Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Back in the Saddle

My friend David is planning a bicycle trip along the rivers of Germany. I remember well what it was like on my own cross-country excursions, mostly with the American Youth Hostels, 40 years ago. It was exciting. I met people. I accomplished physical feats. But to do it at my age? I don't miss the days of slogging uphill against the wind, bruised pelvic bones, close calls with cars, and panic as the tires skidded sideways on a sharp turn. Then getting back on to do it again.
Now, just biking across town is a challenge on my one-speed, fat-tire beach bike. My quads have grown lax from months of nursing a broken foot, and yes, I admit it, retirement. It's easy to get comfortable--in bed, on the sofa, at the dining room table--and let the days wither away. It takes discipline to tackle your TO DO list, let alone exercise.
How to get motivated? How to get off my duffer and back in the saddle? I visit my acupuncturist twice a week. (Dr. Canh Tran, a licensed M.D. covered by insurance.) To get there by Metro costs several dollars. That can add up, for someone on a pension yet not old enough for the 50% senior discount.

Financial incentives aside, cycling is more interesting than treadmills and ellipticals. Mid-day, with light traffic, I can get from Eastern Market to Farragut West in a half hour riding very fast, or an hour at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights. I am one of the few cyclists who stops for red lights on the cross-town bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Capitol in the background. The others are probably racing to work. Being unemployed, I can relish the journey.
On the sunny, 50-degree days of a mid-Atlantic December, a leisurely trip offers seasonal window displays on Pennsylvania Avenue and leftover autumn leaves in Lafayette Park.

A detour to the US Capitol Christmas tree, from the Chugach National Forest, reveals hand-crafted ornaments representing sea creatures of Alaska: herring, jellyfish, Sponge Bob.
As a young adult, my destinations were more ambitious: Traverse Bay, Michigan. Point Pelee in Ontario, Canada. Okefenokee Swamp. Charleston, South Carolina.

I don't remember the other bikers, except Tim (above), who I had a crush on. (He married Rose, another biker.) Wheeling across the state of Georgia, we stopped in Plains to chat with Billy Carter, the President's brother. Remember Billy Beer? We finished at Jekyll Island on the coast.

We sometimes traveled to our starting point in an RV, which also served as sag wagon. On a Florida trip, after getting stuck in toe straps and going down, crushing an elbow, I drove the RV for a week--with one arm. It was more fun than riding the bike!

Tracksuits were all the rage, at least in Michigan. My orange tracksuit matched my bike.

I groused about wind and rain. I could change tires in 10 minutes and carried tools for repairing spokes and chains. At times, the bike was loaded with camping gear. Regardless of weight, I always struggled to keep up. Sometimes, I cried--from frustration, exhaustion, loneliness, pain.

Now, I carry only a U-lock, I ride alone, and my itinerary is flexible: a doctor's appointment, a downtown errand, a visit to the "modern" art at the renovated Renwick.
On a windy or rainy day, I can fall back on taking Metro.
Yes, I'm back in the saddle again. A few times a week, a few miles at a time. No rivers in Germany, no tents, no wolfing down energy bars. Just a leisurely day, some sunshine, and my wheels going round and round.

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