Ode to a Road

The German poet Friedrich Schiller wrote his Ode to Joy in 1785, celebrating friendship and the unity of humanity. Ludwing van Beethoven set the poem to music and incorporated it into his 9th Symphony as the final movement.

I was thinking about the Ode as we rode a favorite road a few weeks ago. Cycling brings me intense joy, both for the friendship with my fellow riders and for the unity with the universe we experience on our rides. The catalyst for this is the road on which we cycle. One of the most joyful roads is Reiter Road.

Reiter Road connects the towns of Gold Bar and Index – click here for a map. Its official purpose appears to be an evacuation route for the town of Index in case the North Fork of the Skykomish River sweeps away the bridge that is the town’s main access, as it did about a century ago.

As long as the bridge is intact, Reiter Road sees almost no use. The road hugs the hillside high above the valley, and has a wonderful rhythm of climbs and descents. Challenging curves are linked by short straights.

On a sunny day, there is a wonderful pattern of light and shadow on the road. And on a sunny autumn day, the colors of the leaves are just spectacular, as they were when we visited. We had picked a short break in the rainy weather for our ride from Seattle.

On the approach to Index, the road swoops down from the hillside before crossing the railway. Going through this section at speed is part of the joyful experience of this road.

Then the road heads along the tracks for a while, giving us a chance to admire the mountain scenery.

As we rode into town, the Amtrak train from Chicago crossed the bridge across the North Fork on its descent from Stevens Pass. Bicycles and trains both put the emphasis on the journey, not just the destination.

Index is famous for the majestic cliffs that start at the edge of town. It also has a general store to augment our picnic lunch.

While we ate our lunch, we saw huge clouds move in and swirl around Mount Index. Time to head home!

Usually, out-and-back rides are not a favorite of mine, and most of our ride from Seattle formed a large loop. But Reiter Road feels different in each direction. After having cycled it both ways, I am always tempted to turn around and ride it again. But not today, as clouds were moving in, and the skies became dark. We made it out of the mountains before the rain started, and arrived home just as the first drops fell in Seattle. A good week lay ahead: the joy of these rides carries over into our daily lives.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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7 Responses to Ode to a Road

  1. Willem says:

    What a wonderful story, and so well written. Do I detect a change in your rides? A few years ago demanding ultrasport events seemed to take the central stage. Increasingly, however, it is the scenery and off road touring that seem to fascinate you. Maybe loaded camping tours will be next. Or perhaps I am just reading my own preferences into your great stories.
    Willem

    • I have always enjoyed both. Since it’s easier to write about an “epic” trip, you may have seen more reports on PBP, Cannonball, S2S and such. The blog allows me to report on the smaller adventures that aren’t quite enough for a full article. Unfortunately, I rarely have time for loaded camping tours any longer, but once our children get older, I hope we’ll take up that wonderful way of cycling as a family again.

      What has changed is an appreciation of backroads. Not that I didn’t like them before, but it took a while to realize that many roads were out there, waiting to be discovered.

  2. Tom Allen says:

    Thanks for the post. I think that I will head out for a few hours.

  3. Willem says:

    Great. Why not take the kids on a camping holiday by bike. We did that with great effect from when they were one or two years old. But admittedly, this may be harder in the US, since with really young kids daily averages cannot be more than 20-30 miles (and even later 40 miles is a likely maximum), and in the USA that may not be enough to get from one campsite to the next.
    Willem

  4. Chris Heg says:

    I am confused. Snohomish county says that Rieter Road is closed to all traffic due to storm damage:

    Reiter Rd, the entire length (Gold Bar/Index area)
    A FULL ROAD CLOSURE is in effect until further notice. Snohomish Road Maintenance Crews will be making repairs to severe storm damage to three sections of road that has made the road unsafe for travel. (Thomas Guide p. 463-B6 – 462-B2)#362-10MGA

    You were able to ride the entire length a few weeks ago? I ask becaus I would like to do the Lake Forest Park – Index permanent but route is not available because of the road closure.

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