It’s probably safe to say that riding a recumbent trike gives one a different perspective on the world. What I didn’t realize until I started was that this isn’t just a metaphorical difference.
Riding out on country roads things simply look different. Because of the position on the trike, one is at eye level with the long grass in the ditches, and a little extra care must be taken at the corners. It also means you get a different point of view on the wildflowers of summer:
I’ve also started noticing something that was hiding in plain sight, albeit a little lower than typical eye level. Riding out here in rural northern Illinois one encounters a sizeable number of small waterways. Some of these are natural, while others are man-made (you can often tell by the course that they take - natural waterways tend to meander, while the man-made ditches tend to flow in straight lines and sharp angles). Some flow year-round, while others are intermittent. However, they have a commonality when they meet the roadway - they require a bridge.
I’d ridden my bike all around the area when I was young, and since moving back I’ve literally ridden hundreds of miles on the local roadways. Between those two time periods I’ve crossed bridges over these streams more times than I can count. But a week or two ago I noticed something that I’d never seen before: some of the bridges have plaques on them.
The first one I noticed was a bridge over Willow Creek on Beemerville Road (and folks, let me tell you that, despite the name, I see no evidence of any "ville" along this path). Neither the bridge, nor the road itself, are a fancy affair, though both suit their purposes and location. But as I was riding along it I caught notice of the plaque:
Willow Creek (that’s pronounced "crick", incidentally) itself is an small, but ongoing affair:
And the bridge and road are relatively rustic affairs - most of Beemerville road is gravel. This is a fact which, incidentally, I think I’d known and actually forgotten, or I likely would not have chosen it. Gravel is easier to navigate on a trike than on a road bike, but it’s still not, you know, pleasant to ride on).
Of course, once one has seen a thing, discovered that it exists, has existed in the world despite one’s ignorance, one becomes primed to find it elsewhere. I had now begun looking for the plaques on the myriad other bridges I cross. And they are there, though certainly not everywhere. But they appear to have been present on a couple of bridges I have ridden across many, many times. I came across this plaque, which suggests the bridge it adorns has its own name:
This, then, is Faber Bridge (apparently). Faber is a common family name in the area, and the town of Mendota used to have a hotel by that name downtown, across from the train depot.
The hotel was still standing, albeit empty and unused, when I was a kid. Now only a gravel parking lot commemorates its location. But I digress...
The third plaque I came across is on one of the many bridges over Bureau Creek:
Bureau Creek is large and long enough to garner its own Wikipedia Page, running some 73 miles across at least two different counties. It is the creek that used to run under the Hennepin Canal aqueduct at Lock 12, on its way to empty into the Illinois River. There are times of the year where, depending upon the amount of rain, it would be navigable by a small canoe or kayak.
Given all of that, you can perhaps see why a bridge over this waterway might have a plaque on it. But the others?
The Faber Bridge covers the Little Vermillion River, a waterway that eventually empties into the Vermillion River), and then the Vermillion into the Illinois. Willow Creek looks, according to Google Maps, to flow into the Green River), which later feeds the Rock and that the Mississippi. And so one might think these plaques go on to bridges that cover more important tributaries. But no - there are at least dozens of bridges over Bureau Creek, for example. I’ve crossed more than a couple of them either by cycle or auto, and most of them are not similarly adorned. They do carry load ratings, so perhaps they were meant to be informative, but they are not placed in a location that would be easily read by a truck driver prior to crossing; and, again, you’d think if that were important, it would be marked on all of the bridges.
Ultimately, to me at least, their purpose remains a mystery. (There may well be a bridge engineer out there right now, reading this, saying "well actually" aloud as he comes across this section...).
What it does help reveal is the effect of that difference in perspective. Riding on my upright road bike the physical position places one’s body such that the head and eyes are oriented down, towards the handlebars and the road. The head is craned upward to see ahead unless leaning back into the seat (and often with the hands off the bars). Ion that machine my head is five to six feet up off the road, depending upon position.
Riding on the recumbent trike these plaques are at eye level, and one is comfortably able to look forward - indeed is oriented forward - the entire time. That I’ve not noticed these before I suspect is simply due to not having them easily accesssible. I’ve enjoyed years of riding my upright bike through the countryside - I’m certainly not trying to imply otherwise - but it is sometimes surprising how a relatively small change in approach can provide a very different point of view, and access to a different way of seeing things you’ve looked at many times before.