Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Like Riding a Bike

What has happened to me? I’m addicted.

It started about nine months ago, innocently enough. I’d been looking for a couple of years for a new sport to get into. But I’d had no success, mostly because of my knees. They’re 44 years old. The rest of me feels more like I’m in my early 30s, but my knees are as old as my driver’s license says I am, and then some.

Volleyball? No. No burn, and kind of dull, and too much jumping for my joints to stand. Basketball? Fun! But… the knees. Softball? Did that for many years, kind of done now. Running’s been out of the question for decades. Swimming, great workout, but I’m sorry. It’s b-o-r-i-n-g.

Then I began thinking... In my teens, I was quite taken with road cycling. I did youth hostel tours around the country. I logged crazy miles in Central Park, yes right there in the middle of Manhattan, getting up early on weekends to enjoy the empty bike path, devoid for the day of aggressive cab drivers. I drafted local racers just to see if I could. I spent spring afternoons disassembling my bicyle down to the ball bearings and re-building it – me, a very non-mechanical intellectual Jew from Manhattan. The bike had offered me, a thoroughly undistinguished athlete, passage into the land of the modestly accomplished.

But that was ages ago, I thought. Still… They do say that biking is good for the knees.

The only road bike my local bike shop rented out was a 20-year-old Univega, which seemed appropriate. About the same vintage as my first road bike, and about the same cheapo provenance, too.

It was a little too big for me. It had been 26 years since I’d ridden a bike more than a mile or two, and that maybe twice. I swung a leg over and ventured onto the neighborhood bike path. I rode eight miles or so. And I had a blast.

Eight miles is not much by my current standards. But more important than the distance: About 60% of the way through my out-and-back route, I found myself in an eerily familiar state, a kind of body-trance. My legs dancing rhythmically ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and ‘round. The annoying mental muzak, which usually runs non-stop in my head, settled to the bottom of my awareness and my mind took on a luminous clarity. Total synchrony of purpose: body and mind one reality, indistinguishable, with liberty and justice for all.

This feeling, friends, is the very definition of velophoria. And it was eerily, sexily familiar, after 26 years of absence -- yet also fresh. In case you haven’t figured it out: I was back in love.

It was the beginning of the end. Or maybe just a new beginning. It depends on whether you ask my wife or me. I haven't stopped riding since, through the turgid New England winter and back again into the warmth. I've spent scandalous numbers of hours deciding what new gear to buy -- and spent more on that gear than I have on anything in years. I obsess about injuries that keep me off the bike. I research training ideas or bike repair tutorials. I've shed pounds, felt happier and more confident, and discovered a new part of the world. I've met lots of people, on the bike and on Internet cycling forums, and even made some friends.

End or beginning, I'm hooked.

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