Henry David Thoreau had his walking shoes and Walden Pond.
And I have found something equally as peaceful, yet healthy -- a bicycle and the back roads of Carroll County.
While most people know the health benefits associated with bicycling, few realize the sense of freedom and the almost intimate glimpses of nature that riding a bicycle allows.
Carroll County residentsare particularly lucky to have countless back roads that wind through woods, over streams, around farms and up hills, affording panoramicviews of the countryside.
Many of the Carroll riders who participated in the annual Cycle Across Maryland tour last week spoke passionately about riding through the county.
They find Carroll richly scenic and its rolling hills great training for something like the CAM-Tour. They enjoy the usually quiet and rarely traveled back roads andunplanned encounters with deer and small mammals.
For most countyriders, the third day of the CAM-Tour, which traversed Harford and Cecil counties, was the most enjoyable, because the rolling hills reminded them of Carroll.
"There's no better place to ride than Carroll," says Stephen Ellis, a 47-year- old Eldersburg resident.
To prepare for the third-annual CAM-Tour, which began Monday in Solomons, Calvert County, and ended yesterday in Easton, Talbot County, Ellis and his friend Mike Gesuele, a 46-year-old Eldersburg resident, hit theroads for lengthy trips early Saturday mornings.
They encounteredlittle traffic, an awakening world and an escape from the routine oflife and the working world.
If the aesthetic virtues of bicyclingcan't persuade you to ride, perhaps some of the health benefits will.
Paul Welliver, program director of the Carroll Sport Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, says bicycling is "just good exercise."
Pushing pedals, he says, is easier on the joints than running, walkingor jogging.
"You don't have the traumatic pounding of the joints on pavement as you do with running," he says.
Bicycling is great cardiovascular exercise, and it's a beginning activity for all ages. The CAM-Tour featured riders from ages 10 to 76. They rode about 60 miles a day, building their quadriceps and hamstrings.
"It's great exercise," Welliver says. "And unless you use a stationary bike, you'll get some sun, too."
There is a down side to bicycling, though. To get the same benefits -- as far as burning calories -- as running or swimming, you have to bicycle longer.
"Bicycling is so efficient, you don't use as much energy unless you are bicycling uphill," he says. The good thing about bicycling up a hill, he adds, is that you have to come down -- sometimes at great speed, refreshing you after a long ride.
Another drawback to bicycling, he says, is that it's not a good sport for people with lower back problems because of all thebending over.
But for those considering bicycling, whether for exercise or a return to nature, helmets are a must. Proper bicycling clothing, such as padded shorts and gloves, make the activity more comfortable. And when going on long rides, plenty of fluids -- preferablywater -- should be on hand, Welliver says.
One last word about "the nature benefit." The annual CAM-Tour provides Maryland residents with a great opportunity to see the state. Each year, the tour showcases a different part of the state, and you'll find yourself riding isolated roads and wandering through towns you didn't know existed.
This year's tour wrapped the Chesapeake Bay. And even though more than1,000 bicyclists were on the road with you, there were ample opportunities to ride alone and enjoy the countryside and the bay.
But then, that's bicycling.