Biking through mint-scented clouds

I was reading a great blog post yesterday and got to the part where the author says “My bike just makes me happy on this immediate, cellular level” and quit reading because I needed to be on my sweet Electra Ticino (see below).


Biking season is back in full force as are the mint-scented clouds of exhaust coming from the physical plant at the Eastern State Hospital, the second oldest psychiatric facility in the US. I encounter those mint clouds as I cut through the facility on my way to the Legacy Trail, which runs from the Northside neighborhood of downtown Lexington out to the Kentucky Horse Park. I love marking the start and end of the 16-mile ride through the countryside with mint–coincidentally, the color of my bike is called wintermint (see below)!


Mint aroma compounds are influenced by  three main chemical groups in mint stereoisomers: methyl, isopropyl, hydroxyl. Menthol (specifically, the -(-) methold stereoisomer) is the main compound in mint that stimulates cold receptors but camphor and terpenes also play minor roles. Not surprisingly, inhaling these mint clouds (see left) at the start of the ride is highly invigorating. 

About 2.5 miles along the trail, there is this funny little zone punctuated by microclimates of hot and cool. Throughout the short zone (short b/c you are flying down a hill), I get whiffs of what I can only describe as sweet rice. The trouble with English (and so many other languages) is that it is limited to describing odors by other odors. Since humans potentially experience odors differently relative to our olfactory receptor configurations (and underlying genetic architecture), my description of sweet rice may not be accurate for another nose. I have yet to identify the plant that emits the odor but it is a marshy area with a small creek running through it–a marsh plant perhaps? Possible candidates are a mallow plant (part of the hibiscus family, perhaps the common mallow–Mallow neglecta–found across the US) or some kind of rush or sedge (maybe something like Acorus calamus). I love not knowing what it is and thinking about it every ride. One of these days, I will get off the bike and investigate!

There are lots of other scents along the way that punctuate the ride–the least pleasant is the major road the trail crosses that smells like diesel from the semi trucks. Still, even the diesel doesn’t bother me so much b/c I have miles of trail ahead and behind!


Published by Kara C. Hoover

I am a bioanthropologist living in Alaska studying human olfactory variation and prehistoric human health and diet.

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