Age is an Advantage, not an excuse ~just sayin'

My ex has suggested that I am too old to be pumping out smoothies on a bike blender; which is funny, because I think he is too old to be dating teenagers. Just sayin'. In any event, his comment got me thinking, and I found myself doing a little research into aging and athleticism, with some rather surprising results.

For example, I came across a long-term University of California study examining the physiological and performance changes in active swimmers, cyclists and runners over the age of 40. Heres an excerpt from the University's web site:

“We initially expected to see our athletes gradually decline,” said Robert Wiswell, the study’s principal investigator and an associate professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy in USC’s division of Independent Health Professions, “but that hasn’t been the case.” On the contrary, he said, “the data show that high levels of activity appear to slow down the aging of muscles and help to maintain strength and performance.

"Laboratory tests taken every two years also show that the study’s subjects have lower cholesterol, less body fat and fewer risks of bone fractures, strokes and heart attacks, compared to the normal population.
Excellent health is key to observational aging studies like this, said Wiswell.
“When you talk about aging loss, one of the most important questions is: How much has to do with aging and how much has to do with disease?” he said. “If you can eliminate those with disease and then look at aging, you might be able to find more age-related changes than you would in the general population.”

Because cycling is a low-impact, non-weight-bearing activity, it's forgiving on the joints and can become or remain a fitness mainstay well after middle age, when aerobic exercise is known to delay or reverse the physiological effects of aging. Exercise improves reaction times, flexibility, heart function, muscle strength and lung capacity, blood pressure; while reducing the risk of stroke and increasing cognitive skills such as reasoning skills and memory. So, basically, babes wont keep you young and spry, but bikes can.

The U.S. Cycling Federation counts 1,273 racers over 55 among its 31,097 riders; as for noncompetitive biking, the Adventure Cycling Association reports that biking across America is shifting from a college kids' adventure to a retirees' dream trip. At League of American Bicyclists rallies, the gray-haired set usually outnumbers younger counterparts.

Among the athletes competing in the 2007 Senior Olympics is Marilyn Minnick 59, who began cycling in her mid 40's, and took up competitive cycling at age56. She first qualified to compete at the 2005 Senior Games, and will compete in the 2007 in Cycling (10K and 5K), and Discus. In describing thoughts on aging, Marilyn says, “Aging for me does not mean slowing down, but creating new adventures and new memories.”

Another Senior Olimpian, Tom Higginbotham, age 75, from Kentucky. Higginbotham has competed in Regional, State and National Games regularly since 1999. His primary sport is cycling, but he has also competed in swimming, track & field, and horseshoes. He has 62 gold medals, 22 silver, and seven bronze. Tom says that “if you’re going to be young – you gotta do the things that young
people do!” Tom prepared for the recent Louisville Regional Games cycle event by riding 143
miles in the 2-3 days leading up to the event.

So, although dating progressively younger women will not make one younger, increasing the time one spends biking (and blending smoothies), the better one's conditioning will become- at any age. Just sayin'.


"They See The Sky and Remember Who They Are"

I have two words for you: just two words ~are you listening?~ "Bike Camping"

When I gave up my car, I wondered if I would ever visit the wilderness again ~a far greater sacrifice in my mind than the forfeiture of continence, and ironic given that my primary reasons for going car-free were steeped in environmental responsibility. Time in wild places is, for me, akin to time spent breathing, and the longer I was away from the forest, the more I felt like those cows in that episode of Firefly: "They weren't cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot. Now they see the sky and they remember what they are." I have been waiting to remember who I am for about 5 years, and because of everything that has happened in those 5 years, I didnt even realize it. Wouldn't you know it: once again it is Portland's cycling community that is coming to my rescue.

Several of my fellow SHIFTies have come together to create Cycle Wild, it's mission: "to reconnect people with nature via the bicycle"! Was this created especially for me or what?! These excursions are fully human powered (no SAG wagon) trips that take full advantage of the many wilderness areas within 75 miles of Portland, and the fact that -in many cases- we can utilize Light Rail to shorten that distance.

Now, granted, I have made an art of avoiding hills while riding in town, my son's extended hospital stays have left me less than athetic, and since returning to Portland I have not ridden more than about 15 miles in one sitting; but now I have a goal, as well as a reason to live.

Happy Earth Day!

