If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m not much of an athlete. I am pretty proud of my progress with the Body-for-LIFE program (it’s way past the 12 weeks now, but I’m 20 lbs. lighter, so yay), but I’ve been exercising just at home using videos and our Bowflex. It’s not like I play team sports or participate in any triathlons.
Last month, I housed one of the out-of-town tenors in The Crossing (he was here for the Month of Moderns), and he went running almost every day. I started asking about his running habits, and before I knew it, he had cajoled me into running with him three times a week. I don’t think I did that poorly, but my hip really started hurting every time we went out, and I have decided not to continue with the routine now that he has gone home.
(I also knew that I probably wouldn’t be keeping up with my exercise routine while on vacation, but I think every once in a while we all have to take a break, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself).
I mention all this now because this morning my cousin (who my dad and I are visiting) suggested that we all go bike riding through Chico’s Bidwell Park.
I’ve always had a difficult time with bicycles. My dad taught me how to ride a bike when I was nine or ten, but for some reason I really resisted learning, and while I do know how to ride, I never got very good at it. Biking in traffic freaks me out, and I could never figure out which gears were which on my bike…so anxiety always creeps up whenever even the thought of biking comes up. Nevertheless, I know the best way to counteract anxiety is to meet it head-on, so I agreed to go biking. But I warned my cousin that I wasn’t very good, and I hadn’t done it in a long time.
To which he responded, “That’s not a problem. Chico is very flat, and we won’t go fast.”
My cousin loaned me his everyday bike, and he pulled out an old one-speed from his shed (which he had to hose off because of all the cobwebs). My dad had brought his own bike on this trip, so he was all set. I test-drove the bike up and down the street, and once I had assured myself that I still remembered how to ride, we were off to the park.
Chico is a small town in the heart of Northern California, almost halfway between San Francisco and the Oregon border, in the middle of almond country. While we were out biking, people were honking and waving at my cousin, and it really had the feel of a Midwestern town from the ’50s, where everyone knows everyone else…such a difference from Philadelphia or New York or even San Francisco! (Okay, it doesn’t hurt that my cousin owns one of the bars in town).
And I had fun! We biked through parts of Bidwell Park, which, at about 11 miles in length, is one of the largest city parks in the U.S. We didn’t bike the whole way through…we made it about three miles in, and my cousin wanted to turn around and go back. I wasn’t tired at all, but I was hungry, so I was happy enough to stop and eat some Thai food in the middle of town.
But while we were biking, I realized my anxiety was melting away. I could easily shift gears on the bike I was riding, because shifter had all the gears numbered, which was so wonderful and new! On my old bike, I was constantly guessing as to what gear I was in, and which way was higher and lower. And because Chico is such a small town, I didn’t have to worry too much about traffic. We kept to the smaller side roads and crossed the larger roads at the lights, plus the cars always stopped for us (I’ve never seen that happen in Philly!).
And I realized that the reason I never liked going biking was that I didn’t have enough positive experiences like this, where I could go at a nice, leisurely pace and feel confident. Even the few times I have gone biking with my husband, I always felt like a big wuss because I got so nervous around intersections.
The thing is, I know cycling is better exercise for me than running, especially since I have a bad knee. So maybe I should spend some time biking on my own when I get home. I live in a suburban neighborhood, which has a lot more of those smaller, quiet roads, so I can work on my confidence on the bike before I venture out into traffic. And then, just maybe, when I feel like I’m up to it, I’ll join a bike team and train for a triathlon.
First, though, I have to find a bike that has a shifter I can understand. Baby steps.