Aging Without Grace

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One part of aging is watching yourself become the things you once disdained. The other part is this realization, which would have horrified me in my thirties, simply amuses me at fifty. Back in the day, so to speak, I rode a silver Cannondale road bike but eschewed “roadie” culture: no lycra, padded shorts, team jerseys, matching water bottles for me. I simply loved the light fast quick-shifting machine, but despised the “trappings” of sport. The only thing I was trying to outrun was depression in those days and the CAAD 8 was a means to that end. In that it was pretty succesful; in combination with therapy and a short-term medication regime I managed to climb out, but I refused to wear the uniform of clipless shoes and bibs; particularly the bibs. Nothing in my purist thirties mind  was more horrifying than the these clingy jumpsuits; they were ugly, ungainly, expensive and unwashable, the last a very ironic attribute for clothes designed to sweat in.

With my marriage and new family there was less time for biking. With a child who never slept through the night until 3 and an undiagnosed medical condition there was less energy for it too. Compounding that was my love of food; I kept eating like a person who cycled  twenty miles three to four times a week and fifty on the weekends. I have always been on the large side of road biking, and eventually I came to worry about breaking the poor beast that had carried me so many miles. Buying a house gave me the excuse I needed to let it quit hanging on my wall. I sold it to a man getting back into cycling as his kids were all in school and wanted a relatively cheap alternative to start. That bike, along with the sale of a motorcycle and a bunch of rifles made up a large part of the down payment on the farm.

The child eventually slept through the night; though she still either falls asleep with me or ends up in the bed about a third of the time. The medical condition now managed and my diet finally in alignment with reality started getting me close to road-bike weight. A bike my size appeared on craigslist in the direction I was headed and on a lark I emailed the owner; apparently I amused him and he held the bike until I was able to get it  jamming it into the car on top of the mountain bike I hauled around to work out on I headed off down the road. The first ride was bliss; bicycles like motorcycles are more an extension of your body than a car might be. It was like putting on the perfect glove and making a fist; it was in fact eerily familiar until I realized that I had bought a bike nearly identical to the one I had sold.

As the miles slid by, first ten at a time then fifteen to twenty and thirty I started to realize the need for something better in the way of pants; namely something that kept them on my ass. Having always gained weight in my gut first and lost it there last, the resulting topography was… well an issue for pants. Looking online it turned out bike bibs had gotten cheaper. To make a long story short, or at least shorter, I now have three because my wife insists they be washed with some regularity if I want to store them in the house,and at twenty dollars a pair I dont care if they wear out faster as it is a small price to pay for some amount of marital bliss. So here I am at fifty wearing bike bibs hauling my ungainly but now lycra covered (key part: covered) ass up and down the hills of Oregon. I still eschew the team jersey but there is still time to fall further I suppose, and now my water bottles match.

If you are blessed with none of these issues and are aging gracefully I am happy for you; Godspeed and fair winds. Grace has never been my virtue; everything I have overcome in life has been with sheer force and vitrolic vocabulary. If you are also struggling with one or more of these things; they often pile like downed trees after a landslide and picking out a starting point is tricky I am here to tell you there is hope, and there is help. It starts by realizing that things are not working; a year ago my plan was to early retire because I have seen enough fat old guys die six months after retiring and I wanted a few years of peace before joining them. Now I am thinking of what my next career after retirement will be. It hasn’t been easy or simple but with medical help and realistic planning there is hope, some at least.

My advice after the problem is noted is to identify it’s parts; for me it was health, diet, exserize in that order. Then begin working on them in order;  I failed to do that and ended up sidelined for weeks with an injury so let me be your cautionary tale; don’t try and do that. As we age we have less force and need more leverage- work smarter not harder the old guys say and they have a point.

A few weeks ago I saw my reflection in the glass at a country store where I had stopped for break: tall graying, sweaty in the late autumn warmth, half way on loop through the coastal hills. This was the person I would have rather died than become fifteen years ago, but there I was looking back at me. Then I noticed the sign above the bike that read “No Bicycles on the sidewalk” and realized that while some things change, some things don’t: I am still kind of an asshole, but aware of my nature at least.

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