The afternoon sun was quickly setting as we traced the path of the Danube River, which had been a constant companion for several days during our weeklong biking trip.
Now, as we followed the final miles of another lovely day's ride and pedaled through a bountiful vineyard in the Wachau Valley in Austria, I was suddenly struck by the powerful sense of nostalgia that I was experiencing.
I was enjoying this cycling journey with my best friend, Matt. Who would have thought that two kids who grew up in the countryside of Upstate New York -- and whose idea of a biking adventure was a nightly pedal of about 12 miles roundtrip to Bristol Mountain and back on a rural road -- would now be exploring scenic European villages, hills and cities from a bike seat?
It had been almost three decades since we had been biking together. As teenagers, our bikes served as outlets to relieve boredom, a way to wander beyond our immediate neighborhood, kill some time and even occasionally as a necessary mode of transport when Mom wouldn't drive us to a friend's house.
When we turned 16 and secured our driver's licenses, the bikes got used less frequently, until they began gathering dust and eventually were donated or sold off at a yard sale, probably.
Now, we were gliding along the roads and paths of the Danube and climbing the hills into the countryside of Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary as we made our way from the town of Vilshofen in Bavaria to the picturesque capital city of Budapest.
The wind whistled through my helmet and a smile grew on my face as we finished that ride in the Wachau Valley.
"Can you believe we are riding again? And here!" I said to Matt.
"This is awesome!" he replied.
Perhaps unsure in the saddle in our early miles during the week, we quickly regained that old form.
Riding to horse farms and castles. Alongside busy roadways and along dirt and gravel paths.
Through those vineyards and into apple and pear orchards.
Through fields of corn and sunflowers.
In rain and sunshine.
On flats and rolling hills.
Our longest ride took us from one European capital to another -- crossing the old Iron Curtain territory as we traveled from Vienna to Bratislava, Slovakia. Our legs and rumps held up fairly well for a pair of guys now nearing their 50th birthdays.
Matt and I built much of the foundation of our enduring friendship during our bike rides as youngsters.
Getting back up in the seat in Europe reminded me of the power of the bike. It can take you off the beaten path to explore a new place. It can propel you toward your fitness goals.
Or help you escape life's daily grind for a few precious moments.
And I also discovered that a bike can take you back in time -- to when you first found that joy of riding with your best friend.
Thanks for reading. I hope you're now motivated to rekindle an old passion, too.