We enjoyed our descent into Hunt Valley and lovely accommodations yesterday, but this morning we paid the price. In the first several miles, we moved from a busy commuter road to back roads with killer hills. Our legs were still fried from the prior day’s climbs. Where did all these hills come from? I thought this was a coastal tour, like the name implies–the “Atlantic Coast” tour. Regardless, there they were, and there we were, with no way through them but to push hard, up and down, up and down, seemingly all day long. The nearly 5,000-feet of elevation climbed on this day matched the greatest daily elevation of our 2010 coast-to-coast trip, and in 10 fewer miles. Sixty-five miles and 4,400 calories later, our tired bodies’ cries of “Uncle!” won out, and we called it a day. Yet we were comforted by our progress into another state, Pennsylvania.
We did encounter a beautiful respite from the climbing drudgery early in the day as we continued through horse country. Pastures as big and untamed as open country meadows first gave the appearance of golf fareways, with their lush green, manicured appearance. But the encompassing wooden-slatted fences, usually painted bright white to provide contrast to the accompanying greenery, elegant in their simplicity and surroundings, told us that horse droppings probably had supplanted golf balls. The horses contained within either had good table manners or were assisted by some manmade gear and hired hands skilled in landscaping, providing a picturebook ambiance fitting for a Victorian-era stage.
These fences were in stark contrast to the cold, padlock-infested, chain-link ones we had seen elsewhere–those designed to secure property and restrain angry muscle dogs bred with aggression, and perhaps treated with a dose of cruelty to heighten the fear their snarling lips and grisly barks instilled in passersby.
The fences around these green pastures reminded me of boundaries that God provides for our benefit–boundaries like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “love God with all you have within you.” Rather than restraining us, these fences allow us the freedom to enjoy our blessed surroundings, just as the shiny-coated horses with flowing manes were able to roam within their havens.
The steel cage fences are much like the entrapments we put ourselves into, with some help from the enemy. They are really much like prisons of our own choosing. And we do choose them when we do not respect the boundaries God has set up for us, guidelines to protect, nurture, and facilitate growth.
After leaving this beautiful area, and its related inspirational promptings, we discovered more tough sledding, hills that acted as impediments to test our strength and resolve. One such hill was brutally revealing. After enjoying a lengthy freefall down to the banks of the expansive Susqehannah River, we were fearful that hard work lay on the other side of the hill. Surely enough, as the route immediately bounced away from the river, we were reduced to huffing, puffing, and crawling up another steep ascent. Redemption came in the form of beautiful views from atop the next hill, views of thick corn fields surrounded by multi-colored hills in the background. As each long climb presented itself, our muscles lagged and tendons stretched. The extra weight carried on a touring bike was taking its toll. Relief could not come soon enough, but was hours and miles away. A rest day is in order. We will recuperate and resume in another day, hopeful that the climbs are more forgiving, perhaps even fewer and farther between.