Thursday, July 12, 2012
Pedal to the Metal
The upside to being a writer is you get to work at home, you pick your own hours, you can wear whatever you want, and, if Fate is kind, you get paid, sometimes handsomely, for making stuff up. The downside is you spend a lot of time on your butt, staring at a screen. In my case it’s usually more TV screen than computer, but the bottom line’s the same, and I do mean bottom. Sit for long periods without moving around and the pounds start piling on.
After one particularly slack-jawed stare at the bathroom scale, I decided maybe it would be a good idea if I got a little exercise. Walking is supposed to be best, but I don’t like walking. It’s boring and it’s tiring. You start out all energetic but by the time you’ve put some distance in you’re not only tired, you’re a mile or more away from the house or the car and you have to walk all the way back. Not fun.
So last night I got the bike out of the shed for the first time in a couple of years.
I like biking better than walking. For one thing, I get to sit down. If I get tired, I can coast while I get my breath back. Biking generates a breeze that cools me off while I ride. I can get off the bike and walk it for a while and get the benefits of both activities. I stay at it longer and burn more calories, to the benefit of the heart muscle. There’s all that traffic to dodge, but if you go on back streets at the right time of day, it’s not so bad. Plus, there’s a park with a paved path and a paved rail trail, both at least a mile or two in length and both within blocks of my house. No reason not to exercise.
So I haul the bike out and pump up the tires. They’re still okay after at least two years of disuse. So far, so good. Then I got on. Everybody’s right, you never forget how to ride a bike.
You just forget what a literal pain in the ass it is. The bike seat must have shrunk while it was sitting in the shed. Good thing I know how to ride standing up. You never forget that, either.
Let me explain about the bike. It’s a golden oldie from the late ‘70s, a Schwinn Suburban five-speed with hand brakes. At least it had five speeds when it was new. Now it tends to switch speeds randomly while I’m pedaling. I’ll be going along and suddenly it clicks up by itself and I go from an easy pedal to a fight to the death. Thank God the brakes still work, because this is a hilly area. I miss the old Stone Age bikes, where you shoved backwards on the pedals to stop it. I never trusted hand brakes. Imagine zipping down a steep hill, you squeeze the brakes, and nada. Did I mention there’s a major thoroughfare at the bottom of the hill?
About those hills. Ephrata grew up around a river, and the river still winds through the western end of town. This means the whole town’s in a river valley. This means no matter which direction you go or how near or how far, you’re going uphill. The library’s less than a quarter mile from my house. In between the house and the library lies the Cocalico Creek. To get to the library, I stroll down to the bridge, then scale a steep hill. To get home, it’s the same in reverse.
I got on the bike and did okay for the first half-block or so. Then I rode away from the river, and the upgrade kicked in. I adjusted the speed bar for an easy pedal. Thirty seconds later it adjusted itself right back. I was sweating like hell and I was barely out of sight of the house.
Oh yeah, along with the too-tiny seat, my knees kept hitting the belly I picked up from those two bikeless years of sitting around. So now I’m getting discomfort at both ends. Plus it’s hot. Plus I’m out of shape. Plus there are cars whizzing past me and every direction’s uphill.
Now I remember why I stopped riding the bike in the first place.
I guess it’s like any exercise program, you start out easy and gradually increase the time and distance. The street in front of my house is level. I can do laps on that until I build up some stamina. The 2.5 mile rail trail is paved, and level. I can do laps on that. Except it’s three blocks away, and those blocks are uphill. This is better than walking how?
Think ahead. If I put the time in now, I’ll be in shape enough in the fall to cart the bike over to one the area’s real rail trails, the ones that run beside rivers and under trees for 10 to 20 miles. There’s one in York that runs all the way down to the Maryland border. I’m going to need a bike rack, though. I’d better get back to writing so I can earn the bucks to buy one. There’s a bike shop across the street where I can probably get one fitted to the car.
Wait, that’s why I wanted to bike. It gets me out of the house so I don’t have to write. Every cloud has its silver lining. Even the ones with tiny seats.