Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Remembered Love: The Bicycle

I work in an art center that depends a great deal on the help of volunteers.  The average age of my volunteers is 80 and I am in awe of these folks, not just because they give joyfully of their time.  A lot of these men and women are still very active and in great shape.

Recently, a 94 year old volunteer offered to unplug a lamp I was moving out of the gift shop.  The lamp was plugged in under a table and as I was objecting/worrying about this gentleman getting down on the floor to reach the plug (and not being able to get back up), he quickly squatted down on all fours, stretched under the table and unplugged the lamp.  Then he sprang back to his feet!! My jaw dropped!

At 43 my joints are stiff, I'm carrying around several pounds of excess weight and there is no way I could get up from the floor as quickly as a volunteer who is more than twice my age.  A lot of my volunteers, from age 70 and up, move with a lot more grace and agility than I do and realizing this has convicted me.  If I want to be spry and active when I get to be their age I have to get serious about my health and lifestyle. 

So I've been considering ways to get back into shape.  With the exception of my high school years when I got into doing "Jazzercise" two times a day (Yes, I said Jazzercise. Feel free to snicker. The 80s were an age of great cheese.) and starved myself into a size 6, I've never been one to exercise for the sake of excercising. Going to a gym or an excercise class has never held great appeal to me.... so what kind of excercise would keep me engaged and interested long enough to get me back in shape?

One morning as I got into my car to drive to work and it hit me:  Why am I firing up all this metal and burning expensive gas to drive 1.18 miles to work?  If I walked, it would take me about 20 minutes to get to work and if I biked the distance, I'd be there in about 10 minutes (maybe less).  The roads between home and work are fairly flat and there's only one busy road I'd have to cross.

I haven't been on a bicycle in more than 20 years. Would I even be able to ride a bike now?

When I was a kid, I spent several hours each day on a bicycle.  I got my first bike when I was about 6: A baby blue Schwinn Bantam. 
1970s Schwinn Bantam
I rode that bike all over the neighborhood: To school, around the block, to the park, etc.  When I was on my bike I was my own person: All that existed was me, my bike and the wind in my hair. I was in complete control of my destiny when I was on my bike. Riding that bike was the closest thing to flying. Oh the adventures I had while on my Schwinn!

Eventually, I outgrew the Bantam, it was converted to a boy's bike and passed down to my brothers. That bike was a part of the family for what seemed like forever and I am surprised I couldn't find a photo of my old friend anywhere.  My next bike was a 1950s 3 speed Schwinn Free Spirit (I wish I still had this bike, it was a sweet looking bike) and then in the summer of 1976, at the age of 9, I got my first "grown up" bike.  It was a bright orange 10-speed Schwinn Varsity.

The bike was too tall for me - I couldn't touch the ground when I was on the seat - but that didn't keep me from leaping on the seat from the pedals and soaring along on the pavement.  I was constantly getting my bell bottoms caught in the chain of the bike, causing my wooden-soled Dr. Scholls to go flying and toppling me over, but I loved that bike. I dreamt of one day, with my "grown up" bike going on a biking and camping trip with my dad. Dad had this really cool 12-speed travel bike with all sorts of neat accessories.  He would pack up his bike and ride off and on long "camping" trips.  I thought those trips sounded like a lot of fun.  What's better than enjoying the great outdoors while cruising on your bicycle?
Lanza on her "grown up" bike with a look of determination!
The next bike I had was the travel bike my dad left behind when he moved out. I admired that bike when my dad had it for all of it's cool accessories and ability to handle rugged terrain. That bike was also too big for me when I started riding it, but I was never one to shy away from a bicicular challenge. I literally rode the tires off that bike. One day, as I was riding, bolts started flying off and the thing crumbled into a heap of tangled metal and teenager.

I eventually comandeered my mom's fancy Japanese racing bike.  I took that bike on roads all over the Texas Hill Country when I was a teenager.  On weekends my favorite ride was Highway 27 between Ingram and Mountain Home. My 43 year old self marvels that I ever was able to accomplish such a thing!  Back then, I had youth, an exceptional physique created by Jazzercise and cycling, and a cute guy working at the Mohair Warehouse along the route to motivate me.  After I left for college I gradually gave up my bike rides for other endeavors.
Lanza and her dad's travel bike.
A 12 year old conquers a bike purchased for a 6'4" man!

Through all of those years of riding bikes, even after getting a driver's license and purchasing a car, bike riding never lost its magic.  I always had that light-hearted sense of flying when I was on a bike.  So when I started thinking seriously about getting some exercise and saving gallons of gas, it seemed natural to revisit my old love of cycling.

I've been thinking it over for some time and decided to go low-tech.  An old, sturdy single-speed bicycle would give me a better work out for the 1.18 mile journey to work, would be easy to maintain and is a small investment should this idea turn out to be a bad one.  Besides, the history geek in me loves the look of classic bicycles.  Last night I purchased (for a lot less than a brand-new bike) this beauty:

The bike is a 1950s model made by Sears.  The lines of the bike remind me a lot of the Bantam that I had when I was little (the basket is identical) and I fell in love with it at first sight.  It needs a lot of cosmetic work, but the bike itself is sound.

Immediately after unloading it at home, I hopped on for a ride.  It's true what they say: You never forget how to ride a bike.  After a few initial wobbles I was on my way!  I took this bike around the block and as I progressed with each pedal, there it was:  The sense of flying!
I'm not going to lie, I was winded from a spin around the block and my legs felt like Jello, but the joy of riding is still there!  I was back on the bike this morning and took a slightly longer route than I did yesterday.  It will take me some time to get to the point where I can ride to work, but I have no doubt that I will be riding like a pro (and not winded so quickly) in the very near future!

So Kerrville commuters beware:  There's a new cyclist in town!

1 comment:

  1. Congrats! I am still a fan of bike riding as well, and remember pretty much all of the bikes you mentioned- including that old Bantam that I learned to ride on.

    I need to get back on my bike as well.