Riding the Rails (to trails)

Cheryl and I did a half day on the bikes yesterday, peddling through the flat rural landscape of north Florida. We did an out-n-back along a twenty mile stretch of paved trail, converted from an old rail line between Keystone Heights and Palatka, FL. It was my first ride of forty miles (or more) in at least four years – and late-forty legs REALLY felt the last five miles. But it was a great ride. Some folks find the long straightaways a bit monotonous, but I find ‘em hypnotically peaceful. The air was cool (for FL), the wind was calm, and the soft whir of spinning spokes and churning chain made it easy to forget the rest of the world for a few hours.

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Forgive me

Forgive me Father for I am considering sin.

My neck isn’t any better than it was almost a year ago. While I haven’t given up hope my issues above the shoulders will improve one day, it’s time to stop waiting. It’s time to start doing. It’s time I started exercising again.

We interrupt this post for a moment of rationalization.

It’s not that I haven’t been trying. Here’s just a couple inspiring examples of damn near heroic perseverance: I’ve tried increasingly short walks, scaling down every time it started to hurt. I tried easy skating, thinking gentle gliding would be less traumatic than the up/down pounding of walking. My reward? Suffering more pain for days afterward.

We return to the post, reality in progress.

My Doc says walking isn’t the best choice, due to the range of stressors placed on the neck (side to side, up and down, etc). When I mentioned skating she just shook her head with dismay. She must think I fall a lot, constantly pushing my limits. I don’t know what gives her that idea.

She recommended bicycling – or more precisely: riding an exercise bike. If you’re doing it right (is there any doubt I do it right?), there’s little upper-body movement at the lower effort levels.

The Problem(s): I have a road racing bike. I love my road racing bike. I may never be able to ride my road racing bike again. The bent-over, aerodynamic riding position puts a strain on my neck. Stupid pride prevents me from selling it for a heavy, upright clunker. Stupid pride prevents me from riding a heavy, upright clunker.

The less rational problem(s):
Yes, it can get worse.
A stationary bike represents all that is evil in this world. Bicycling is an adventure, more intimate than a car but taking you further than your feet. A stationary bike is a terrible tease of the adventures in life not taken. It’s like an indoor porch or a computer without the Mac OS. They’re useless, but rendered so intentionally – adding an absurd quality to each.

The Problem (condensed): me.

That said, I’m considering the unthinkable: defiling my beautiful bike by rotating the bars up 180 degrees, bullhorn style. The 1970s will be calling, asking for their bike back. Worse, I’m considering riding it indoors (on my trainer) wearing a cervical collar.

To recap:
Neck still hurts.
Determined to exercise.
Stationary bikes evil.
Too much misplaced pride.
Sleek bike defiled.
Riding indoors anyway, looking like a commercial for an injury attorney.

I’m nowhere near a thousand words but there’s NO chance you’re getting a picture, so this will have to do.

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Anyone who knows me won’t have any trouble believing I like new gadgets. We have a semi-regular upgrade cycle on our Macs. I have feelings for my iPhone that probably aren’t healthy. The letters “TV” are synonymous with “DVR” in our house. Wi-Fi and bluetooth aren’t just wireless technologies, they are a way of life.

But here’s something you may not know about me. There are times I like my old stuff better than newer alternatives. I’ve been carrying around the same umbrella since college. The material that’s exposed when it’s folded is so uniformly dirty it looks like part of the design when it’s open. I’ve carried only one bag to work, slung over my shoulder, it’s weathered leather exterior originally a graduation gift for Cheryl, which she eventually decided she didn’t need. So it’s filled another. I like to think of it as a reflection of myself: a little beaten up, but still solid and unbroken.

And then there’s my bike, an old aluminum framed model aptly branded: Trek. I know folks have older rides, but it seems inconceivable I’ve had it this long… twenty years and thousands of miles. I only wish I had the opportunity to bring it with me to more places. As it is, it’s brought me more peace and wonder than any thing I’ve owned. What little travel I’ve done, I’ve often had my bike with me. I’ve been up and down parts of both coasts of Florida, past long stretches of mangroves bursting at the seams with life – enclosing small inlets of calm, the sky so blue reflected on it’s surface, that even the simple contrast of two colors: blue and green, make you want to stop and hold your breath, lest the noise disturb something so peaceful – so right. The hypnotic whir of chain and gear, of rubber on road, accompanied me on the deserted sunrise roads of island parks and nature preserves, past the infant like dunes of the Gulf coast, seas of oats dancing together in the wind nearly obscuring another, more vast sea beyond.

I’ve explored some of the little history we have on the southeastern coast, my bike making me feel like a sponge dripping full with the essence of a place. I’ve squeezed through the tight spaces of places like St Augustine, imagining long dead Spaniards building the coquina structures that stand today, much as they did more than 400 years ago. I rode the pre-Katrina streets of New Orleans, from the sometimes unpleasant smells of the old town, atop the levies overlooking downtown, to the sometimes bone jarring streets of the garden district, looping down around Audubon Park and its hardwood canopy filtering the glow of the departing sun.

When my mind drifts from chores or monotonous tasks at work, it often takes me back to my bike, but to places yet to be experienced on two wheels. I imagine exploring the country roads of my ancestors, places like central Pennsylvania, northern Vermont, and the small towns of Massachusetts near the New Hampshire border. I imagine a slow pedal along the far northeastern coast, where the Gulf Stream no longer warms the waters, and cool wind catches a naturalized southerner unprepared blowing inland. I imagine just getting on and going, finding towns as I arrive, not knowing the names until my wheels cross the borders marked by signs.

Maybe I’m a sentimental fool, but I can’t imagine replacing these things. They’ve come to feel like appendages, no more replaceable than a hand or a leg.

Or a heart.