has continued to give both of us enjoyment, fulfillment and—most importantly—the belief that we are not defined by our age.
Have you recently discovered trails, or are you a long-time trail enthusiast? Either way, we hope you’ll share your “Trail Moments”—and the stories of how trails have impacted your life during COVID-19. Take the survey below, or share using #TrailMoments on social media.