Hills and Valleys

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, June 2007 •

I’ve loved riding bicycles ever since I received my first two-wheeler on my fifth birthday. I rode all my life, except when I lived in Atlanta. If you’ve ever driven there, you know that no explanations are necessary. The city’s congested streets were no place for weekend cyclists like me.

So bike trails actually helped to convince me that Florida was the place for me. And the flat cart trails where I ride near my home in The Villages are icing on the cake. Notice my emphasis on the word flat.

Some friends and I headed over to the new South Lake Bike Trail recently with great anticipation. We couldn’t wait to be among the first to ride the picturesque South Lake trail and then glide into Clermont along the Lake Minneola Scenic Trail. I was quite confident that 18 or 20 miles of trail riding would be no problem on that particular Saturday morning, and we’d finish rather quickly. After all, I can ride that far around The Villages and hardly break a sweat.

I didn’t count on hills. Big hills. Little hills. Sugarloaf Hill, which, by the way, is the name of a mountain in my former hometown. I couldn’t help but think about that analogy as I huffed and puffed my way along the trail described as Florida’s hilliest.

As I struggled to keep up with my friends who were in better shape than I was, I thought about how life is like that bike trail.

You can be pedaling along enjoying the scenery and all of sudden life gives you a hill to climb. Forget the scenery; you have to focus on getting over that hill. Recently, three close relatives have been diagnosed with cancer, and they each have different levels of hills to climb. Sons and daughters and husbands are riding those hills along side of them, too. We all are at the point where we wonder how much farther to the top. Will we ever be able to coast along carefree again?

The trail had some bumps along the way, too, particularly through a construction zone near Lake Minneola. We had to maneuver carefully. One wrong turn and we could be lying flat on our backs and facing delays getting home. I thought about life’s little bumps and how we handle them makes all the difference in whether we are knocked to the ground or just merely slowed down a little.

The strenuous part of the journey forced us to stop to smell the flowers, literally. And it was during those quiet rest periods that we experienced some surprises and joy: a seaplane practicing landings along the lake, a gorgeous heron foraging for food, other riders stopping to chat and share their biking experiences — all unexpected delights that left us rejuvenated and ready to tackle whatever the trail, or life, threw at us next.

Some of life’s best memories come from those moments when we leave our hectic pace behind and stop to rest: a poignant conversation with a loved one, an afternoon of sharing a craft with a child, a revelation from a book.

On the return trip, we all commented how much easier the trail seemed to be. Just like life, the experiences up the trail prepared us for the second half of the trip. And what was the lesson we learned?

It’s the hills that make us stronger.

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