01 November, 2014

Experiments in ... Fitness, Environmental Stewardship, and Self-Betterment

Mel on Wheels:  
Or ... Putting the "Spin" in Spinster!

So, in my quest to create a better life for myself, there are several arenas to which I look when deciding on new things to try.  Of course, health is a top priority, be it nutrition, wellness/self-care practices, or fitness.  Environmental stewardship is another big one.  I strive to do my part to make the lightest footprint on Mama Earth that I possibly and realistically can, from composting food scraps to recycling any- and everything I can, to choosing not to own a car.  I am also motivated by any opportunity to be outside, to be an active participant in the beauty and wonder that Nature has to offer.  

There are really a great many things that motivate and inspire me, but these are all pretty high on the list.  There's also a common thread tying these particular inspirations together for the purpose of this blog post:  They are the primary motivations behind my latest pursuit.

I am sure you are all on the edges of your seats, antsy with anticipation, to know what my latest pursuit actually is, right?  Of course, you are.

Oh, okay, enough with the dramatics.

My latest pursuit, or experiment in bliss, if you will, is ... dum da da dum!!! ... bicycling!  

No, bicycling is not new.  Yes, I have ridden a bicycle before.  In fact, I've owned several bicycles in my lifetime.  I have enjoyed many a leisurely ride in my youth and adulthood.  I have never, however, really pursued bicycling as a primary form of transportation or as a serious form of fitness.  And that is what makes this experiment new and exciting (and a little daunting) for me.  

I've been sans automobile for over three years now.  Some of you might be wondering why I haven't pursued cycling sooner.  To be honest, I just have always really liked walking.  One of the main reasons I made the decision to not have a car was spurred by my love of getting to know foreign cities by foot when traveling.  There's a connection to place afforded to pedestrians that just isn't available for folks who only ever motor around in a vehicle.  On foot, one gets to see the people who populate the place where one lives.  On foot, the minute shifts and changes of a place that happen on a daily basis are much more noticeable, and unfold slowly and languidly like a flower blossoming, or a lover revealing his or her secrets in a thousand tiny moments of vulnerability.  I just really enjoy this sense of intimacy and belonging with my town of residence.  

If I love being a pedestrian so much, then why am I trying to become a cyclist, you ask?  This decision is being driven by a couple of reasons.  The first and most important is for my body's sake.  At present, I work (for the most part on my feet) on concrete floors.  I live with concrete floors in most of my home.  I walk everywhere on concrete sidewalks.  It's a rare moment when I'm NOT on concrete flooring.  And concrete flooring, while looking pretty cool, is not friendly to bodies who are always on it.  There is no give, no shock absorption with concrete flooring.  The joints have to take up the slack there.  Bearing that extra [sizable] load, the musculature has to compensate.  All this results, over time, in a wonky body.  And mine is feeling the wonk.  And the wonk does NOT feel good.  I've been nursing some pretty uncomfortable situations in my body for several months now that I can only attribute to my constant existence upon concrete floors.  Since I like where I live and where I work enough to not want to change those things if I can help it, my best option is to change how I'm transporting myself.  

I considered a car for little while, but just couldn't quite get 100% behind the idea.  I would waffle back and forth repeatedly on whether or not I actually wanted one - whether or not having a car aligned with my values enough to feel like a truly viable choice for me.  I just couldn't fully and wholeheartedly commit to the idea of owning a car again.  And, if I'm not fully committed to an idea, then I have learned [the hard way] that I should, in fact, not go through with that idea.  So, the car is out .. again.  The buses here are unreliable at best, so that's not a viable option.  Taxis are too cost prohibitive to use on a daily basis.  Plus, they pose the same carbon demerits as a car.  So, they're out.  I have an unconventional schedule, which makes ride sharing a logistical impossibility.  What does that leave me?  Yup.  A bicycle!  

A lesser motivation leading me to this path, was the sense of freedom that can be gained when riding a bike.  Especially the notion that if I take the time to really learn to ride properly and hone my skills faithfully I can become proficient enough to ride further away from my residential locus than I could ever imagine walking in any reasonable span of time.  So, with my bike I might be able to take weekend camping trips to the lake, say, without having the hassle and expense of renting a car for the trip.  Freedom.  I like it.

