Last year my brother gave me a bike. It sat for a year in my entrance hall, used now and again as a coat rack, until spring cleaning took hold of me last month and I took it in for a tune up. Then it languished again waiting for its inaugural ride for a month. Every time I passed it, I made a mental excuse for not getting on. But the exercise Goddess was not going to let me get by that easily. My season pass for the Biltmore Estate was up for renewal and they made a note on the email about getting the upgrade to their Explore Biltmore Pass — just another 20 bucks for “access to estate bicycle trails at no additional cost.” So when my new pass came in the mail, the guilt began to build. And today I finally succumbed.
First thing this morning I loaded up and headed over. I’ve seen the bike paths on the side of the road on the estate for a long time and always planned to take advantage of them “someday.” Now, I have not really been biking for a number of years (and that number is in the double digits.) Just riding back from the bike repair shop to my house nearly killed me. (There was a hill.) I knew that most of what I’d seen from the road was pretty flat, so I was only a bit worried. What else was there that I couldn’t see? Undaunted by those fears, I helmeted up and mounted my bike and before I knew it was feeling “Born to be Wild,” the wind rushing through my hair, free and cool. Out on the path, it was glorious. Big fields spread out before me. The French Broad River ran by to my right. Sometimes the path was beside the main road, but for much of it, the trail took me through the trees. No traffic, though I did run into a couple of other bikes, the occasional horse, a hiker and a fleet of Segways.
It was hot today, muggy, but flying down hills, through shady groves by the river, you’d never know it. I was riding on cool air. But then, coming out of the trees, the path headed uphill, really uphill, and suddenly I had two problems. First, I forgot how to use the gears to make it easier. And second, I had no idea where the path would go. So I turned around and headed back to Antler Hill Village where I’d parked and the Bike Barn where they have maps and people who know this place. On the way, I passed the Lagoon where the resident geese were terribly busy corralling their adorable herd of goslings. It was a great ride for the first time out.
The Biltmore Estate has changed immensely since I was a child. Then, there was just The House surrounded by a lot of beautifully landscaped grounds. Now, there is an inn, a winery, various restaurants, and since last month, Antler Hill Village, a grouping of bistros and shops. I wonder what George Vanderbilt would think. He wanted his estate to be self-sufficient, a feudal fiefdom and it seems to be turning into a Disneyeque park. Nevertheless, it is the best place in town to bike.
So I have a map and I will return. There are a lot more trails to explore. I just need to figure out that gear thing and I’ll be a biking rock star! Now when I pass my bike as I come and go, I have no excuses. And I do have a coat rack.