Best biking experience rediscovered

American River Parkway

There are too few places for quiet in this congested, frantic metropolitan area. The freeway noise reminded me of that, but I thought jumping off I-5 and spending the morning on the American River Parkway bike path, might provide some peace, and a challenge.

I decided to set out alone to travel its full 31-mile length to find relief from the cacophony of automobiles, car alarms, and leaf blowers.

Apropos, I started my journey at Discovery Park where the zero is painted on the rubberized roadway. As the freeway noise declined the wildlife came into view: squirrels, a blue heron, and the crusty camper dudes. The homeless are around. At mile two I see a sign that warns to “Be safe. Exercise with a friend.” If you were to have some trouble, there are solar-powered Call Boxes along the way.

The great advantage of the path is that, for the most part, it stays along the river and goes under freeways, allowing you to cruise at length in a serene, scenic area and not have to get off the pedals. You can keep a heart rate up and not fight traffic. It is perhaps this area’s one world-class exercise amenity.

Miles 4, 5, 6, 7 seem to glide by on the odometer. The river down here is a glassy pool that reflects the images of the trees. A noise check reveals it is only the wind flowing through my helmet and the sound of tires humming on the road. I feel free.

10, 11, 12 miles. The bike people are a friendly lot, they either say “Good morning,” or smile and nod. When someone blows a tire bikers will stop to help. The grimacing runners say nothing.

At mile 16 are a gaggle of turkeys chewing on fresh green shoots in an area burned last summer. Deer wander through here unafraid in the evening. Leaving the flat lands after Sunrise Blvd., the path gets playful by winding through oak trees and introducing some small hills.

It’s mostly recreational bikers like me out this morning, but there are always some serious bikers with colorful outfits traveling in little peletons. Lance wannabes on carbon-fiber bikes going much faster than the posted 15 m.p.h. speed limit. Rangers have caught them with radar guns going 24 m.p.h. I’ve felt them whoosh by faster than that.

At the 21-mile mark it’s time to reload. Out comes a Cliff Shot Energy Gel made of yummy brown rice syrup, salt, and raspberry puree. Warning: Have some water to wash it down.

The stretch at mile 26 benefits from a refreshing glide right next to Lake Natomas before the final climb to Folsom. If you have any gas, try sprinting up the grade to Beales Point. When I crested the hill the lake came into view and I put on the brakes at the park, finishing the 31.5-mile length in a little over three hours.

Lay on top of a picnic table in the shade and listen. I heard a child laughing on the beach, the squeak of a swallow, and a small plane droning in the distance.

Just the relief I was looking for.