Community Comment:

'Wurst' bike ride shows off best of Union Township

It seemed a rather odd enticement serving bratwurst sandwiches as the lure for a sponsored bicycle ride but novel enough to bring me out on a beautiful spring morning to the back entrance of Burdette Park for the first of what they say will become the annual "Wurst Ride."

I'm a stickler for tradition. My old reliable is a 1988 Schwinn Paramount with the original white pearlescent finish. It is one of the solid, steel-framed designs produced by the Paramount Design Group in Waterford, Wis., which continues to build high-end custom bikes to this day.

I bought the bike in 1991 at the old Gilles Bike Shop on Columbia Street. Never completely satisfied with the way it looked or operated, I went nuts on eBay two years ago and bought all Campagnolo vintage components. With the help of master bike builder Gerry Beck at the current Gilles repair shop, I completely rebuilt the bike and wheels around the old frame.

Although I arrived a bit late, after collecting a course map from Steve Craig at the shelter, I proceeded out the gate and down Graff Road, which is lined with trees, white four-slat rail fences and comfortable homes tucked away in the spring foliage. A little farther on, I began to see fields of winter wheat that will soon be harvested, alternating with expanses of freshly planted corn in the rich, fertile river bottom land.

For me, bicycle riding is generally a solitary pursuit a testament to my relatively poor physical condition and my inability to climb hills. But I am trying to improve my stamina, and bike riding is a lot more interesting than walking.

The four riding paths on the map are well marked on the primarily paved section roads all in Union Township. The lengths vary from the route I took approximately 12 miles to a 17-mile tour that extends past Dam 48 on the river road surrounding the bottom crescent, partially on rocks not suitable for the high-pressure tires on my road bike.

At one point I wished that I had brought my camera, as my mind framed an iconic image that could stand as a metaphor for our local rural economy: the twin smokestacks of Vectren's A.B. Brown power plant peeking above the tree line to the west, the freshly planted fields of corn in the foreground, and a tank battery associated with oil production on the far left.

Before long, the map directed my path to a left turn to the west on Cypress Dale Road, which brought me past century-old farmhouses that, when they were built, could have been painted by Andrew Wyeth had he lived in this part of the country. With more modern window shutters and other decorative amenities, these homes are surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns and well-kept barns painted red.

Soon I was directed to take another turn North onto West Franklin Road, and I discovered that I was following the No. 3 trail of the four excursions laid out in the bottom land roads, only I was riding it backward! Perhaps that explains why I kept meeting riders in small groups from the Evansville Bike Club proceeding in the opposite direction but then, who is actually keeping score?

The course up West Franklin brought me past Kercher Farms, a U-Pick strawberry patch where several people were gathering freshly picked berries up the hill from the road.

After I took a right turn on Old Mount Vernon Road and another right on Schmuck Road, proceeding down a steep hill, the terrain changed dramatically. Suddenly both sides of the road were surrounded by a patch of cool, dense, hardwood forest. It was incredibly beautiful.

I wondered how this oasis of wilderness had escaped the attention of the ever-present residential developers around here who seem intent on eradicating every square inch of woods within a 100-mile radius of Evansville. Apparently someone who lives nearby has had the wisdom to protect this small patch of natural paradise from the money-changers.

There was not much in the way of wildlife apparent on this brief ride, although a few lily pads and cat tails were visible in the wetlands and in one open area a hawk was soaring above the tree line. Above his flight path, a passenger jet climbed toward cruising altitude, a reminder that we were not that far from the urban landscape.

Upon returning to the park, I could see a few bike club members returning their bikes to their carrier racks. At the shelter where I had received my map, young Burdette employees were passing out the bratwurst sandwiches and other refreshments courtesy of Dan's Competition in Mount Vernon, Ind.

Having received a few suggestions from several veteran bike riders about a new set of pedals for my bike, I was surprised by the positive comments regarding my recent rebuilding efforts.

With some 80 participants in this inaugural Wurst Ride, one can only expect many will return next year. A good time was had by all.

David Coker is a local free-lance writer.