Easy (notsomuch) Rider

I’ve celebrated the last few days with the enthusiasm that comes with cooler temperatures and the changing of a season. Summer to Fall is my favorite transition of the year. I embrace the sudden crispness in the air, the color bursts appearing in the trees around me, and the smell of fireplaces slowly awakening nightly in my neighborhood.

Since my recovery from my back injury and bout with Sciatica, I’ve been exercising daily as part of my weight loss and fitness program. Mr. Cooper and I hit the greenway almost every morning. I’ve also rekindled my passion for cycling and have been riding just about every other day, anywhere from 10 to 45 miles. I joined an all women’s cycling group and have been riding with them semi-regularly. I’ve signed up for some charity rides this month and have been preparing accordingly.

I rode my bike the other day from morning until lunchtime – around 30 odd miles. I stood up and huffed and puffed over steep terrain, only to fly down the other side, front wheel shaking at 36 miles per hour while goosebumps prickled on my legs and upper arms. I rode around a lake and took in all the sights and smells and laughed at the large herons struggling against the morning wind to remain standing on logs and the shore. The water was choppy and even my bike rattled from side to side if I took one hand off the handlebars. My nose ran continuously and tears from my eyes flooded my ears but I’ve never felt so alive or so blessed. What a fantastic way to spend a morning.
Last week I decided to take my bike for a spin around the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. It was chilly and foggy but I assumed this would all burn off by the time I trekked out to the bike path. Wrong. Halfway through my ride it started to mist, which at the time I found quite refreshing. Fast forward around 30 minutes and it was a out and out downpour. Robbie Williams once sang, “the rain was never cold when I was young”. Well, Robbie, I’m here to tell you, it’s cold now. Cold, wet and miserable. At least it is on a bicycle clipping along at 18 miles per hour for over 15 miles. The rain flipped up off of my bike tire and onto my back and my entire body was soaked. The drops came in through my helmet and down into my eyes, making it a bit hard to see the actual road. All of this was pretty ridiculous, I know, but I found myself laughing as my legs powered one again over the other. What else could I do? Again, I felt so completely alive and present in that moment, cold and wet as it was.
Last night I spun down my driveway and decided to let my wheels take me wherever they wanted. I casually wove through my neighborhood streets and down to the riverfront. Folks were out running, walking dogs and riding bikes. Boats were lazily puttering down the river and it was a beautiful late afternoon. I rode up and down the boulevard, taking in all the Halloween decorations and displays. At the risk of causing sudden nausea, I felt so utterly and completely lucky. I rode slowly and deliberately, enjoying the sun on my cheeks and the breeze in my hair. I acknowledged every person I passed with a smile or a greeting. It was a wonderfully peaceful ride.
Tomorrow I am embarking on my first charity ride since Jack and Back, in 2007. I am participating in a Metric Century, set in the Smoky Mountains. A metric century is 62 miles. Now, I realize that doesn’t sound like a long ride, but trust me, when your buns are on a rock hard seat and you are pedaling for over 5 hours, it’s a long flippin’ ride. There’s something magical about these long big rides that’s hard to explain. I’m not sure if it’s rising before the sun to head out to the ride or the energy in the air when you arrive. There’s a certain camaraderie amongst the cyclists that’s usually a mix of healthy competition, commiseration and humor.
My favorite part is the start. I love the initial gathering, the variety of bikes and the random colors of attire. Someone usually sings God Bless America and it never fails to give my spine the shivers. I love the “ready”…”set”…and the sound of hundreds of folks “clicking” into their pedals. It’s a wonderfully out of tune cacophony. Then you’re off…a wildly diverse group of people that some would deem insane given their agenda, yet it’s a fantastic opportunity in which to be involved. I love the entire experience, from the initial adrenaline in my veins to the inevitable aching in my flesh.
Jesus, what I won’t do for a free t-shirt, eh?
So, here’s to tomorrow – let’s hope I finish on two wheels and not riding on four wheels – in an ambulance, for instance.

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