I USED TO BE A RUNNER. But in my early 20s, after a bad motorcycle accident, I developed acute back problems. Many years later, after my second lumbar surgery, my "running career" had to be halted. It was just too painful (and dangerous). I sat on my butt for a few years wondering what I should do to stay fit. In middle-age, you don't have that luxury. I quickly gained an extra 30 pounds of flab.
I considered mountain biking
I was disgusted with myself, and started looking for a less jarring way to burn calories and get some exercise. I came upon a road cyclist one day as he was making a left turn, in front of me, on a four lane highway. I sat in my car thinking he was crazy for riding in the road and competing with 4000-pound vehicles.
But it got me thinking. I still had my old Haro mountain bike in storage, maybe I should dust it off and see how painful it would be to ride it. The next day, I did just that. I rode down the shoulder of the same highway where I saw the road cyclist. I pedaled hard and was delighted by the speed I was going. I was mesmerized by the wind in my face, the comfort of a pleasant summer day, and the beautiful scenery near the river.
Then, a car pulled out in front of me
I skidded--my knobby tires making a hollow groan. The bike fishtailed. I swerved. I managed a sideways slide in behind the car. I was shook up inside. My heart raced. I turned the bike around and rode home, much more slowly. When I got home I felt physically and emotionally drained and realized I had only gone a total of six miles.
I started to question my sanity
Was this sport too dangerous for an older guy? Should I keep looking for a better way to exercise? That road cyclist, dressed in the funny clothes, that I witnessed making a left turn in the traffic lane seemed so relaxed and confident. Why was I feeling so vulnerable?
My fear didn’t last long
The next day I had the uncontrollable urge to go do it again! But, first I went out and bought myself a helmet. Maybe this would help my insecurity, I reasoned. Day two was much better. I mounted my old mountain bike and rode down the same shoulder, but at a slower pace. I kept my eyes and ears on high alert, carefully watching for errant drivers. It was a hot day, and I sweated so much my cotton clothes were saturated, sweat running down my face from under my helmet, but I completed about eight miles without incident.
I was hooked
I had just rekindled my love for bike riding that I had abandoned more than 30-years before. And the activity was virtually stress-free on my back. I rode that mountain bike around town for a couple of months, rapidly gaining strength, stamina, distance and confidence. Then, I made a big jump in faith. I traveled to Moab, Utah to ride a mountain bike in the red rock country with my son and a friend. It was a glorious experience that I wrote about earlier in this blog.
After Moab, I was pumped!
I came home and decided to buy a new bike. This time I wanted one that could transition from mountain bike to something more suitable on the road. I bought a Bad Boy, with an extra set of mountain bike rims and tires. Funny, but I rode it with the skinny tires nearly all the time. Then, a funny thing happened.
I fell in love with road cycling
Within three years I purchased two more bikes, both road bikes, and discovered a passion for road cycling that I never would have dreamed of before. I bought the silly riding clothes, which turned out to be technically remarkable and wonderfully comfortable. I took safety classes from the League of American Bicyclists and Cycling Savvy, and I advocate for safe riding and proficient bike handling. I’ve since ridden tens of thousands of miles, in 13 states--so far.
I’m committed to safe road cycling, and bringing other latent athletes of a certain age, into the fold. It’s a great, low impact, fitness sport, and a whole lot of fun! I don’t plan to stop, ever. And to think it all started one day, when I just took off.