I like to sweat. I need it.
Exercise is my mental health program, almost entirely. The actual health benefits take a distant second place to the stress relief I get from it. I suppose I’m
slightly addicted to the feeling of an elevated heart rate, as well as the fatigued satisfaction that follows a tough workout, but as habits go, I’m sure I could do worse.
I used to run when I was in high school and college, but my knees won’t let me anymore. I like the full body workout I can get on an elliptical trainer, and I love my Friday spin classes, taught by Pat the Perky Sado-Masochist / NICU Nurse / Bad-Ass, who believes in packing her 45-minute classes chuck-full of steep, virtual-muddy hills, and time trials. There are no downhills in her world, and she smiles and laughs her way through class while kicking the butts of all who dare to claim a flywheel.
Probably because of this, I recently rediscovered my bike.
The actual one, with wheels that touch the ground and move the bike from here to there.
I don’t know how to fix a flat. I can’t name or locate the parts of a bike beyond the wheels and gears and handlebars. Long parked in the garage with its ever-thickening coating of dust and partially deflated tires, seeing the sun only for the occasional leisurely ride with the kids, I finally took it out for a spin a few weeks ago.
Abby and Hannah were over at a friend’s house, either choreographing a dance routine for the camp talent show, or perhaps humiliating neighbor cats by forcing them to wear doll clothes and paper hats, so I asked Sam if he wanted to go with me. He said no, but I dragged him away from the computer and made him go anyway.
Given the choice, Sam will build Lego railroads and airplanes, or drive the Train Simulator from his computer chair for days at a time, so I wanted to get him outside for some exercise. I hadn’t been to the gym in a couple of days because of all the summer-kids-are-home-activities, so I also wanted to make the most of our ride through the streets, and went at a faster pace than our usual family roll through the ‘hood. He seemed to enjoy it in spite of his surprise at the pace (“HEY MOM! WAIT UP!”).
At about four miles, I looped by the house, giving Sam the option of doing another lap or stopping. He wasted no time telling me that, um, he was done, thank you very much, and in need of a Gatorade and some hammock time.
But that ride reminded me that cycling outside brings with it warm breezes in the face, sunshine and goldfinches and summer scents at every turn, like strawberry plants, barbecues, and freshly cut grass.
And downhills. Downhills!
So now I’m hooked.
I rode another four or five miles that day, and then eight or nine the next time. That became routine, so one day last week I rode twelve, just because I knew I could, and I because I thought double digits sounded cool. Yesterday, about halfway through my intended twelve miles, the number “eighteen” got lodged in my head, mostly because I just wanted to see what it would feel like to push it that far. And of course, once I got close to eighteen, I figured I’d make it an even twenty.
It took about 90 minutes, and it was a challenge to walk up the front steps once I got off the bike, but I loved that I did it.
20 miles! Woo hoo!
Not too bad for a confirmed doofus who, according to my mom, used to “trip over blades of grass,” and only very recently sustained injury while braving the treacherous terrain between the front door and my minivan.
One of the things I love about exercise is that I am in complete control, unlike much of the rest of my life, which often seems to set its own course and haul me along for the ride. There are obstacles I can overcome in almost every session, and goals I can reach, sometimes as simple as getting my butt out of the house and through a workout, even when I don’t feel like it.
That pattern and energy builds my confidence and makes me feel strong, and therefore capable of taking control of the rest.
I hated when my knees shouted a loud “NO!” to the running option a year or two ago; I don’t like admitting defeat. But biking is much easier on 41 year-old bones and joints, and although real cyclists know that 20 miles is roughly equivalent to a jog in the park, cycling mileage sounds far more impressive than the three or four miles that I could manage when I used to go out to run, beating up and breaking down my shins and knees and feet with every step on the hard pavement.
I like to sweat. I like the mental vacation. I like to push myself to see what I can do.
But before I take the bike much farther, I guess I need to figure out if I can fix a flat tire.