There is something about a bicycle that encourages me to try things I never would before. From the moment I climbed onto the saddle and gave it that first push a part of my brain that had been asleep for years woke up and said ” HEY! lets go further! lets go faster! lets go harder!” I was hopelessly out of shape, (I’m still out of shape, but now not hopelessly so) and yet the third day I owned my new bike I decided to ride 10 miles. In Pittsburgh this leaves you with two choices; the first is to ride in a circuit that is relatively flat, it ends up being fairly boring to see the same sights over and over every 5 minutes, but at least you are not climbing some monster hill. The other choice is to bike the hills as they come, and lord let me tell you, they do come.
So on that day I took a route which was basically downhill all the way to a trail the city had thoughtfully provided out of an old railroad route, since it runs past the city jail its called the jail trail. My legs did fine the whole way there, but my lungs and heart protested at these new demands almost immediately, “fuck you guys” I thought, and rode. Now, even the most basic of minds can grasp that when you go down hill a bunch that eventually. . . probably soon. . .you will have to go up hill quite a lot too. And i did. Long gradual hills that sapped me with every pedal stroke, and 30 degree monsters that loomed over and laughed at the fat ass and his puny gears, even the granny gear was like trying to run a marathon on your knees. . hopeless.
Twice I stopped on the way home, my chest on fire, my lungs heaving, a dull throbbing ache in my head that I realised was my poor heart struggling to keep oxygen going to my atrophied arteries and muscles. I sat next to my bike and wondered what the fuck was wrong with me!? Why would I subject myself to this, I’m an old fat guy, I should give up, I should accept the fact that Ive decided to be smart and funny and NOT athletic a bit. In fact Ive spent a good part of my adult life mocking physical accomplishments! I recently even had the terrible realization that I had not actually run in years. . .did I even know how anymore?
But I was in the middle of nowhere and nothing motivates you like the lack of choices, so I got on again and rode toward home. One more time on that first big ride I had to dismount and walk up a steep-as-fuck hill , and not that anyone gave a shit what I was doing, but as the cars drove past me I had the unbidden thought “man, I hope they think I have a flat” and took some solace in the fact that Id only ever seen bikes being walked up this particular hill. . .
That was a month ago. I’ve probably put a hundred miles on my bike since then, which is not really a lot to some folks, but I can already see and feel the difference. A couple days ago I rode an even longer circuit around the city. I took leisurely detours just to look at areas I had never seen when I wasn’t zooming past in a car at 30 miles per hour, I rode in the mix with downtown traffic, slamming on my breaks and my back tire skidding in that satisfying way to dodge cars and buses, I hit the jail trail from town back toward those same long climbs and the sudden behemoth hill between me and home. I didn’t stop where I had the first time, I was sapped, but my body wasn’t about to collapse anymore, I stood up on the pedals and powered through the last of the tiny rise, past the rock I sat on and wanted to give up. I was breathing hard and my thighs ached but I didn’t stop because I didn’t need to anymore. In a month my body had become better and I knew it. When I got to the monster hill I had recovered a little so I stood on the petals again and crushed as much as I could, about halfway up my gas ran out and I had to stop. I was huffing like a freight train but there was none of that feeling of “I think I’m about to have a stroke” that usually happens when I do anything more strenuous than opening a jar of pickles. I looked back and there was another guy at the bottom of the hill walking his bike. I drank some water, let my breathing get closer to normal, got on again before he was even close to me and rode the rest of the way up. I secretly loved that guy in that moment.
I was so fucking proud of myself. I rode to the Starbucks Cara works at and sat there sweating and grinning and I just wanted to tell everyone, “Hey i just rode 15 miles!” or “Didja know there is a riverfront trail from the strip district to downtown?” or “I almost made it all the way up Neville from Panther hollow!” Then I took a shower and rode to work.
How fucking COOL is that!? I did all this before work!
I wanted to go right back out again. I always do on my bike, I want to go so far that people who don’t ride bikes will either be amazed or think I’m lying whenI tell them i rode 10 or 15 or 20 miles today. I want to push the envelope of my body because it is at such a great pushable state. At their peak, a professional racer can shave seconds off their time, they can add to their endurance times in minutes. Me? I can shave my bike commute to work time in half, I can double or triple my ability to go without stopping, I can and will climb those giant hills, at the end of a ride, in the heat and I will do them without stopping. I can feel it getting nearer, and the more I notice how much better I feel the more I want it.
When I bought my bike I thought only in terms of convenience, of riding to work or to the store. I never would have guessed that a simple machine would do what no amount of self-loathing or advice from friends or even common sense had done for me and that is to motivate me to push further, faster, and harder.