Saturday, July 19, 2008

time machine

My bicycle is my time travel vehicle. It takes me back in time to those days when I was able to roll for miles and miles. I used to run for exercise and bike for pleasure. These days I am way past running as a possible means of exercise, but my bike is still a viable choice for pleasure and now more than ever, exercise.

Today I can’t claim that walking, let alone running, is a form of exercise. My Parkinsons shuffle with cane as my prop marks me as the doddering old man I have become. I “walk” as a means simply of staying mobile and fighting off muscle rigidity that is one of the hallmarks of Parkinsons Disease. But when I get on my bicycle I am transported, not just down the road, but back in time to those earlier days when I took my physical abilities for granted. On my “walks” I am 60 going on 70. On my bike I am still 20 going on 30.

There was a time 30 years or more ago when I would ride almost daily for exercise. I would get home from work, eat something, and then get on my bike for a 20 mile workout. On several occasions on a Saturday or Sunday, I would start out early in the morning and ride all day until I had covered the 100 miles I needed to complete a “century.” I loved being outside and being physically capable of such feats. I basically took for granted that I was in good enough shape to do all that.

Now, while PD has robbed me of walking as a means of staying in shape, it has not affected my bike riding capability. I can still balance and handle the bicycle as I always did. I don’t ride as far anymore, 20 miles max, but I still ride. I still get the same pleasure form rolling down the road, eating up the miles, pumping hard up the hills and being rewarded with a fast coast down the other side. The roads here in the country around our lake cottage are ideal for biking, being mostly flat with only occasional hills to challenge an old cyclist like me. The blacktop two lane roads are mostly smooth and the paucity of cars or trucks makes them a safe place to ride right down the middle of the road.

I usually ride alone seeking only the company of my thoughts and the noises that nature sends my way. I love the hum of the tires on the road, the click of the gears changing, and the whoosh of air past my ears. But what I really love is the sound of birds singing and crickets chirping and critters scrambling through the grasses and trees along the road as I startle them with my sudden appearance. A vigilant eye is needed to spot the scurrying squirrels and raccoons and rabbits that dart across the road in front of me. Sometimes a deer or two will bound across the road in my path, but mostly on these hot summer days they are hunkered down in their shady bowers out of sight.

It is not unusual around here to encounter a flock of turkeys pecking their way along the roadside and then taking off in awkward and soon aborted flight when they see me coming. They are ungainly in flight, due most likely to lack of practice, but surprisingly graceful when they trot along the edge of the road looking for the hiding place that will save them form me. Still, their graceful sprint belies the fact that they are, to put it delicately, unattractive. Ok, ugly.

The Sandhill Cranes that populate this area are easy enough to watch in the fields from my vantage point on the road, but they tend to keep their distance, preferring to keep a judicious amount of space between us. They are vocal in their displeasure of my intrusion into their world, often squawking and cackling loudly for me to get away and quit staring at them. They move as slowly as I do when walking, their matchstick legs looking ridiculously fragile as they highstep their way to safety.

Every now and then a hawk will soar overhead on his way to lunch and I have even spotted an eagle presiding over his kingdom from a perch high in the upper reaches of the tallest tree.

While this area is sparsely populated, there are the infrequent homesteads tucked into the open areas between the tree farms and wild growth. It is at those houses that I become most vigilant, my every sense on high alert, because inevitably a crazed barnyard dog, intent on protecting his world from intruders, will come bounding out of nowhere, snarling and barking, warning me away with a viciousness that is astonishing. People around here refuse to restrain their dogs, opting for the watchdog version of their pets. I have had too many encounters of the canine kind while peddling on the roads here to take them lightly. Fact is, some of these dogs scare the living bejeepers out of me. Most of them I can race past before they know I’m there and can mount their attack, but sometimes they see me coming and salivate at the prospect of chomping a chunk out of my leg. So far I have avoided losing that chunk of leg, but I know sooner or later my time will come. Then you will have a tough time convincing me that dogs are man’s best friend.

So now I can still enjoy the freedom that my bicycle gives me despite the ravages of age and PD. When I get on my bike I am transported both back to the past and my earlier joy of riding and also into the future, knowing that I still have the ability to ride and live and enjoy the world around me. The only thing that will slow me down is a flat tire. Or maybe that one barnyard dog that manages to run me down.


Michael Manning said...

You are actually a young man, anyway Bob. But I find your observations to be spot on because many people do not take time "to smell the roses", let alone enjoy a good bicycle ride. My bicycle as a kid was a red Huffy and I tried in vain to make it a "hot rod". In the end, I settled for installing a Vroom toy motor and wiping out on the ice in winter with the throttle stuck on high. The pain of the fall was buffeted by my laughter at the "motor" running full board! Then there was my temporary obsession with Evel Knievel after seeing the embarrassing George Hamilton movie.

I would like a decent bike again! Stay with it, Bob!!!!

Len Smith said...

You can manage only 20 that's humor. I got the bike out of the basement and went for a nap. Then put it back , and went for a nap.