Ever since I was a boy, I have loved riding. It was always something that I could do well enough so that there was no fear or anxiety attached to the effort. It was, actually, effortless. There was no consternation over which team I’d be on, or whether these were the guys I was playing with during that embarrassing game when I passed the basketball to the guy on the other team just because he yelled “Here!” It was unadulterated fun, combined with the fact that I could go places. Even though it was the suburbs of Detroit, so everywhere I went looked pretty much like everyplace I’d been, it was still great to ride as far away as I could before it started to get late and I’d have to turn around. I’d often leave in the morning and just ride all day, alone or with friends, just picking a direction at random and riding, stopping for nourishment at the Dairy Queen. [Note for younger readers: This was the early part of the last century, when the only thing offered by DQ was soft serve “ice cream” in three flavors: White, Brown, Twisted (combination of white and brown). They were called “flavors” but really they all tasted the same, just different colors. Jimmy Hoffa is preserved in a vat of the stuff in a basement in Rochester Hills.]
The geography of Detroit was unique in that there were almost no hills at all. Whatever hills I did encounter in my youth were inevitably downhill, long stretches that allowed miles to roll by without the need to pedal. Detroit area winds were also uniformly favorable. I cannot recall ever encountering a headwind. The wind was always at our backs, always cool and refreshing. It didn’t rain in Detroit on the weekends back then.
I don’t recall ever actually getting tired. We came home because it was late, or some TV show was coming on in an hour that we couldn’t afford to miss because it would never appear again in our lifetime. Our parents didn’t notice when we left and didn’t notice when we returned, unless by some miscalculation we were late for dinner or were thought to be cutting the lawn all afternoon.
Bicycling is more difficult now. Though my Cannondale carbon fiber Lampre Caffita Team road racing bike weighs less than my socks, for some reason the combined weight of the bike and rider is now far more difficult to get moving than that old sixty pound Schwinn I used to ride as a teenager. As I leave, I feel obligated to announce to my wife that “I’m going for a ride now,” just so she’ll know to listen for sirens in the neighborhood. I also am careful to inform her of my safe return, mostly so she can release the open heart team at the nearby University Hospital from standby status, but also so that she can see how thoroughly exhausted and sweaty I’ve become because I’ve been riding my bike.
Geography has become my enemy. My house is always several hundred feet higher when I return–it must be, because all the hills go up, never down. Any brief downhill stretches are either over pavement too broken up to allow the enjoyment of momentum or are interrupted by red lights. Lights will not turn green unless I have been trapped in my cleated pedals and fallen over, having mistimed the light. This is accompanied by the sound of car horns. Occasional recommendations to buy a car or ride on the sidewalk. Ha! There are no sidewalks here, sucker.
The real problem now, though, is the lack of oxygen. I’m not sure if it has to do with global warming or the Denveresque elevation of Long Island, but after twenty minutes of riding I’m breathing like Yaphet Kotto in Alien, just before he gets eaten. And it’s always about a hundred degrees outside, except when it’s way too cold. And the wind–I mentioned the wind, right? It’s a strange circular wind that’s always straight in my face in gusts of like eighty miles per hour, going and coming back. But it’s an oxygen-poor wind.
Still, I love to ride. I just never had to worry so much before. Like my biggest worry (I have a list in my mind entitled “My Biggest Worry.” It currently has eighteen items.), which is that I’ll die in the next ten minutes, still dressed in these ridiculous Spandex riding shorts and my LiveStrong! bicycling jersey. We have volunteer firemen here in this rural, mountainous part of Long Island, no professional paramedics. I just know if they find me dead in this outfit, these guys are posting the picture to their Twitter feed. Not the way I want to go, or go viral.
I think I’ll take an aspirin now. It couldn’t hurt.