On My Way: Reflecting on the Red Trail

Rides can lend themselves to a state of mindfulness.


The Red Trail is not the hilliest trail. In fact, it is flat. Nor is the Red Trail a long trail. The trail of which I speak is a stretch of not even a few miles. By no means, either, is the Red Trail a fast trail. There are no banking turns, and few straight sections. More likely are the difficult-to-negotiate turns.

But the Red Trail is one of the most dependable on the Island. I have not come across others of similar caliber. The Red Trail is smoothed and furrowed by many years. The trail takes its own pace, and follows its own course. The Red Trail is a place of pause and reflection.

So on a raw and blustery Sunday morning, following a day of wind and rain, and in need of a ride I knew, the Red Trail was perfect.

I woke up early, warm in my bed. I was not keen at this point for the bike ride. I knew it was cold and wet outside. Yet after luxuriating a few minutes, I pulled myself together. I stretched. I dressed. I had a banana with peanut butter. I let my pup Becham out back with a Milk-Bone. I hydrated and hydrated. I retrieved my bike from the shed.

The prior day’s wind and rain were evident in the twigs and leaves on the bike path. The morning was gray and heavily overcast. The wind was in the trees. I felt my own breeze.

I took a trail into the woods. I ducked under a sagging branch — a reminder to be aware. A dirt road with tire tracks delivered me down a gentle grade to a field of goats. I turned back onto a trail. I rounded the field of goats. I was awake and warmed up. A few kids grazed in the back of the meadow, with plenty of grass.

I jolted over rock and roots through the Wapatequa Woods Reservation. I took on the uphill turns with vigorous pedaling. I kept my eyes on the trail. Wapatequa dumped me onto Stoney Hill Road. I went over the humps and through the deep puddles. The road was dirt and gravel. I passed houses and farms. I veered left onto Stoney Hill Path.

Stoney Hill Path is always a challenge. A steep uphill is strewn with rocks. It is difficult to find good traction. The rocks attempt to push one around. I stood on my pedals, dropped into a lower gear, and let my legs absorb the pounding. Fortunately, the hill is short. At the top, I made a near 180° turn.

I enjoyed the respite of a downhill stretch, even if it was bumpy in a few places. Fencing was off to my left. I was in the Greenlands — a wonderful network of trails and parcel of woods. I found my turnoff as the terrain leveled.

The next trail invites speed. I picked up my pace on the wide avenue and sloped turns. A pleasing rush of adrenaline gave me goosebumps. The rain had packed down the sandy sections. My wheels scraped over the tops.

I came out on paved bike path. I took a left toward Airport Road, and then in a short distance I made a right. I crossed Airport Road at the entrance to the Manuel Correllus State Forest. I rode along the wide paved drive. My anticipation of the Red Trail increased. I passed the forest headquarters.

I found the trail into the forest. The way was matted with wet pine needles. The overgrowth of trees and brush pressed the sides. I biked over soft ground. The trail turned into a fire lane. The dirt road was familiar. The sky was open, and the tops of the trees reached upward. The forest was cut back on either side.

I rose up over a hill. The Red Trail was near. I prepared for the turn. (I often overshoot it.) I saw the flash of a car on West Tisbury Road. The Red Trail appeared to my left.

I nearly fell. A gnarly mess waited on the other side of a turn. I did not have enough forward way to surmount the high and sharp roots. I pulled on the brakes and put a foot to the ground.

The Red Trail encourages one to go slow. The forest closes in on the sides and above. The narrow path is often hidden. The trail follows through the woods. I am mindful.

Tall pines tower with straight backs. Mist and light hang in between the trees. Somewhere there are answers to the infinite questions. Smaller trees line the trail in parade formation. Brush and shrubs fill in sections.

I do not attempt the log ramps built in places along the trail. The ramps are for the more daring and skilled. I see a bad spill. I do not want to risk a broken shoulder.

I am careful on the dicey turns. Stumps and rocks threaten one’s balance. Lefts are followed right away by rights, and vice versa. The front wheel is barely under control at the slow speeds required. I feel I might topple. Too fast, though, and I am in the woods. The space is just enough.

The hand of the Red Trail guides me. The trail invisibly crosses the fire lanes. I hold steady on the handlebars. I come down over the bank into the lane. I press hard on the pedals. I come up the bank of the other side. I re-enter the forest.

My mind is at ease. I go along the dirt path. Other trails branch off the side. I meander through these intersections. The woods are my company. The trail straightens. I take the cue. I switch to a higher gear. The bike picks up momentum. I fly. The forest passes my sides and overhead.

The Red Trail ends unceremoniously on a fire lane. I take the fire lane to West Tisbury Road to see where I am. As I come back, I find a trail on the east side, which I decide to explore.

This trail seems parallel to the fire lane. I ignore the offshoots, wanting to see where I end up — I expect back on the fire lane. Surprisingly, it is a sprawling development.

I am not sure where I am. Houses and paved roads are everywhere. I follow traffic signs without a clue. Finally, I recognize a circular turn. I have my bearings. I sit in the saddle and enjoy the hum of my tires. I go around the speed bumps. I pass through the pleasant suburbia. I come to the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road.

The ease of the bike path is a coast. I pass County Road. No other bikers are out on this blustery day. I pass the high school and I come to the roundabout. I am careful not to jump out into the crosswalk.

Gravity sends me downhill on the other side of the roundabout. I could continue my bike path coast all the way home. But inside I feel the ride is not done. I turn onto Head of the Pond Road. I return on roads and trails.

Skiff Avenue beckons. The wind blows in the trees, and a light misty rain falls. The Island is in the midst of a multiple-day weather system. I come down my street and turn into my front yard. I guide my bike to the shed.

The ride was worth the effort. My body relishes the tiredness in my arms and legs, and the deep breathing in my chest. My mind also is in a good place. It is somewhere back on the Red Trail.