Cycling offers a ball for all

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There are lots of fun things you can do with a ball: hit it, catch it, kick it. But strapping on your helmet, mounting your bicycle, and shoving off for a pedal-powered ride through wheat fields, vineyards and orchards, shadowed by mountains and raptors — now that’s a ball.

As you cycle on the road, you experience things you can’t while driving a car: a meadowlark’s morning call, children giggling as loud as the creek beneath the bridge you just crossed. You smell the scones coming out of an oven, the bacon frying to a crackling crisp.

With a wide grin you fly down Birch Creek Road in the spring toward Milton-Freewater. You’ll bank left at the stop sign and glide into a pink-petal paradise, apple blossoms bursting open before your eyes. Bank right down the same road in the summer and watch the Rainier cherries light up the thick groves of trees like a sunset.

Loop around town and get to the crossing at Stateline. You’ve been smelling the carne asada sizzling at the taqueria for half a mile. Because you’ve hit your stride you don’t want to stop. But it’s carne asada. You look back, hand signal your intention to veer left off the road, and check any oncoming traffic. Then you waive “thanks” at the motorists who slowed down for your turn; you appreciate their courtesy, their sharing the road with you on your bicycle — a vehicle legally entitled to use it.

Cruise to Walla Walla in autumn on Old Milton Highway and you’re struck by the splendor of the Blue Mountains. But it’s the turquoise of the sky that grabs you, a color so luscious you wish you could taste it. By now you are passing vineyards. They drip with fruit destined to be crushed, the silky nectar suited for regal palates. Ah, but on your bicycle you feel like a king. Or queen. You can’t wait to get home and uncork a bottle. Or eat bacon. You can’t decide. Neither can your buddies, laughing as they catch up to you.

Or maybe you forget about going south, and instead head east on the paved path along Mill Creek. You could pull over and watch a baseball game. Or see ospreys plunge into the creek for a catch. If you’re lucky you’ll slow down and watch a couple of river otters clowning around in the water. You slow down anyway; you share this path with walkers, joggers and baby strollers.

Or maybe you forget the road altogether, and climb into the foothills with your mountain bicycle. With shock absorbing fork and seat post, you test your skills hopping protruding boulders and tree stumps while negotiating hairpin turns. But you might only want the serenity of the woods at the end of a long day, the trail and the bicycle joining to silently reconnect you to your planet, and to yourself. You smile at the early moonrise, a rose on the horizon.

As cycling unfolds the living world around us, I hope this new column by the Wheatland Wheelers Bicycle Club opens the world of cycling to you. It’s for good reason that cycling is called the sport of the valley. Cycling offers abundant opportunities for exercise and improved health, great camaraderie, and the sensory experience of life all around you.

Cycling in this valley has caught the attention of cyclists from all over the western continental region, including Arizona, Utah, California and British Columbia.

The Tour de Walla Walla is a signature event for professional racers.

The Wheatland Wheelers Bicycle Club sponsors several riding events, including the Ann Weatherill Cycling Classic in June, and the popular ice cream socials in the summer.

Cycling tourism brings dollars to town, adding revenue to the local economy and government coffers. Cycling tourists don’t just ride or race; they and their families eat in restaurants, sleep in hotels, visit wineries, and shop. There is enormous potential for more cycling tourism in the valley.

To enjoy a ride you don’t need a fancy bicycle, special clothes, or the speed of a medaled Olympian. But you do need a bicycle helmet; your brain is too precious an organ to expose to even mild trauma. If riding in low light conditions you need a highly visible head light and tail light. Avoid wearing dark clothing; drivers need to see you.

Cycling can be enjoyed alone, with friends or with family. Got a toddler? No problem; pull her in an enclosed bicycle trailer. Or put junior on a trailer bike attached to your bicycle. You can find a wide variety of bicycles available for children; remember, a good fit is as important for them as it is for you.

You can join the bicycle club for an annual membership of $20, individual or family; $10 for students. Membership gets you a 10-percent discount on parts and accessories at Allegro Cyclery and the Bicycle Barn. Membership forms are available at both shops, or at the email address below.

This column will have rotating authors from the Wheatland Wheelers Bicycle Club, each bringing a unique perspective on cycling, and sharing advice on topics such as buying a bicycle, getting a proper bicycle fit, maintenance tips, nutrition and hydration, and riding skills. We plan on offering bicycle clinics on subjects such as road safety, hands-on basic maintenance (like changing a flat) and cycling in groups.

Cycling is a celebration of great friendships, the rich natural beauty in our valley, and the good health it offers our bodies and our lives. Getting on a bicycle resurrects the magic that lies dormant in the marrow of our bones, the same magic we felt when we took our first ride. That’s the kind of journey I hope you have on your bicycle, again and again.

Andrew Rodriguez is president of the Wheatland Wheelers Bicycle Club, and the author of two books of poetry, “Robins Facing South” and “Can’t be Helped.” Contact him at Jandrew@jandrewconsulting.com.

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