CLAYTON — Growing up in the tiny town of Mount Airy, birthplace of Andy Griffith of Mayberry fame, Im familiar with the feeling of having nothing to do.
For fun, I remember walking from my house with my best friend to a shop on Main Street that sold Coca-Cola in glass bottles, which we youngsters found fascinating. But the two-mile walk each way was really just an excuse to get out of the house.
If only Mount Airy had had a greenway, we couldve ridden our bikes and avoided walking next to all of the traffic.
Many things about Clayton have impressed me since I started working here, but the thing that has stood out the most is the towns dedication to building and taking care of its greenways.
Last week, I decided to take advantage of the cool temperatures after one of the big storms, and I went on a 10-mile bike ride along the Neuse River.
I parked my car at the trailhead for the River Walk on the Neuse at 2686 Covered Bridge Road. I headed left on the path, in the direction of Sams Branch Greenway.
In about a quarter of a mile, I came across a bridge where I stopped and enjoyed the view over the river. I was in no hurry, but most people I came across biked past me without taking a second to look at the view.
I was on my bike, but what I really wanted was a chance to be away from the computer and appreciate the outdoors, so it didnt matter to me that I wasnt burning any calories.
The trees created a beautiful frame for the river view. It would be a great place to take a family photo.
Next, I headed back in the direction I came from so I could ride a longer distance. When you start out on the River Walk on the Neuse, if you head right, you can ride 32 miles to Raleigh because the trail connects to the Mountains-to-Sea trail.
Just last month, I went biking on the New River Trail in Virginia, a trail built on what used to be train tracks, and the whole trail is pretty well shaded by trees.
The River Walk on the Neuse has more sunlight, so I felt pretty healthy for getting so much Vitamin D. The path also has a pastoral feel, with picket fences running alongside the pavement.
I got my hopes up that Id see some horses. My riding partner, Jennifer McCracken, said she usually sees horses in a field next to the trail, but none showed their faces for us.
For five miles, I rode, crossing over into Wake County. In total, I probably passed five people in that direction and the same number when I headed back.
It was nice to have the place to myself, but I also wondered why the trail is not more popular, especially now that kids are out of school for the summer. If I were a kid, Id beg my mom to take me biking or roller blading out there.
At five miles, I reached a long bridge near a field of rolling farmland. It was pretty much the kind of place I wanted to escape to when I lived in Boston and missed the simple beauty of my home state.
If I didnt have to head back to the office, I wouldve crossed the bridge and rode much farther. But Id warn any riders feeling ambitious to keep in mind that the trail goes on all the way to Raleigh. It also gets hillier when you continue that way. It would be a great ride if you were up for a challenge, but Id hate to make the mistake of thinking the trail looped around and end up riding for hours longer than I intended.
Im ashamed to admit that has happened to me more than once when Ive been hiking, despite my Girl Scout achievements.
The temperature was rising on the ride back, so thats when I felt like I really was getting good exercise and sweating. Id recommend going before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. to avoid the sweltering heat.
And next time, I plan to continue on the route toward Sams Branch so I can take a photo while sitting on one of the new butterfly benches that make it look like you have wings.
Whats really exciting is that the River Walk on the Neuse is just the beginning of outdoor activities coming to Clayton. Since the town purchased a 120-acre tract next to the trail, I have heard talk of an amphitheater, camping and a zip-line across the river.
The only thing that couldve made my bike ride better wouldve been the promise of some live music at the end of it. Perhaps one day, Ill be able to bike and bring a picnic and then enjoy a show at the amphitheater.