Mavericks that we are, Portlanders held their Earth Day Celebration today; and although I missed out on the Friends of Trees fruit trees (apparently they were gone before the event officially opened) I had an awesome time and got to reconnect with some friends I haven't seen in ages. Besides, any day spent in the saddle is a good one, and I spent the entire day on or next to my Xtracycle. Sweet.
I can not fathom what folks are thinking who DRIVE to Earth Day events. I am just sayin'

One of the few activities I had always ~however grudgingly~ acknowledged probably _did_ require a car was camping. Which is why I've not done it in years. But this is Portland, baby, anything worth doing can be done on a bike! Low and behold, there is a local group organizing bike camping trips! Yes, by that I mean we load our camping gear onto bikes, have a group ride to the camp site, and camp. I say "we" despite having not yet participated, but I am very much looking forward to it.

Looking back through this blog I was reminded that, in the beginning, I was tracking my bike miles, and Earth Day seems a perfect day to bring that back ~plus, it will help with my training for bike camping!

Today's Bike Miles: 15
Bike Miles this Week: 45
Car Miles this Week: 0

reducing my carbon footprint: priceless


Rumors of My Death Are Greatly Exagerated

"After changes we are more or less the same"

The Boy and I are both older, doing well, and making fewer trips to Seattle these days. We have survived much, including an extended hospital stay in which The Boy underwent injections, inspections, detections ~and major surgery.

I don't feel up to offering a complete re-cap of the past 2 years just at the moment: Come over some time, I'll pour us both some Bushmills and tell ya the whole tale.

In the mean time I just have to tell you this one piece of the story, because it is SO beautiful and SO miraculous ~and because it involves BIKES!

So, The Boy and I had been away for over 6 months, sequestered in a series of rooms, in the Labyrinth that is Seattle Children's Hospital. After all that time confined to bed, one of the countless challenges The Boy faced in his recovery was regaining the ability to walk. The tendons in the back of his knees had contracted, while his legs had grown, and he had lost an enormous amount of muscle tone and strength in his legs. He couldn't walk, let alone ride a bike. Exactly the kind of situation a teenager wants to find himself in while trying to re-integrate into society!

His complete dependency, and the amount of time he was having to spend with doctors and physical therapists, caused a terrible, and seemingly impenetrable, depression.

Meanwhile, Portland's amazing and eclectic cycling community had risen up around us in a way I can neither adequately describe, nor begin to express my gratitude for. It made the final scene of "It's A Wonderful Life" look like a study in apathy. I owe them nothing less than my son's life, as well as what remains of my sanity. Their love, support, and tireless fund raising made everything possible.

At one of the bike-themed benefits organized on his behalf, a friend of ours had brought his tandem recumbent so that The Boy could join us on the ride. Seeing my son on a bike for the first time in over a year was miraculous. More miraculous still was the effect *being* on a bike had on him: the clouds of depression that had obscured his spirit parted, allowing his courage and charisma to shine through. Despite the shortened tendons in his legs, he peddled with a conviction I had forgotten he was capable of, extending his legs further than he ever did in his Physical Therapy sessions. I left the ride certain of one thing: the kid NEEDED a recumbent.

I hate nothing more in this world than asking for help. Seriously. I will do anything, and everything, or just make do, before even considering seeking assistance of any kind from anyone under any circumstances. But, after exhausting all the other options: after our insurance declined to cover the cost of a recumbent (despite a letter from his physical therapist confirming the need for it), et cetera and so on; there remained the unalterable fact that the kid needed a recumbent, and getting it was going to require asking for help.

So, I approached "City Bikes", the worker-owned, collectively run bike shop I have been going to since before The Boy was born, and said "The Boy needs a recumbent, what can we do about that?" Their response was "We have ways of making things like this happen" and by some miracle, they did just that! The brilliant and talented Jonathan Maus of BikePortland was there to capture the moment when they presented The Boy with the specially ordered SUN recumbent.

In addition to a lovely writeup in BikePortland The Boy got a new lease on life, and an alternative to physical therapy sessions that were the bane of his existence. Now he has a way to exercise that focused on his interests and abilities, rather than his shortcomings.

Previously, when he went out in public with his wheel chair or, later, his walker, all anyone saw was the mobility device. On his bike, people saw an amazing kid on an awesome bike! Passers by would stop to ask him about his cool recumbent. Overnight he went from being a pariah to being a celebrity, and he made more progress towards mobility in his fist month on the recumbent than he had in the 3 month prior. Best of all, the smile I had been waiting to see gor over a year returned to my son's face.

