When they tell you that you 'never forget
how to ride a bike' ... they're lying through their teeth.
You absolutely DO forget how
to ride a bike. For about the first fifteen seconds, anyway. Especially
when it's been twenty-seven years, three children, two
marriages, sixty pounds and at least six Presidential administrations
between bike rides. For those initial fifteen seconds, when your
sedentary middle-aged butt connects with the padded vinyl seat of a
bicycle for the first time in three decades, you might as well be
trying to recall those eighth-grade Spanish verb tenses, for all the
good your 'memory' is going to do you.
That's the bad news. The good
news is that it all comes back to you pretty quickly after that.
If those first fifteen seconds haven't killed
you, that is.
* * * * * *
Spandex is your friend.
So is index shifting, sunscreen, unflattering bike
jerseys with those weird little pockets in the back, waterproof
mascara, ugly bike helmets, buttercup yellow windbreakers, a good stiff
pair of bike gloves ... basically all of the stuff
I thought was too dorky/too high-tech/too not-for-me, one short year
(The jury is still out on TOE CLIPS.
Check back in another year.)
* * * * * *
You will never be the grooviest rider on
the bike trail, no matter what.
doesn't matter how spiffy your bike is ... how trendy your cycling
clothes ... how strong and sure your riding technique: there will
always be somebody on the bike trail who is
spiffier/trendier/stronger/groovier-in-every-way than *you* are.
(It's sort of like junior high school.)
Furthermore, this infinitely groovier rider will
come zipping past you at 80 bazillion mph at the exact moment you are
reaching around to discreetly tug the Spandex out of your buttcrack. As
they roar off into the distance, leaving you sputtering in their dust,
you'll find yourself thinking "God, what an incredibly
annoying, show-offy BITCH! I HATE
her! I hope she DIES! (I wonder where she
her bike shoes?)"
On the other hand ... there will probably always
be somebody on the bike trail who looks at you and
thinks the exact same thing.
* * * * * *
If you're wondering whether or not the guy
in the brown Ford Explorer sees you coming ... he doesn't.
The only genuine "Oh My God I'm About To Die"
Moments I've experienced this year involved motorists pulling in and
out of driveways. On at least one occasion it was my own fault -- I was
daydreaming about frosted blueberry scones, when I should have been
paying attention to traffic -- but the other times it was because the
driver 1.) looked but didn't see me , 2.) didn't look and didn't see
me, or 3.) looked, saw me and decided to try and run over me anyway,
just for fun.
I've learned to err on the side of caution ... and
to ride on the other side of the street, whenever possible.
* * * * * *
Keep your mouth shut while you ride.
Especially when you're riding through heavily
wooded areas. (Unless you actually enjoy
swallowing insects whole, in which case you might consider
auditioning for "Survivor: Alameda.")
* * * * * *
Falling down isn't fatal.
I spent the first ten months of my *riding career*
obsessively worried about falling down/falling over/falling off my
bike. I was certain that there was an excruciatingly painful compound
fracture (and a couple of missing teeth, probably) in my future. I just
didn't know exactly when or how it was going to happen. All of this
obsessive fear and worry made it difficult, at times, to worry about
other, more practical concerns ... like learning to navigate. Or
letting go of the handlebar long enough to scratch my nose. Or
And that sucked a few of the *fun molecules* out
of some of those early rides.
So of course when it finally happened -- when I
finally took that first big
spill, right in the middle of the abandoned Alameda
Naval Base -- it was almost a relief. It hurt, but it didn't hurt that
much. It was embarrassing, but it wasn't that
embarrassing. (Plus it freed me up to start worrying obsessively about
other, more practical concerns ... such as whether or not one is
supposed to wear underpants under Spandex riding shorts.)
If you are a novice rider, here's what I suggest
you do: turn off the computer, right now ... go outside and get on your
bike ... head for the nearest public trail ... and fall off your
Trust me: you'll be glad you got it over with.
* * * * * *
Hills are Nature's way of saying "NOW
aren't you glad you didn't order that triple-bacon-cheeseburger?"
The only good thing I have to say about uphills is
that they are generally followed by DOWNhills.
* * * * * *
Not everybody is as enchanted with you and
your bike as *you* are.
People walking their dogs, people pushing baby
carriages, people on scooters, people on rollerblades, people jogging,
elderly people with rolling oxygen units ... these are the sort of
people who probably aren't going to burst into applause when they see
Oh-So-Adorable *You* riding towards them on your bike. As a matter of
fact, these are the people most likely to hope you hit a
pothole and fly over the side of the embankment and crash land in the
Contra Costa Canal, bicycle first.
Don't take it personally.
