My body has accepted its 6-month old hip enough that I have resumed bicycle riding. Last week I rode to work and back two days, and yesterday I went out in rolling Maryland countryside on a glorious spring day for a 19 mile ride. That isn’t a very long ride by my previous standards, but given my recent restrictions it seemed like a hundred. I rode out near the Potomac River that has some tough hills.
I suppose I am more of a hill climber than a flatland rider. I have ridden in biking events on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where the entire route is flat as a tabletop. And I have ridden in the Colorado Rockies where we crossed the Continental Divide back and forth. The section from Vail up to Vail Pass, for example, is 18 miles long and entirely uphill. About the same distance as my entire ride yesterday. But I still like the variation. Riding for hours on level ground is boring to me. I like the ups and downs.
Riding a bicycle, you’re aware of the ups and downs much more. In order to ride efficiently, you have to look ahead and anticipate them. One of the most common rookie mistakes is getting caught on a steep hill in the wrong gear. You learn to look ahead, anticipate what’s coming up, and shift to a climbing gear in plenty of time.
Riding yesterday I was enjoying a fine downhill section: smooth pavement, no cars, lots of speed, nice curves. But as my adrenalin rose, reality put in a disclaimer. This will not last, and there will be a price to pay for it soon enough. Screaming downhills are followed by grinding uphills. Things tend to even out.
The only bicycling exception to this rule I ever met up with is on Mt. Haleakala on Maui in Hawaii. A company there will rent you a bicycle at the top of the mountain, let you ride it down, and pick it up and the bottom. Nothing but downhill. Coast all the way. I guess that sounds good to a lot of people. To me it sounds pretty boring. The ups and downs are more true to life.
My old professor friend had to play golf every time he came to town. One day we’d been invited by friends to play at one of the gated retirement communities nearby. We happened to be walking down the fairway together when chimes began to play. The chimes were playing “Nearer My God To Thee.” This struck us both the same way. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we both restrained the urge to laugh out loud. And his comment was this: “You know, Ed, this is okay for some people but not for me. The last thing I want to do is live all shut up with a bunch of old people waiting to die. I want to live where there are young people and children and a slice of life. I think you’re away, go ahead and hit.”
Well, I second that motion. Riding on the level is okay, but give me some ups and downs. Some protections are okay, but not when they insulate and isolate and choke us off.
A fellow bicycle commuter was killed in D.C. last week. Run over by a 5.5 ton army truck leaving the office about 6:00 p.m. Will I be more careful around the cars and trucks I ride with? Probably, at least for awhile. Will I play it safe and give up my bike? No way.