I have just returned from a long bike ride. Long for me; it was 14 miles, about 3 miles of which was straight uphill, though not all at once. For a lady who has been sedentary for 17 years of homeschooling, this is pretty astounding.
Last summer I fitted out my old bike. Now get this—my Raleigh was a Christmas present in 1976 when I was 16. I named it Skye, after the island in Scotland. In those days of androgyny I asked for a boy’s bike. It had the usual ram’s head racing handlebars and thin road tires. Last summer I pulled my bike out of its dusty corner in the barn and took it to Barney, the local bike repair man, who changed out my racing handlebars for touring ones. After new tires, brakes, and a seat I found myself riding pretty comfortably. I worked up to 8 mile rides, often stopping for milk to take home. Now advance to the present: I don’t aim to race, I don’t live within a mile of pavement, and I don’t clear the bar the way I used to when I stand. I have to stretch to get over the bar and onto the pedals. This faithful companion of mine no longer fits me. However, I am not letting its imperfections become an excuse to stop my progress!
This year I have taken my riding to a higher level, especially after a Borders-closing-sale book on biking brought me to a whole new world of technique and fitness. Ride Your Way Lean: The Ultimate Plan for Burning Fat and Getting Fit on a Bike, by Selena Yeager teaches beginners how to build up muscle and endurance. I aim to be on my bike six days a week, usually for an hour.
Of all the exercise I have ever tried biking is by far my favorite. In my saddle I feel 18 again, young and full of energy. I am energized; activity begets energy. No matter how sluggish I feel going out, within a mile I am alert and limber, enjoying the control I feel over my destiny. Seretonin kicks in and I feel happy. Instead of being locked behind safety glass and molded sheet metal I am out in real life experiencing the wind along my arms and face, the sun on my skin, the variations of the road beneath my seat. Perennial gardens, wildflowers, and chipmunks on the stonewall catch my attention. Ah, this is living.
I always ride early during these hot summer days, but the sun is rising noticeably later every day and I will soon run out of morning light. When I leave at 6 a.m. I can be back before the family needs me, but by fall equinox it will be dark then. Inevitably exercise time will have to move to mid-afternoon, and I will expect all my kids to put aside their studies—or Facebook—and move for an hour. Though I will miss the pleasures of riding on a summer morning before the rest of the world is up, I’ll be thrilled to build exercise habits with my children.
What benefits do I have from all this riding? I have built up muscle and lost inches, I lost ten pounds, I have more energy, and I get the breaks I need from a very busy homelife. I eat differently and don’t crave carbs anymore. Hurray! I gladly give up the guilt I feel while stuck in a vicious cycle.
My new cycle gives a far better ride.