The multi-use trail is a lot like a hospital
emergency room: everybody feels they have more of a right to be there
than *you* do. The joggers hate the dog-walkers. The scooter people
hate the power-walkers. The baby carriage people hate the
And ALL of them hate the
This sense of overblown entitlement can make for
some pretty tense moments if you aren't extremely careful (slow down to
a nice safe 5 mph when passing) ... if you aren't extremely courteous
("On your left: two bicycles") ... and if you don't refrain from saying
things like "Fudk you" or "Your infant
looks like a Chihuahua" or "What part of 'On your
left' didn't you understand?"
I'm not sure that it will make the rest of them
like you any better ... but at least their 'infant' won't try to take a
bite out of your leg.
* * * * * *
Pain is temporary. Dead is forever.
I don't know whether it's because of the events of
September 11th ... or because I'm forty-four years old, and I can feel
the Menopause Fairy nipping at my heels ... or because I'm blissfully
married for the first time in my life (and would like to enjoy
the feeling for a while longer) ... but lately I've been thinking about
my own mortality.
Not a lot. But certainly more than before. (Read
this: more than I did before the retinol stopped doing me any good.)
I'm not morbidly obsessed with it or anything. I
don't lay awake in bed at night, wondering how or where or when it will
happen. I don't worry about whether or not I'm going to Heaven. (Nobody
I like is going to be there, anyway.) I don't spend a lot of time
planning every detail of my funeral. (I want each of my loved
ones to walk down the aisle, one at a time, and place a single yellow
rose upon my open casket.) But I do occasionally find myself
doing the math in my head -- If I live to be eighty-eight,
then I'm at the halfway point right now -- and I do
occasionally find myself pondering the difference between breathing and
not-breathing. Here's what I've decided:
Breathing is better.
And if one of the things that keeps me breathing
for a nice, long time is the occasional *Agony Moment* on my bicycle
... then I figure it's probably worth it.
* * * * * *
Today's setback is tomorrow's *FootNotes*
As longtime *FN* readers are no doubt (painfully)
aware, it took me almost a year to make it over the stoopid Moraga
Along the way, I managed to squeeze four or five
*FootNotes* entries, nearly as many back-links in completely unrelated
entries and a buttload of sympathetic reader response out of the
struggle. (And I will probably continue to use the
experience anecdotally for the next fortysomething years ... whenever
I'm writing about Overcoming Insurmountable Obstacles, and I can't come
up with anything more topical to use as an example.)
Bike-riding has presented me with endless
opportunities to turn misery into art.
Flat tires, inclement weather, the fudking 'Good
Morning' People, muscle cramps, menstrual cramps, stale Power Bars,
Spandex terrorists, dogs, insects, ground squirrels with death wishes,
changing seasons, gear trouble, Gutless Shidthead Bicycle Thieves ...
all have become fodder for the website at one time or another. In fact,
this has become the very best way for me to deal with the occasional
temporary setback: to grit my teeth, bear down, buck up ...
... and remind myself that this is going to make
one helluva *FootNotes* entry eventually.
* * * * * *
By the time I reach the stone boat -- our
traditional stop-and-catch-our-breath point, whenever we're riding
around Bay Farm Island -- I am seriously ready for
a break. (And a couple of hours in a hyperbaric chamber, maybe. My
heart is thundering in my chest like a herd of ground squirrels, and
I'm dripping with sweat from head to toe.
It's been one heck of a ride so far ... and we
still have another fifteen miles to go.
David is already there, checking the odometer.
"Twenty-six minutes," he announces. He means that it has taken us
exactly twenty-six minutes to ride from our apartment to the stone
"We missed the record by sixteen seconds," he
I am momentarily crestfallen. "It's because of me,
isn't it?" I say mournfully. "I slowed us down, didn't I?" I've tried
-- I've really tried -- but I just can't keep up with him, as long as
I'm riding on a bigger, slower bike. (Although I must admit that the
Schwinn's cushy padded bicycle seat is like a little slice of butt
heaven.) But David says no, no, no ... that's not
how he meant it at all. We weren't out to break any records today,
anyway. All we wanted to do was chip away at our goal a little bit.
"We'll thank ourselves later this year," he points
out. "Every twenty miles will help."
I pull my water bottle out of the bike bag and
plop down on the edge of the stone boat, with my feet resting on
Addie's crotch-friendly top tube. For a moment or two I sit there,
waiting for my pulse to ratchet itself down to normal, and while I sit
I regard my little red bike fondly. We've had a good year together,
Addie and me. She's taught me things I thought I was too old to learn.
She's taken me places I never thought I'd go. It makes me sad to think
that I've outgrown her -- that soon I'll be swapping her out [again] for something lighter and
leaner and more in line with the new goals I've set for myself -- but
perhaps she'll go on to be the catalyst for some other woman's magical
midlife transformation. I hope so.
But in the meantime ... Addie and I have a little
more riding to do.