I used to take longer bicycle rides than I do now, all the way from Paper Mill Road, just above Ashland where the Northern Central Railroad Trail begins, to the state line. I love it up there.

My favorite place is Phoenix, where the trail passes a wooden staircase that leads down to the Gunpowder River. Like Monet at Giverny, I keep coming back to this spot, where I always experience a great sense of renewal.

One winter day just below Sparks, I came upon two elderly ladies who remembered taking the train to school during the Depression. "In 1937," one of them said. I got a good picture of both. One was a retired WAC colonel. I bet she probably blazed some trails of her own in her day.

I usually stop at Monkton, where the old Northern Central Railroad station serves as the trail's social center. I can always find a good photograph there or, better yet, good conversation.

Another stopping place is Beetree. It's just a road crossing a little bridge over a stream with minnows and crayfish on the bottom. The name suggests a painting by Norman Rockwell.

As the topography grows less flat and the little farms along the way become more numerous, you begin to see names of towns like Freeland, Md., and New Freedom, Pa., -- and suddenly you realize that you're following one of the routes of the old Underground Railroad that slaves escaping to the north took before the Civil War.

A path toward freedom. I like that, too.

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