That is the depth and breadth of the wonderfulness that is Portland's bikey community; and if I spent the rest of my life doing nothing but offering up my thanks, I could not begin to do justice to their generosity.


"Why Am I Soft In The Middle, When The Rest of My Life Is So Hard?"

Here is a stunningly embarrassing example of how I am not "all that"

Nursing this bum knee, and juggling all the insanity of The Boy's medical stuff, I have gone lazy and slack. There may be those out there who can hold to multiple commitments and obligations simultaneously, honoring each with their unwavering time and attention and letting nothing slip through the cracks. I am not among their ranks.
I get distracted. I can be nearly brilliant at just about anything, as long as thats all I am doing. But life intrudes: I get a handle on the Mom Thing, only to find I have dropped the ball on my own education; I get going with a plan for eating local, and loose my living room to a flood of clutter; I fine-tune the bike commute routine, only to blow out my knee.

I have been letting myself off easy on the cycling while I trying to mend my knee, and in the mean time a million other demands began tugging at my sleeves like needy children, including my own needy Boy. It is only in the past few weeks that I have begun to have faith that my knee might really be getting better, and it is still not 100%. So, I was not a great candidate for a chaleenging ride in the boonies.

It was an accident

Originally, the ride had been proposed by a member of my soup-swap group, who had the delightful idea of a pedal-powered berry picking trip to Sauvie's island, I could have gotten myself and my bike onto the island via the bus, leaving a leasurly and flat ride of fewer than half a dozen miles total, on flat familiar terrain.
That was a beautiful plan.

The plan evolved over time, under influences I still don't grock, shifting to a proposal for a ride leaving from a different point and heading a completely different trajectory, through uncharted territory. But still with the option of a mass transit assist for the first leg and still involving berry picking. Frankly, there were reasons to bail at this point: I had dropped the ball on finding child care, knew that The Boy wasn't keen to come along, and I had a million other things to do. But I REALLY wanted those blueberries. And I really wanted a break form my myriad obligations. I kinda wanted to run away, with or without my kid. Half a dozen miles was do-able . . .

The morning of the ride was like Murphy's Law run a muck. I cant even begin to tell you. The dryer had failed to sufficiently dry our clothes, so we were not ideally dressed for the freakishly hot weather; the bike-with-Trail-A-Bike I had intended for us to ride had technical difficulties, so at the very last minute we had to switch to the Xtracycle, the heaviest bike I own and one The Boy can not help pedal. It went on like that. All morning. A real argument could have been made for bagging it and staying home. A very good argument. I wasn't really thinking straight, I had a bit of a crush on one of the riders.

Of course, it might have helped if I had ingested even one carbohydrate before the ride. Instead, all I had was coffee ~talk about running on empty! I forgot that old credo of "be prepared", even more important for cyclists than scouts!
But then, when I left the house, I thought I was going to ride a mile or two to a U-pick farm where there would be plenty of fresh ripe goodies to nosh on.
Thats not what happened.

I did allow The Boy to get packaged snacks to take on the road (don't bother writing in about the environmental impact of packaging or how it is inconsistent to shun the petrol in cars but purchase it in packaging. I know. I know. I am failible, like the rest of the human race)

Unbeknownst to me, the destination had changed, again, and somehow, I got hoodwinked into a much, MUCH tougher ride than I had signed up for. I don't quite remember how. I think it had something to do with wanting to avoid embarrassment, an effort that failed spectacularly.

Along the way:
there was a flat tire.
there were many unspeakably steep grades and miles of bad road.
the tires on the bike I was riding went out from under me on a stretch of gravel
an empty bottle was tossed at me from a passing truck
I ended up walking the bike part of the way

It was so #@%*ing humiliating

Also, there were no blueberries, at any point; no berry picking of any kind at all.

On up side, I did buy the sweetest peaches I have ever tasted in my life and a flat of succulent raspberries from a road side stand, and met a farmer who turned out to be one of the kindest souls I have ever met. He even brought us bottled water from his house and refused any payment for it.

My knee seems to have survived the mad adventure with no ill effects, and I cant remember the last time I was so proud of my son, who also survived. We both got to face down an inexplicable adventure, and never once lost our cool with each other. Despite getting up close and personal with just how outta shape I am, I did manage to I secured fresh, local produce, purchased directly from the farmer, and ferried it home on the back of my bike -zero food miles!

