I’ll admit it; I’m not the most athletic person. I vowed to change that this year.
I’m tired of being fat, tired of being tired, tired of aching all the time. I took an inventory of all the times in my past when I was able to lose weight – what worked well? What didn’t work?
I cut out sugar in mid-August. I started walking at least two days a week, clocking 1.5 – 2.5 miles each time. On days when I did not walk, I made sure to do some yoga stretches, light weight lifting, or gardening, anything to get up and moving.
It was then that I thought about the list I had made of all the physical activities I love to do. Walking and hiking are first, followed by horseback riding, but that’s expensive and I feel like I’m too fat to ride right now. Yoga, pilates and weight training are all okay, but there’s on activity I have loved since I first pedaled a tricycle at age 3: bicycling.
My childhood bike was a blue 1978 Columbia Roadster with coaster brakes, one speed, and a chain that clanked loudly against the chain guard every time I hit a pothole. I fell off of it on the hill on Magnolia Avenue, tumbling butt over teakettle and bearing scars on my knees and noggin to this day, thick raised keloid scars that tell the story of what happens when you pretend your bike is a dragon and you’re riding the wind on Pern.
I rode my bicycle all over the streets of Floral Park, often pedaling the 1.5 miles to Belmont Race Track on steamy July mornings to lean against the fence on one of the dead end streets adjoining the exercise track just so I could watch the horses trot on by.
My bike took me to the library, that cool temple of heavenly adventures where hundreds of books awaited; my bike and I traveled into Stewart Manor to the Averill Boulevard Park Pool because you could pay as you go.
Summers without my bike were unthinkable.
My poor blue Columbia Roadster is long gone. My husband, then my boyfriend, tried to fix it for me and ended up helplessly dismantling it. We could have brought it to the shop to have it re-assembled but decided not to; my old friend and writing mentor, Dr. Patricia Gross, sent me home from her house in Pennsylvania with her bike which she no longer rode on the hills near Scranton. I had a new bike, so my beloved Roadster went the way of many old bikes, to the landfill.
Pat’s bike was too heavy for me to pedal over the hills in Huntington, and so we gave that away, too. I was bike-less until I moved to Virginia.
Then, my husband bought me my current bike, a purple Roadmaster.
I am learning to ride a bike – again.
And I absolutely love it.
It was on my summer list – ride my bike again. Every day, I had an excuse. Too hot. Too many client calls. Too busy. The list went on and on.
We are blessed with the High Bridge Trail less than two miles from my home. It’s a rail trail, part of the Rails to Trails Conservancy which helps transform old railway lines into bicycling, walking, and horseback riding trails. It’s traffic-free so there’s no dodging cars and it’s less than a 10% grade so no trudging up the piedmont hills on the roads by my house.
I loaded the purple Roadmaster into the back of my husband’s SUV and drove the two miles to the trail on Monday as if I was learning to drive again as well as bike again. I inched along, feeling like I was driving a tank after moving from my sedan to his hefty SUV.
Once at the trail head near Elam, I wondered: what would happen if I popped a tire on the trail? Was I too fat today to ride a bike? If the tire blew out when I was at the far end of the trail, how would I get back?
Well, it was a holiday. I could walk. It might take me a while, but I’d get there. If I was too fat, sitting on the sidelines wouldn’t help me lose the weight to ride again. I clipped the chin strap on my helmet, swung my leg over the frame, and pedaled my wobbly way towards Pamplin.
Muscles screamed in my thighs; the unfamiliar hard sport seat of the mountain bike always takes my behind by surprise. It wants the old spring-loaded apple seat of the 1970s Roadster.
My hands hurt from clutching the straight handlebars but I did get the hang of the gears again. I pedaled in 2nd gear, then switched to the easier 1st gear when I asked myself what I was trying to prove. Nothing, Jeanne, I thought to myself. Relax and enjoy the ride.
I did. It was lovely.
The High Bridge Trail from Elan to Pamplin passes through lush, dense forests on the southern side. It skirts the highway, so you’re never far from the sounds of civilization: tractor trailer trucks, cars, lawn mowers as people cut their grass. A squirrel darted out in front of me, crossing the trail to the oaks on the opposite side of the trail. I passed a cyclist and we nodded to one another as if we were old comrades. He seemed to smirk a little and I felt guilty, as if my sweat-streaked face and funny modest culotte shorts made me a laughingstock.
But I pressed on, and on. I passed Harvey Jones Lane, the first private road that crossed the trail, then another farm lane. My goal for the day was to cycle to the Five Forks Road crossing, then turn around and ride back. It was approximately two miles to Five Forks Road from the Elam parking lot, so I knew if I made it, I’d cycle four miles. A little ambitious for someone cycling seriously for the first time in 30 years? You bet. No guts, no glory.
Besides, I’m tried of being fat and tired.
I made it to Five Forks Road, mile 20 on the trail. The parking lot is at mile 18.
The ride back was easier even though I sweated more. I sweated so hard that I sweated right through my t-shirt.
I’m not someone who enjoys sweating. I do anything I can to avoid it. And I’m not one who loves strenuous exercise; I always feel like I’m dying and give up before I get to the sweat sticking to my t-shirt stage.
I couldn’t give up. I was two miles from the parking lot. I had to ride back.
I rode back as quickly as I could, pedaling fast, standing up a little to stretch my left leg where the knee was shrieking for attention as it does when the old injuries flare up, the cicadas singing their end of summer paean to heat stroke.
I made it. The parking lot was one of the most welcome sights I’d ever seen. I had cycled four miles.
I took this picture to remind myself that it feels good to have sweat dripping off of my face. It felt awesome to have my hair plastered to my head under my bike helmet. It felt wonderful to walk around on strong, sturdy legs, the knee no longer screaming as if working my quads, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors had somehow supported the knee joint damaged from too many horseback riding accidents and bicycling accidents. That knee is my war wound to clumsiness and I lost the battle.
My ultimate goal is to ride to the end of trail – 3.0 miles from Elam as you can see on the sign – and back again. Six miles. And I’ll do it, too. By Thanksgiving, I think.
I’m hooked. I’ve learned to ride my bicycle again in middle age and I am a child again, happy and carefree, riding on my purple Roadmaster and conquering the trail.