Feed on

My addiction:

It's a sickness. I'm crazily distractible these days. Only one thing holds my full attention, and that thing involves wheels, pedals, sweat, and speed. One thought dominates my consciousness: “How soon can I go get on my bike?”

I'm a year-round rider, but I've always been especially partial to summertime riding, and bombing around on my bike has been an integral part of my life for most of my life. Now that I'm 29, I can say I've been an avid bike rider for over two decades. Yay! When my sister and I were little kids, we'd ride our little hand-me-down banana-seat bikes up and down the old roadbed between the neighbors' house to a point up a hill on the south side of the Niobrara. The run from Ainsley's driveway up to the hill was maybe ½ mile, and I'd go up and down that run all day long some days, stopping occasionally to bother the toads in the marsh between Ainsley's house and my parents' house or climb up the hillsides south of the river and pick wildflowers to bring back to my mom. Or, if Ainsleys didn't have any cattle in the west pasture, perhaps do a little proto-trail-riding in the tracks left by the cattle's habitual routes. Those 20″-wheeled stingray-knockoff bikes were tough, if heavy little devils, and I built up stocky leg muscles for a small girl in the course of my adventures.

The summer before I started highschool, I was especially obsessed with riding. I'd recently acquired a proper 10-speed that was the right size for me. The previous summer, I'd precariously and doggedly ridden a vintage Schwinn Continental which was proportioned for a man around 6', whereas I was girl of around 5'2″ So, once I'd saved up enough babysitting money, and got a little boost with the takings from my 8th Grade graduation, I splurged on a $109 Huffy from Kmart, and felt the doors to the world open up before me. It was 5 miles from my parents' house to the turnoff to go out to the Box Butte Reservoir. From there, it was another 2 miles to the dam. Therefore I could pull out a 14-miler round trip to the dam…maybe another two miles to ride around the dam itself. Or I could ride to the corner and back a few times. Hardly a day went by that summer when I didn't bang out 20 miles more or less.

My mom was less than wild about my mania for riding alongside the county roads, especially during the scorching hot, dry days of high summer, where temperatures over 100F were augmented by 25mph breezes. “Drink more water. Wear your white hat. Put on something bright, so people can see you. Watch out for snakes!” The year was 1991, and as far as I knew, nobody wore helmets. Bottle-cages, fingerless gloves and “padded-butt bike shorts” were, in my childish eyes, rich-boy affectations, a bias formed in jealousy over a neighbor boy's extremely sweet 24″-wheeled Peugeot 10-speed road bike. If spoiled, sassy Snotnose had those things, then of course they were for uppity weenies, ran my line of thinking.

I really was obsessed, though. Beyond having a good time, beyond enjoying my new bicycle, I was in the larval stages of obsessive cyclo-wonkdom, with associated symptoms of nutrition and training fixation. I had gotten quite strict with myself over what I considered appropriate food (mostly whole foods, way more water than is normally consumed) and felt that it was strictly necessary to ride at the very least 10 miles a day, preferably twice that. Driving this, beyond the joy of riding and the extreme joy of riding faster, was a belief that a key to adolescent popularity was a great body, and that by eating like a hippie and biking for hours on end every day would certainly deliver me to that worthy destination. I had also imposed upon myself a regimen of calisthenics and sit-ups which I figured might be helpful. My workouts and diet didn't materially improve my performance with the boys (my face is a bit of a hindrance to overcome) but I did gain quite a lot of confidence in my physicality—in my strength, in the fact that I did have a pretty decent figure for a 14-year-old, and in that I could, if I wanted to, actually get somewhere on my bike. 15 miles was all the further away school was. If my mom had let me, I could have and probably would have ridden my old Huffy to school. Alas, she felt (and possibly rightly so) that the back road to Hemingford, with many inexperienced teenage drivers traversing it daily on their way to school was not an especially safe cycling route.

I like to think that my superficial adolescent goals had actually been the extremely rough-in framework for my current healthful habits. For even today, I mostly eat whole foods, not a lot of junk, and I've still got a pretty hefty cycling obsession going on. And gratifyingly enough, this whole health-and-fitness schtik seems to be paying off. Of course, the test will be when I'm like 60, not 29, but even still, I am in better health than a lot of people my own age and even younger. I don't smoke, don’t drink much, and have quite a bit of strength and endurance on my side. I think, too, because I'm habitually active, I've got more “oomph” at my disposal—a little more energy, a little more general vim.

I've got a friend who is a bike commuter and habitual cyclist, who turned 50 pretty recently, and we were talking about the benefits of daily activity while we were riding up a long hill. She said she rides her bike everyday so she can keep on riding her bike every day. I think that's a capital way of looking at it, and it's definitely the most concise argument for bicycle commuting as a way to promote health and fitness. If you ride every day, and I mean every day including through the winter, then you don't suffer those fitness slumps where you think you're going to ride on the trainer or go to the gym, but then you don't and when you climb back aboard in April, you're a wind-suckin' hurtin' unit. And a lot of folks get discouraged when they are out of shape and trying to get back into shape, and give up on it altogether. When all is said and done, it’s easier not to get out of shape in the first place.

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