So, if you were thinking that I have the "it" on this whole cycling/sustainable living/right livelihood thing: oh, honey ~so not true. I fall painfully short, in so many ways. But heres the thing: it is not about perfection, it is not about getting it right every time; it is about making an effort, and making the commitment to begin where we are, and do our best in the circumstances we find ourselves in. We begin here. It begins with you and me, in all our imperfections.


The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

By Berry, Wendell

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


City to City

The Boy and I have been making the trek from Portland to Seattle by train with such frequency and duration that I recently mused to someone that I was loosing my sense of which end of the junket was home and which the visit. It has been interesting learning to navigate a new town car-free: both cities have their own charms, advantages and disadvantages when it comes to cycle-centric travel.
Along the way we are learning a great deal about traveling with bikes ~and traveling in general.

If your main purpose is tourism, then arriving with your bike by train in either of these cities can be a great way to get around the downtown core and see a lot of sites, peddling allows you to take in the sites in a way that driving just can't, it is easy to make quick stops when something catches your eye or strikes your fancy, asking for directions from passers by is greatly simplified, and there are no worries about parking when you get to a spot you want to linger at.

Our experience has been that the secrete to taking bikes on Amtrak is maintaining a calm, matter-of-fact attitude when interacting with the railway staff. Think Obi Wan Kenobi in the original Starwars film. When one Amtrak employee bulked at our trail-a-bike, I used the Obi voice as I assured him that "they uncouple and hang on the bike racks, it's never been a problem"

Aside from that, there are the basics: make your reservations as early as possible, arranging for the bike[s] at the same time you purchase your ticket. You will be issued tickets for your bike[s] as well as the humans in your party.
Arrive at the station half an hour to an hour before your train is due to depart, check in. Assure them you have taken your bike[s] dozens of times and it has never been a problem. In our case, it has gotten to the point where this one particular baggage guy will come over if he spots us, and load our bikes for us. Sweet.

Folks in Portland do not seem to fully believe me when I describe the hills in Seattle. Hear me now and believe me later: the hills go straight up! Riding up Pine street from Pike Place Market requires one to defy the laws of physics. Oh, you laugh now, but just you wait!

Luckily, the buses in Seattle are great, as are most of their drives, and they serve well as the cyclist's equivalent of a ski lifts. A few pointers:
If you have bike buckets on your bike's front rack, under no circumstances should you leave them on the bike when it is loaded onto the bus racks. You just cant imagine the carnage that can ensue Remove the buckets before the bus arrives, load you bike onto the buses rack, and carry your buckets inside.
If you come across a bus driver who refuses to allow you to bring your folded trail-a-bike into the bus, remember 2 things: 1) mean people are suffering inside, this individual deserves your compassion -ok, tolerance; and 2) the folded trail-a-bike can, if need be, ride on the bus's rack. If at all possible, load the trail-a-bike in the spot nearest the bus (not necessary, but it gives you a margin of error) , hook the rack's arm over the folded trail-a-bike (I will try to get a photo for ya), say a silent prayer for the grumpy, unreasonable driver. Your bikes will be fine and you will soon be free of this suffering soul -they, on the other hand, have to live with themselves permanently.

Oh, and as to not knowing which end of the junket is home: shortly after returning from our last trip to Seattle, my bike was stolen. I still had the Xtracycle (thank goodness), but I can't use that one for the trips to Seattle, and we had another appointment in less than a month. I reported the theft to all the appropriate authorities, and then -as is the custom in this cycling community- posted the theft to a couple of local listservs, as well as posting “stolen bike' fliers around town. We do this mainly to have more eyes out there watching for the missing bikes, and make it harder for thieves to fence stolen bikes.

Anyway, several folks who know me, know the boy, and know how desperately important our trips to Seattle are leapt to action and before I knew it I had 2 bikes to replace the one.

The first replacement bike is an old school Raleigh designed for racing, it is the lightest and nimblest bike I have ever ridden which apparently had be languishing in someones basement when they heard I needed a bike. It gets me places in record time, but doesn't handle being loaded down with cargo at all. We took it to Seattle once, where it became clear that -for all it's charms- this was not our going-to-Seattle bike.

I didn't want to complain about a gift bike, but I couldn't afford to replace the stolen mountain bike, when Peter at City bikes came riding to my rescue like the proverbial white Knight. He had picked up a second hand Jamis Mountain bike, very similar to my missing KMS, which I suspect he was originally planning to fix up for the shop to sell, instead he fixed it up for me and refused to accept a cent for it. Yeah, this is home, and this cycling community is family.