The Washington Times - July 7, 2009, 09:51AM

One drawback of living in a rural area is a lack of physical fitness opportunities. A benefit is…you get to be creative and use what you do have available to you.

I live between two towns, one small, the other even smaller. The closest physical fitness center is twenty-five miles away. And just because we live in the heartland, don’t believe some us of don’t think about fitness.

I own a good treadmill, but I also have a good all-terrain bike. No, we have no mountains here on the plains, but I have plenty of rough gravel roads and a cinder path that began in 1872 as the Humeston-Shenandoah Railroad and later became a part of the C B and Q—Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.  Once a season, and if we are lucky and complain a lot, twice a season the county will come and mow the path since it has become more of a grass and weed path now than a cinder path.

When the weather warms, we take to the path to walk or bike whenever we can.  For me, this is when the summer baseball season slows and before my volleyball season begins in earnest— or until the weeds take over.

Last night I headed out as the sun began its descent and the air began to cool; this is my favorite time to ride. I headed north about 3/4 of a mile before I reached the cinder path entrance close to the highway, which I don’t have to go on in order to hit the rocky, weedy trail. Another benefit of this rural fitness routine—I usually have no reason to fear heavy traffic. On my gravel road, traffic is light-light meaning maybe a car an hour by evening, if that.

I will pass my neighbors on these treks.  There are only two on this road two-mile stretch of gravel, and I might stop and visit with the neighbor boys if they are out playing in the yard. Not many people come by their house on a bike, so they usually want to know what I am up to when they see me!

Last night I was pleasantly surprised to see that the county HAD recently mowed the path and I wouldn’t have to dodge weeds as tall as my head or branches dangling in wait to knock me off my stead. Little did I know, there was something else laying in wait for me.

Living in a rural area, we are accustomed to living with wildlife of all kinds. One type that is in abundance, and a foe I have faced more times than I can count, is the whitetail deer. Plentiful in Iowa, and a nuisance on our roadways after dark, one must be on the lookout for these critters when behind the wheel at all times…if you want to keep all pieces of your car intact.  Over the years we have had a couple of car-deer encounters with these creatures. Around here, these rodents are not viewed as cute and Bambi-like, but as a dangerous and premium-raising if you meet up with them often enough.

The cinder path is a very shaded path. It is a thicket-filled, underbrush-laden, brambly mess on either side; this makes it a haven for mosquitoes and vermin of all types. And I mean all types.
 Along with the obvious cardiovascular benefits, it is really best to keep moving unless you want to be eaten alive by blood- suckers that have grown to monstrous proportions.

So, intent on avoiding massive blood loss and keeping my heart rate up, I pedaled on, not even thinking about what other beasts of the thicket that might try and impede my progress.  Pedaling away, and avoiding the sinkholes in the path, I was looking to the ground for the other signs of life that had been on the path before me.  I found four-wheeler tracks and several sets of equine tracks. Then I also spotted several very familiar tracks as well—deer.

What happened next, can only be attributed to my cat-like reflexes—okay maybe it had more to do with my years of experience as an Iowa driver. After looking down and swerving to avoid one of the many sinkholes, I lifted my head just in time to spot, and thankfully avoid, a head on collision with a doe that had decided to cross the path and stop to take a look and see just exactly what I was.

As I slammed on the brakes the doe started slightly. There in the underbrush, we had a bit of a standoff. 

She was waiting to see which way I would go, and I was thinking that I never should have chastised city boy Matt Lauer for running into a deer on a bike.