My bicycle is celebrating its 21st birthday this year. In some ways, I feel like it’s a birthday for me, too, because I believe this very same bike may have saved my life. I credit it with the surprising and sudden disappearance of a thyroid nodule that could have been cancerous. I’ll never know, and neither will my doctors, because I was lying on the gurney waiting to be wheeled in for the biopsy when an ultrasound revealed that it was gone. I got to go home without any holes in my throat. The next day, I was back on the bike.
This poor old bicycle has moved with me something like twenty times. We’re on something like its fifth set of tires, second seat, second set of grip shifts, second quick-release, second chain, fourth set of brake pads, third headlight, second tail light, and even a second lower bracket, because the first one was filled with water when they did our last tune-up. I’m ashamed to admit that my dear old bike spent the past year on the porch, mere yards from the cruel salty sea. I hadn’t been for a ride in something like three years.
I called a local bike shop that offers free pick-up and delivery. Since my husband and I no longer have a pickup truck, it was this or push my flat-tired old rust bucket a mile and a half down the road. When the repair guy came to get it, one of the brake pads actually fell off. So that was embarrassing.
They came back a week and a half later. Repair guy lifted my old bike out of the back of the truck. The light hit it, and it gleamed a deep red, just like the day I first saw it in the warehouse. My bike, Old Paint. A frisson of delight and excitement hit me.
Hey! There you are!
Monday morning, I set off on my first ride. Two miles and a bit, straight up a grinder of a hill to my martial arts gym.
I was a mess. I was leaving late and I didn’t realize that my helmet and all my other gear were still packed away in a storage tub. Executive decision: Be careful and get it out when I get home. My center of gravity was off, and every time I came to a stop light I’d feel like I was going to tip over sideways. When I would pass another bike going the opposite direction, I’d instantly have this strong visual that we were going to smash into each other head first. The only thing that really went well was that I still remembered my hand signals.
Then it came time to lock up. I had to go around the building looking for the bike rack I hadn’t thought to scope out in advance. Then I had to remind myself of how to position my bike so that the U-lock would go around both the rack and the frame.
I walked into the gym, late, with the crotch of my tights sweated out and looking very not glamorous at all.
The return trip was downhill. A couple of times, I got off and walked, because I felt like I was just going too fast.
That’s fair, because I had to get out and push uphill a few times, too.
By the time I came home, I had ridden almost five miles. That was enough to reawaken my forgotten identity as A Bike Commuter. A Cyclist. An adult child, tooling around on a bike known as Old Paint. My seat was adjusted to the right height and it just felt right, like comfy pajamas if they made your butt hurt later.
That’s the tricky part. The next morning, when I got back on the bike, I remembered exactly what it means to feel saddle-sore.
I know exactly where my hip bones are!
Every single time that I’ve quit riding my bike for an extended period, I’ve had to suffer through a few days of saddle soreness. Every single time, I “remind” myself not to let this happen. “I should at least sit on the bike in the living room, even if I’m not riding anywhere. Just sit there and read a book or something.” Ha. It never happens. No matter what type of exercise you choose, the easiest thing in the world is to quit doing it, never noticing the 1% fade from day to day to week to week to year to decade. Until you try to get back on that horse, and then you do.
I found my helmet and my gloves and my panniers and my handlebar bag and the extra keys to my U-lock. I had to wipe everything down, because it was, heartbreakingly, covered with dust. Like my hopes and dreams of one day completing a triathlon.
We got rid of our car over a year ago, which is relevant. My husband bought a folding bike a few months ago, and he’s been using it to get between bus stops. Since my bike was a rust bucket on the porch, I hadn’t been able to go anywhere with him. Now that I’m back on the bike, we can go together. It expands our ambit and the types of things we can do as a couple. With my panniers, I can do more types of errands, carrying more types of loads. Most importantly, I’m cutting my transit time to and from the gym in half. Being back on the bike is a positive in every way.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.