For the purposes of my circumscribed universe, the Appleton Side Road is the straight ribbon of country road between the roundabout in the Town of Almonte and the Women's Institute and Tea Room on the edge of the sleepy Village of Appleton (though it does stretch several miles further towards the Town of Carleton Place). Two years ago I adopted this portion of the road as my road of choice for bicycling. It serves several needs. Foremost, it is largely flat, though the Village end is the crown of land affording the most sweeping views of the fields beyond and to the adjacent Mississippi River. On a good day, with the wind in the right direction, I can bicycle in top gear from almost one end to the other, with the exception of the rising hill towards the Village. The road is also essentially quiet, except during the morning and evening work traffic, but weekends are a charm. There is nothing on either side of the entire boulevard but fields, farms and severed lots for residential dwellings (many of them quite large). Several of the farm houses are ancient stone buildings. Some of the outbuildings are decidedly dilapidated, either rotten old wooden structures or steel buildings with sagging roofs, now almost hidden behind tall weeds. By perfect coincidence the distance between the roundabout and the Village is almost exactly ten miles, which means I am able to accomplish the hike in about an hour.
At this time of year (mid-August) the yellow-topped corn stalks are literally as high as an elephant's eye. In the many places where the corn is grown, from the side of the road, it is now impossible to see over the top of the stalks, and there is a sense of travelling in a canyon of leafy green. The view is, however, regularly broken by expansive mown fields which are so perfectly cut that they appear almost clinical, even surrealistic like a Salvador Dali painting, with huge tidy rolls of hay set throughout seemingly indiscriminately, without reason or purpose. On those days when I travel at dawn, the troughs of grasses and water along the side of the road harbour the pungent bouguet of country flowers. Occasionally I am treated to the sight of large winged herons circling about a nearby stream, no doubt hunting for small fish.
In my mind I have segregated the road into three sections. The first is from the roundabout to the intersection of the Appleton Side Road with the Old Almonte Road (a gravel road which is generally parallel, but closer to the River, at least before it swings uphill to cross the Appleton Side Road). In the Springtime, when I first begin to cycle after the long Winter, and before I have built up my strength, I customarily do only this first section. It is about a half-hour from our house and back, just enough to expiate my guilt. Posted along the road there are small hand-written signs announcing fresh farm eggs and perennials for sale. Every morning a herd of black and white cows and calves are let out to graze in one particular field and surrounding bush. Once a bull close by the fence spied me, and looked at me suspiciously and menacingly, as though to protect the herd.
The second section goes to Fox Hollow horse farm which is surrounded by extensive white fencing. In the distance is a sprawling farm house and numerous outbuildings and machine sheds. There are always horses to be seen in the various paddocks. Although the horses generally take no notice of me as I bicycle by, this morning one of them was making constant neighing noises (as though he wanted something), and when he saw me approaching, he headed in my direction. I kept moving. My days of dealing with horse flesh have long since passed, and I didn't want to be the author of anything which might encourage the horse to do something really enthusiastic (like jump the fence).
The third stretch is probably the most bucolic as the views are far-reaching; and because the land is so flat, the sky is enormous, close to what one is accustomed to seeing by an Ocean and for the same reason. Often when I cycle very early in the morning, I am treated to the majesty of the dazzling morning sunrise, which is especially spectacular at this point of the Road, with nothing but hundreds of acres of fields to the East. There is a meadow which falls sharply from the road, and dark toffy-coloured cows are regularly to be seen standing under one of the many large oak trees for shade from the blazing sun, absently staring back at me, chewing their cud in that peculiar circular motion. At the furthest end of this section is a grand stone home set far off from the Road, down a long drive. In the past I have seen evidence of members of the Ottawa Hunt Club congregating on this estate.