Thursday, May 7, 2015

An Old Friend Starts Biking at 73. Discovers "Hard Fun" and "Preordained Gladness"

I haven't seen Dave Federman since we were students at The University of Pittsburgh half a century ago. We've stayed in touch online, however, and continue to share a passion for jazz and poetry. I mentioned my cycling but it didn't go much further. Then...voila!


I'm back in the saddle again. And since this saddle belongs to a Trek Verve 3, it is cushy enough to be 'mindful' of my aging posterior and the woes like hemorrhoids it is heir to. To be honest, I wouldn't be taking my second stab at the bike life if it wasn't for a bike like this that is designed for city streets and straits. You don't have to travel far by car or bike in Philadelphia and its suburbs to encounter simulations of or equivalents to off-road challenges. The makers of my bike must have foreseen the often corrugated stretches of street I must pedal in pursuit of the 'la bell vie ambulatoire'. Thanks to shock absorbers and other components of stress-reduction technology, the winter-ravaged streets pose less danger and discomfort than when I took to these less-ravaged streets a year ago on my oversized racer that I was told would make a man out of me.

To the contrary, my first bike's height nearly unmanned me. After three serious spills, the last of which almost justified a trip to the emergency room, my wife forbade further treks on that macho speedster. Something like a Trek Verve 3 17.5" was a pre-condition for any return to biking.

Ride a stationary bike in the basement...or explore these streets.

My reasons for giving the bike life a second try are typical and sensible for men my age. At 73, I am well-aware of the need for daily exercise. We have a stationary bike in the basement that is ideal for short attempts at physical fitness. But it is boring. So I have broken every resolution for continual usage.

Outdoor biking, on the other hand, adds meta-physical to physical fitness as you become a fast-forward urban/urbane Thoreau whizzing past suburban splendors. Sometimes there are even high-impact haiku impingements of external reality. And I don't mean the bells and horns of approaching bikes, busses, cars and trucks. I mean bird-trills and dog-barks, butterfly and blue jay sightings--things that make you stop hating your neighbor or yourself, and make you feel pre-ordained to gladness. Indeed, I started writing this essay while biking a few days ago--that is, when the Force (of my burgeoning stamina) joined me in a brief foretaste of abundance.

Monique, the author's bicycle muse. 

Stamina is a grand, glorious and, above all, attainable objective of biking. It encompasses things seen and unseen, as well as aids and abets concentration and patience. No wonder I am amazed and embarrassed to see how much of this precious resource I lost between my last bike ride in the Fall and my first this April. Thankfully, stamina returns, or, maybe I should say, resumes. In any case, my wife, and biking partner, is telling me not to push the return to previous fitness levels. "You're not in training for a competition," she reminds me when she sees me in full self-punishing, hair-shirt, endurance mode. Instead,  she advises me to see biking as a mixture of meditation and yoga, not merely a sport or athletic interest.

This brings me to my own private purpose for writing this short essay. During my first biking incarnation, I saw this pastime as hard work. During my second biking incarnation, I see it as what I call "hard fun." So this time I look forward to the exertion rather than dreading it. Hell, I even find myself upshifting on declines to take the opportunity for easy exercise rather than mere gliding. Then when I face the uphill climbs, and the number of my grunts per minute are equal to those on a Perez Prado record, the effort seems as rewarding as learning to dance the mambo and, more challengingly, the tango.

So there you have it: I'm bike-borne as well as bike-reborn. I don't know where it will lead or if it will last. For now, however, it's nice to think I have joined millions of others who heard and heeded the call of the open road disguised as a bike path.

"Hard Fun" in Ardmore

--David Federman, Ardmore, PA, May 7, 2015

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