Cycling holds rewards for the persistent

Whenever someone leaves their desk here at The Beachcomber, I sneak over to their keyboard and try and get an article in the paper, and this week it worked. And as I plod through my 15 minutes of fame, I typically yammer on about cycling.

Finally, the sun has graced us with its presence, and not a moment too soon. I’m not saying I was going stir crazy, but when I first heard about the book “Fifty Shades of Grey” I just assumed it was about the weather on Vashon. These last days of brilliant sunshine have given me hope that our long, sunless hiatus has ended. With the days longer and warmer, it’s time to wade through the garage detritus and pull out the bicycle.

If you will indulge me for a moment, I will tell you why cycling is just about the best thing in the world. First of all, cycling is like sex: You don’t have to be good at it to enjoy it (however, unlike sex you can show someone how to ride a bike in your neighborhood cul-de-sac).

Secondly, it’s an easy-on-the-joints activity that you can do your entire life. If you don’t believe me, listen to 100-year-old Robert Marchand, who last year said, “I did a little better than I hoped. However, the going was tough in the last few kilometers.” Robert had just completed a 62-mile ride in 4 hours and 17 minutes!

I like cycling because it can be done as a solo effort, offering hours of quiet reflection, or as a group ride, where the shared effort promotes a feeling of camaraderie. Riding a bike is different from other forms of exercise in that it has utility. You can derive all the benefits of improved cardiovascular fitness, weight control and stress relief while getting something else done such as buying groceries, visiting a friend or commuting to work. It’s almost exercise by accident.

No doubt there are some people reading this with a raised skeptical eyebrow thinking, “ I’m not in good enough shape” or “I’ll start after I lose some weight.” Unfortunately, that perfect moment in the future when you are ready to start exercising will never come. I know this all too well.

As faithful readers of The Beachcomber will know, about four years ago, I was working in Washington, D.C., selling software to the military, not a bad job but not a great job. I realized it was a job that after 20 years I could look back and say, “meh, so what.” I also realized that males in my family have a shelf life of about 50 years. So at 49 years old and 100-plus pounds overweight, I sold most of my worldly belongings and struck out, very slowly, on a 4,000-mile bicycle trip across the country. A trip that included visits to the foreign lands of Canada and Mississippi as well as every friend’s couch I could think of.

I won’t lie; there were times when it wasn’t pretty. I remember one day in particular somewhere in southern Ohio grinding up the umpteenth hill of the day all the while cursing a headwind. My stop for the night was over this last hill, and I was absolutely exhausted. I creaked to a halt and stood slump shouldered straddling my bike with arms slung over the handlebars, gulping air. I looked at the top of the hill in despair. I couldn’t imagine moving another inch. Then I saw something so unexpected that I briefly forgot my burning legs. Halfway up the hill was a store, “Gumby’s Cigarette World.”

Wow, how the mighty had fallen. The one-time claymation icon of Saturday morning television was now selling smokes in rural Ohio. If I had been Gumby and seen my superstardom slip through my weird hands, I am convinced I would have said, “goodbye cruel world” before jumping into a Play Doh press, but not the real Gumby. His is made of sterner stuff, metaphorically anyway. Gumby pulled himself up by the bootstraps. Well, Gumby really doesn’t have bootstraps because he doesn’t really have feet, but you know what I mean.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “if Gumby didn’t give up, then neither will I.” And with that I put foot to pedal and made it over the hill. Inspiration can come from the most unlikely quarters.

So get inspired, get a friend to bike with you or take a class or just hop on your bike and simply ride to the end of the street and back. You will be amazed at how quickly one street becomes two and two becomes around the block, and before long you be exploring places on this beautiful island you didn’t know existed.

— Chris Austin is The Beachcomber’s circulation manager and a writer. His books are available at www.chrisaustinbooks.com.

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