We all have different reasons for getting on a bike. For some of us, it's the thrill of racing -- maybe for money, a medal, or just bragging rights on the Tuesday night group ride. For others, it's how we get to work, school, shopping, and grandma's house. For ultra riders, it's a personal best on a 400K, or a 1200K without sleep. For the group out noodling in the country, it's an opportunity to experience the world more intimately than you can passing through it in a car.
But, for almost all of us, there's that "health" reason. We started riding to lose weight, get fit, bring our blood pressure down, or recover after cancer treatments. Maybe we can't live forever, but getting in shape allows us to make the most of the years on this planet that we do have.
Sometimes, part of that "experience the world" thing that I mentioned above is experiencing the pain of a long climb or a ride that's just on the edge of your pace, or maybe it's the pain of road rash when your wheel slides out on a wet corner, or the broken collarbone when you smack the ground a little harder.
Pain is integral. You cannot appreciate the sweet without the sour. The joy of seeing the sun rise on the third day of that 1200K, knowing that you're only 40 miles from the finish, is the payoff for the cold night before when you couldn't find a spot on the saddle that didn't bring tears to your eyes. It is the long hours of training at stupid wattage while your quads burned that put you on top of the podium in the spring, making you feel like a god atop Mount Olympus.
It's yinging your yang. It is balance.
I'm out of balance.
I feel great. Maybe a few too miles for this early in the year, but the weather has been incredible, even for south Florida. I may be stronger than I've ever been, at least for late February.
Last week, I had a regular checkup. Well, not really a regular checkup, since they did a whole bunch of tests on me that I don't normally get. It's not like we were worried about anything, however; it's just a thing that RandoGirl's employers offer to their employees -- and their spouses. So, we thought, hey, let's run the old body through the diagnostic system.
To be honest, I was looking for bragging rights. I wanted them to test me and go, "Holy crap! You're 53 years old?! That's inconceivable!"
And, on most things, that's what they said. For example, on heart and lungs, if I get killed in an accident and you are on the list for a new one and you get mine ... well, you're one lucky sumbitch. Same goes for kidneys and liver and most of the rest of my stuff. As an organ donor, I will be a bountiful harvest.
My hearing was normal, but I consider that pretty good for someone who's been drumming in bands since he was 16. And my skin was not showing too much damage, which is darned good for somebody who spends way too much time outside riding a bike.
And then we talked about my bone density.
Regular readers of this blog know that I -- like most cyclists -- have had my share of unintentional dismounts. There was this one, and this one, and this one, and there were a couple before I started this blog that I never told you about. At one of those earlier crashes, I separated my shoulder -- tearing all of the tendons -- but didn't break any bones. In fact (and people shudder when I say this, because it's tempting fate), I have never broken a bone in my life. Really. And that's through years of being a big clumsy oaf, and years of training and competing in martial arts, where I got whapped a crap ton.
To be honest, I'd almost started to wonder if I was Wolverine from the X-Men, and my memory had been erased so that I didn't recall having a skeleton of adamantium.
Too bad they couldn't get someone as handsome as I am to play me in the movie.
Anyway, according to the bone density scan, I was full of it. Or, actually, not full of it. Calcium that is.
In case you haven't been following the research, lately scientists have found that endurance cyclists lose bone density. Part of it's because cycling isn't weight-bearing, so that your lower back and hips don't feel the need to be ... well, dense. Another part is that we lose calcium from sweat, and don't take in enough while we're working out. It turns out that the body is like a heroin addict in a lot of ways. If it wants something, it goes out and gets it -- and not always from the best place. So, when you don't have calcium in the foods you've been eating and drinks you've been drinking, the body steals it from your bones, much like a heroin addict in early withdrawal will take the needle right out of the arm of the guy that just died of AIDS.
Fortunately, my body isn't quite at the heroin addict withdrawal state. The damage can be at least partially repaired. I'm going to start lifting weights regularly, taking calcium supplements, and drinking lots of milk and eating lots of cheese. We should be able to turn this around.
It was funny, though, how the news that I am not Wolverine hit me. The day after my tests, I went for a solo training ride, and kept thinking that I needed to watch out! Suddenly, crashes meant something again. What if I broke a hip, or my back?
Near the end of the ride, I was going down a neighborhood street when a car coming the other way came around a parked truck, and then the driver stayed in my lane for a while. She was about 50 yards away, but I pulled further left, into the middle of my lane. Maybe it was to make sure that she saw me, but part of it was "playing chicken." This is my lane -- get the hell out of it!
Fortunately, she did.
But I thought about it afterwards. You idiot! What if she'd hit you? You can't bike like that any more!
The hell I can't.
I hope that I am biking that way when I'm 95 years old. So long as I can turn the pedals over and see well enough to hold my line, I hope that I will continue to demand that which is rightfully mine. That which would destroy me will only destroy me if I let it keep me from being me.
To live fully -- with the pains and pleasures of cycling or any other activity, smelling the sweet smells and stinky funk of this world, tasting the sublime and the foul, seeing ugliness in beauty and the exquisitely captivating in what you find intuitively repulsive -- you cannot live in fear. I won't.