All these thoughts of heightened fitness, diminished body pain, riding to new and semi-exotic locations on a whim are very exciting to me.  However, the reality is that I am only just stepping onto this path.  When it comes to the kind of serious riding that I am hoping to eventually do, I am a complete novice.  

I have a bicycle.  Some of you will remember that I got myself a sweet little Schwinn commuter following my trip to Nashville earlier this summer.  She's a beautiful little thing, really.  Her name is Babette Bicyclette.  However, despite her good looks, she is just an inexpensive box-store-bought run-of-the-mill bicycle.  She is not capable of the kind of riding to which I aspire.  She only has seven gears, and she's fairly heavy.  But what she is, is a great tool for getting started.  When I got her I was really just wanting something that would give me the opportunity to find out if cycling was something I'd even enjoy doing more than once in a blue moon.  I rode every day in Nashville, and loved it, so thought I'd try riding around Durham a bit to see if the same held true for my mundane life. 

Until recently I only rode occasionally ... mostly to work if I was running late.  I still don't have lights for Babette, so she's currently unridable after dark, which is earlier and earlier these days, and will be even more so once Daylight Savings Time reverts tomorrow.  I also don't have any storage options for her yet, so I can't really take her shopping or anywhere I will need to transport more than what I can fit in my 19-liter backpack.  That really limits what I can do with her currently.  That doesn't even take into account the fact that I have no emergency kit (or know-how) for repairing flats or addressing other potential problems that could occur on a ride.  But I'm working on gearing her out a little at a time, with the hopes that she'll be up for some longer rides soon.

When I rode her last week, I noticed my rear tire was flat by the time I arrived to work.  When I was walking her home [by way of the bike shop to address the flat], I discovered her chain had popped off somehow.  (I still have no idea how it happened.)  Luckily, the guy at the bike shop was really helpful and nice.  I had been a little worried about even going into a bike shop as my one and only experience doing so years ago was not so pleasant.  But this experience was nothing like that previous one.  Here was a bike mechanic who took the time to listen to me about my bike and about my inexperience and my hopes for slowly progressing into a more capable and serious rider.  He offered advice without intimidation, and he even commended me on my plan to start with a cheap bike to decide if I like riding and what kind of rider I am before investing in a more specific, technical bicycle.  He did suggest that I get a tune-up for Babette, telling me that bikes bought from box stores are often assembled by people who have no experience with bicycle mechanics.  So, while they may be sturdy enough to be ridden with a basic level of safety, they will likely be more comfortable and even safer with a proper tune-up.  A few days later, I was checking Babette in for her tune-up.

When I picked her up just the other day, I couldn't believe how much smoother and more comfortable and FUN my ride was.  The mechanics had even adjusted the seat height and handlebar height for me.  Wow!  What a difference!  I couldn't believe it.  It's like I already have a new upgraded bicycle as I'm beginning to get serious about this journey.  Now, I'm so excited to take her out on a longer joy ride this afternoon.  

I'm also trying to prepare myself for the saddle in other ways.  I've started reading books about bicycling to become accustomed to the lingo, to learn about the various bikes and tools and such available, as well as to get tips for how to improve my riding in a safe and smart way.  I've signed up for a general bicycle maintenance course at REI next month.  I'm hoping to take some more specific classes at my new favorite bike shop in town later this year.   And, I am considering maybe searching out a meetup group that does local group rides for varying levels of proficiency.  I'll admit the latter will take me considerably outside my comfort zone.  This, of course, if why it is likely a very good thing for me to do.

I am looking for friends to join me on some rides around town.  If you are here in Durham, and interested in setting up a cycling date, let me know.  

Also, I'd love to hear about your experiences with cycling.  Are any of you avid cycling enthusiasts?  Or even avid cycling novices?  What's been your experience getting in the saddle?  I'm eager to hear your stories!

I hope you all have a most beautiful Halloween/Samhain weekend.  Get out there and enjoy this gorgeous weather!