One Saturday during my last summer of graduate school, I returned to my hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio, and took a bike ride with my father on the town’s walking/biking trail.
I cannot say the trail was the sole reason for my visit, but in my journal our outing is how I recounted the day. I know that I was restless during that season, unsure of what to do when I finished my master’s degree. I needed a sort of grounding.
I remember that our bike ride was in the evening, just before the sun washes its last yellow hues into the horizon. In July in Ohio, twilight comes late. We rode south, toward Xenia, on the part of the trail that crosses over bridges and several creeks and cuts through farmland.
That bike ride from two decades ago is my first clear memory of the Little Miami Scenic trail, which now runs 75 miles: from Newtown (near Cincinnati) all the way northeast to Springfield. Like the Tweetsie Trail, the Little Miami Scenic Trail is a rail trail. Yellow Springs is just one stop among many along the way, but it has transformed the little village.
“The store owners have embraced the trail,” says my friend, Emily, who grew up with me in Yellow Springs and still lives there.
The trail has brought groups of people who do not reside in our town — from Boy Scout troops to college students and families — to the shops and restaurants on our main streets, Xenia Avenue and Dayton Street. Emily says, “On weekends, the Winds Cafe is filled with people in bike shorts.”
Emily’s daughter and son grew up cycling the trail — first being toted behind her in a trailer and later beside her on their own bikes. But people don’t just bike the trail: they walk, rollerblade and run it. I like to think that the trail keeps families together: I often see parents and their children strolling together, with the kids squealing as they run around the adults.
On that trail, my mother and I have ambled countless times, recounting our dreams, retelling family stories and planning holiday menus. When my parents and I are feeling ambitious, we take a much longer route, one that ends up on the far end of town, on the part of the trail next to the Riding Centre, where horses graze on rolling pastures.
My husband loves the Little Miami Scenic Trail. Last summer, when he and I visited, we hauled our bikes in the car all the way up to Ohio. I liked it best when we would announce to my father that we were going for a ride and ask if he wanted to come with us. My father would emerge from his home office, where he spends large chunks of his day, and he would say “yes” — he often says “yes” to anything outdoors — and we three would take the trail.
I like for my husband to spend time with my father, to find in each other the qualities they share: a gentle nature and quiet wit, a contemplative spirit. Those are the kinds of things you can find in people you love when you take a break from television, video games and your own four walls, and you let the leaves and seasons surround you. The three of us rode toward Springfield, toward the horizon, under a canopy of trees.
Those bike rides last August were not so different from the one I took 20 years ago with my father, that evening in the summer when I sought a settling to my anxiety.
In my journal from that day, I wrote that the fields — they must have been soybean crops — stretched out in dark green, and that white barns dotted the landscape. “Beautiful,” is what I scrawled into my journal. And a few sentences later, I wrote, “I felt so at peace.”
We rode home before the sunlight fell away, before the trees darkened, while we could still see each other and could catch the last and best of the gold trickling through the leaves.
Shuly Cawood is a writer and
editor living in Johnson City.