Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day Ride

While much of the country was out returning gifts and taking advantage of big sales on this day after Christmas (known as Boxing Day to those in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and a few other former British colonies) I was out for a good bike ride -- something that has become a bit of a tradition with me for the past 30 years or so. I don't get to do it every year, since it's a very weather-dependant tradition, but I manage it more often than one might expect considering that I live in Northeast Ohio. We frequently get a brief warming trend right around Christmas that lets me get out for a ride. Today the temperatures were in the upper 40s, and the sun was shining bright, making for a nearly ideal Boxing Day ride.

Fans of the blues-rock duo The Black Keys might recognize
this little gas station which served as the backdrop for some
of the band's album art photos.
Heading north from Akron, I rode down the roads that skirt alongside the banks of the Cuyahoga River and pass through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park -- which is kind of a NE Ohio bicycling Mecca. As nice as it was, I was surprised not to see many other cyclists on the road. There wasn't a lot of car traffic, either, which made the ride even better.

I took my Rivendell Long-Low for this ride since it seemed like the perfect riding partner for today. We had quite a bit of rain the last couple of days, so I figured a bike with fenders would be a good choice (I was right). I also didn't need to carry much with me, and the Riv is currently unencumbered with racks or bags apart from a little "banana bag" seat-pack. The bike has such a nice comfortable ride, and I'd describe the handling as light and sprightly. I have bikes that weigh a good bit less than the Rivendell, but on the road the bike feels lighter than it is.

The Black Keys made the little
garage something of an icon.
At my half-way point, I was in the town of Boston, in the heart of the CVNP. The town is one of the oldest in Summit County, but barely exists anymore as anything more than a rest stop for bicyclists and pedestrians on the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath. I snapped a couple photos of my bike in front of an old gas station that hasn't operated for years, but is kept preserved as much for its picturesque qualities as anything else. Fun fact about the station is that the blues-rock duo The Black Keys used it as the backdrop for some album art photos some years back. The band used to call Akron their home until a few years ago when both members moved to be closer to the centers of the music industry.

This old gas station has been closed for quite a while. How long?
The price on the old pumps is listed in "cents per gallon"
and can't go above 99.9 cents. It's Pure Pep!
After that brief photo opportunity, I found my way to a rest area for the Towpath Trail. Again, I took another picture in front of an old general store that now serves as a visitor center. For the next two or three miles, I followed the Towpath to the little village of Peninsula. I was glad to have the fenders on my bike since parts of the path were a mucky, muddy mess after the recent rains. Once I got to Peninsula, I returned to the roads. Compared to Boston, Peninsula is practically a thriving metropolis, with not one but two open restaurants and a good bike shop.

As I exited the Towpath in Peninsula, I encountered another rider who had been on the path, covered in mud, and with that signature wet muddy stripe up his back. Once again, I was glad for fenders.

An old general store, now a visitor center for the Towpath.
Though I didn't ride particularly far -- only about 26 miles -- by the time I got home, the shadows were lengthening and the sun was starting to get low and in my eyes. The winter solstice was just this past Sunday, so obviously the days are still about as short as they get. Arriving home, a hot shower felt good.

The ride today reminded me a little of one of my first after-Christmas rides about 30 years ago. On that day, temperatures got up into the upper 50s (at least) despite the fact that we had gotten quite a bit of snow during the days before Christmas. It was such an anomaly to be dressed for spring-like weather when the ground all around was still covered in snow, and icicles hung from rooftops. On that ride, I'll never forget how I had found a package on the side of the road, neatly wrapped in foil and lovingly tied with a Christmassy ribbon and bow -- I could only assume it had been unceremoniously pitched out the window of a passing car the night before. I opened up the package and discovered that it was a fruit cake. Still makes me laugh. Christmas season rides have become a regular occurrence for me ever since, and I still keep my eyes peeled for discarded fruit cake.

So, why is it called Boxing Day? Traditionally in Britain, the day after Christmas was when people would give a gift or gratuity, often called a "Christmas Box" to various types of servants, such as postmen, errand boys, and people in certain other sorts of service trades. I suppose in today's society, it would be the traditional time to give a gift to your mail man. Here in the U.S. where the day after Christmas is another big shopping day, perhaps second only to "Black Friday," I imagine a lot of people assume that "Boxing Day" means boxing up the gifts we don't want and returning them to the mall to get something we really want.

I like my tradition better.

1 comment:

  1. I try to take a ride on Boxing Day, almost as an act of defiance against everything that steers people into the day's shopping frenzy. Plus, it's cool to think about Boxing Day.