Today -- need I remind you -- is our last lazy day of summer.
It's a day of limbo, our minds and bodies at once stalling and stirring, one part clinging in dripping bathing suit to the laissez faire of summer, the other part waiting for the routine and rust-red sweaters of autumn.
And here I sit, ready to leap, or maybe stroll, into a new year with a new notebook. (We all know the real New Year's is the Tuesday after Labor Day, when again, and at whatever age, we sense the promise of new plaid dresses and shoes and Velvet pencils.)
But before I move on, some last prose of summer from the old notebook, guaranteed not to catapult you out of your chaise until you're good and ready.
You haven't yet seen the wild-pony swim across Assateague Channel? And you've avoided the annual July event because of the crowds?
An idea for next year: Go for the return of the ponies from Chincoteague to Assateague, when lots of people have already gone home.
This summer a couple of dozen of us joined the roundup on bikes, pedaling behind the ponies and cowboys down Chincoteague's main street. A pretty exciting ride, what with more than one pony deciding every once in a while to check out the flavor of lawns along the way. No need to fear, the Chincoteague volunteer cowboys have their own brand of droll control. Also, they've got an affection for those ponies that makes them do strange things, like gently pull a foal, struggling in the swim to keep up, right up into their motorboat and give it a ride.
Meanwhile, the mile or so bike ride is an easy one, but you'll get so caught up in the ponies' eagerness to get home again that you'll all but jump into the channel and make that swim for freedom yourself.
Content yourself, instead, with the sight, the indescribable majesty of a pony, mane flying in the breeze, once again connecting with the land and sky with no fences to get in the way.
And for you to connect with land, sky and marsh, Chincoteague is a bikers' paradise -- lots of meandering, intriguing little roads to investigate. The mentality of motorists is kindly, the antithesis of the run-bikers-off-the-road kind encountered elsewhere.
There is Wildlife Loop (3.2 miles) and Woodland Trail (1.6 miles), part of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, where you will see Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets and Little Blue Herons and Glossy Ibises and Mute Swans and maybe even a Fulvous Whistling Duck.
Unlike Ocean City, where mornings on the boulevard look like the Boston Marathon, runners are rare in Chincoteague. So much so that when I sneaked out for a run in the refuge at dawn, six geese must have mistaken me for the rare American Coot and didn't bother to get out of the way. When I turned around to look at them, six long necks were craned in my direction.
Some more notes on sports drinks, a topic -- without making it sound like "The Iliad" -- destined for continuing discussion.
After prolonged exercise, say 90 minutes or more, the body needs immediate refueling, the sooner the better, to restore muscle glycogen. The problem is you may not feel like eating, or eating enough to restore energy to exhausted muscles right after a big workout.
This is where a high-carbohydrate drink comes in handy, because lots of replenishing calories can be consumed immediately. Sixteen ounces of Exceed's High Carbohydrate Source is comparable, for example, to eating six bananas, four bagels or 13 slices of bread.
As the sports-drink market continues to heat up, keep reading the labels and experimenting. To help you understand some of the chemistry involved in nutrition and exercise, read Nancy Clark's new "Sports Nutrition Guidebook" (Leisure Press, $12.95). She has an excellent chapter on "Fluid Facts for Thirsty Athletes," complete with comparative charts.
"The best time to drink fluid replacers is during exercise," she stresses:
Not 20 to 45 minutes beforehand, when they might trigger a hypoglycemic reaction.
Not afterward, when your muscles want full-strength, carbohydrate-rich beverages to replace the glycogen burned during the event and the minerals lost in sweat.
Clark, a registered dietitian and staff nutritionist for Boston's SportsMedicine Brookline, also is an athlete and has biked across America and run marathons.
Besides an abundance of clear and motivating information on how different foods and beverages affect your body chemistry, the book also includes a section of healthful recipes, each with complete nutritional information: number of calories, grams and percentages of carbohydrate/fat/protein per serving.
David M. Mog of Arlington -- who is "almost 50" and biked 4,200 miles last summer with three teen-agers -- agrees that a cross-country bike trip is, indeed, a transcendent experience.
"If urban commuting can be a kind of death," he writes, "then journeying for days through the countryside with nothing but the necessities of life can be a kind of resurrection, an opportunity for personal transformation."
Mog and his two sons, Justin, a junior at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, and Joel, a sophomore at Mary Washington College, and Owen Emry, also a W-L junior, made the bike trip to Seattle. Here are some reflections written by Mog and son Justin for the W-L school newspaper:
"It was a great experience riding our bikes from one side of this awesome continent to the other in only 60 days. As we'd expected, the trip tested our equipment, our bodies, and our minds. Fortunately, we'd planned ahead (beginning five years ago, in fact), invested in good equipment, and practiced at length.
"Once on the road, we found a bicycle is a great place from which to learn geography. We learned that there are big hills in 'flat' Iowa ... how towns grew up along the railroad in Nebraska, what a grain elevator means to rural economies in Illinois, and how river valleys govern the road map of Idaho.
"Firsthand, we saw the environmental consequences as well as the economic importance of logging in the mountain West. And we learned how to anticipate thunderstorms and crosswinds on the plains.
"We were privy to incredible sunsets and spectacular rainbows, a total eclipse of the moon and more shooting stars than we'd ever imagined possible. And, finally, we saw cornfields ... Three weeks of cornfields -- from Ohio to Nebraska.
"As much as we learned about geography, we learned even more about survival. We became experts in map reading, tent folding, tire patching, and, yes, human behavior. We learned that people can be nasty at times, especially when they have the power of 350 horses under their hands and are surrounded by a ton or more of steel and glass.
"Out of their cars, though, we found that people can be downright generous and kind. People whose names we'll never know went out of their way to give us shelter, help us find food and lend us tools.
"But most of all we learned about ourselves -- about strengths we didn't know we had and weaknesses we'd thought we'd overcome."
Mog, a chemist, admits that the trip played a major role in his decision to return to teaching. When school opens this week, he'll have traded his desk in the International Affairs Office of the National Research Council for one in a science classroom at Sidwell Friends School.
He says the bike trip made him even more aware of the need for science and environmental education. It also taught him patience.
"And in a fundamental way," he writes, "I also learned to trust my own instincts and thereby to release my conscious mind from the impossible burden of having to be in control of everything, including our safety. In retrospect, though, I'm still amazed at how relaxed I was at the top of 10,000-foot Togwotte Pass in Wyoming as the four of us began a descent of nearly 20 miles on a 7 percent grade that would propel us toward the spectacular Grand Tetons at speeds exceeding 40 mph. Because I was relaxed enough to experience the moment, it was, to say the least, exhilarating."
But still, why does he want to spend his days in a classroom with high-school students after 12 years of more prestigious work with top scientists and government officials and frequent travel to Asia, Africa, Latin America?
"I think," he replies, "I am mature enough now."