Recharging my batteries on local bike trails

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Twenty minutes. Research shows that’s all it takes to feel rejuvenated by being outside in nature.

Highlands Trail in Newcastle

Highlands Trail in Newcastle

Studies by the Journal of Environmental Psychology concluded: “Being outdoors was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.” Further research at the University of Rochester concluded that “being outside in nature for just 20 minutes in a day was enough to significantly boost vitality levels.”

After a Christmas weekend mostly cooped up in the house, I was definitely looking for rejuvenation on Sunday. Getting back to the “natural elements” sounded like just the thing.

Now, getting close to nature doesn’t require booking a flight to Moab, or even driving an hour to trailheads in the Cascade Range. Many aspects of nature can be found in neighborhood parks or greenbelts.

Fortunately for me, I live in a place where wooded tracts remain nearby. These are not large forests, but simply wooded greenbelts that were preserved between neighborhoods as some kind of mitigation for higher housing densities or because the slopes were too steep for building.

Section of Newcastle Trail map; click for more

Section of Newcastle Trail map; click for more

Heading two or three miles south on my old Rockhopper, I can get to a network of wooded trails that run through the town of Newcastle [Newcastle Trails].

One of these, May Creek Trail, is rather isolated at the edge of the May Creek ravine. For 1.3 miles it’s actually a rail-trail, following the route of the Seattle & Walla Walla Railroad that largely served the Newcastle coal mines in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A couple of spur trails head down into the ravine for a mile or so. I can readily do 20 to 30 minutes of riding down there.

On Sunday I stumbled across another trail in another part of Newcastle as the rain turned to light snow, and I rode uphill where more snow might be falling. I had found the appropriately named Highlands Trail, a dirt and gravel track that runs along the base of Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park.

Trails in the park are off-limits to bicycles, but I was fine riding among neighborhoods on this trail. The overgrowth is so thick, that even with many of the leaves down in the wintertime, I still didn’t feel hemmed in by houses… at least not until I’d cross a residential street lined with big box homes.

So I got my nature fix. I studied the patterns of moss growing on old fence posts, splashed through small rills that crossed the trail, watched the snow fall against a backdrop of evergreens and tasted it landing on my tongue.

The ride — maybe an hour total — did rejuvenate me. I’m making an early resolution to carve out more time for rides like these.

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