By Ann Patty
I once lived with a man whose avocation was cycling: He’d wake up before dawn, ride from Chelsea to Central Park, loop all the way around the park, then return, stretch, shower, and go to work. Some weekends he took 100-mile bike rides with groups. He factored in his age (early forties) by not riding if the temperature was lower than his age or if it was raining. His best friend often said, “Jerry is the only person I’ve ever known who could turn a bicycle into an instrument of torture.”
That comment had replayed in my mind over the past couple years, as, now in my late sixties, I painfully pedaled my way up the mile and half climb necessary to return home. Depending on my mood, I have itineraries of various durations and exertions, ranging from thirty minutes to two hours, moderate to moderately strenuous, on the lovely, untrafficked backroads in my rural community.
Biking always lifts my spirits, erases all remnants of anxiety or depression within minutes of my climbing on the seat. I love speeding down hills, brakeless, a bit reckless, just as I did when I was nine. I feel young and free.
Though I feel a sense of accomplishment when I arrive home, the only joy that remains is the illusion that I am conquering my age with my exertions.
The beginnings of all my itineraries are exhilaratingly downhill. Returning home however, is another story. No matter which of three possible routes I take home, I must make a final, long, arduous climb, the worst of any outing. Each has different grades and hills; but at least one long exhausting climb and two steep, killer hills are unavoidable. I am a naturally driven person, so I seldom allow myself to dismount and walk up even the steepest of the hills, and I try never to use the very lowest of my twenty-four gears. Though I feel a sense of accomplishment when I arrive home, the only joy that remains is the illusion that I am conquering my age with my exertions. However, I am usually compelled to lie down afterward, often to take a nap. The next day my upper arms hurt, from pulling back on the handlebars as I valiantly pedaled uphill.
For my 68th birthday, I bought myself an electric pedal assist bike. I had tried a friend’s and liked it, but nothing prepared me for the elegance and grace of my new bike and what it offers. My Faraday bike has an orange sherbet frame, with plump vanilla tires and a bamboo rack on the back. The battery is cleverly hidden in the frame, so that it cuts quite a sleek, chic figure. I call it my Creamsicle Cycle, because it reminds me of the creamsicle that was always my favorite ice cream bar. I loved the tang the sherbet gave to the vanilla ice cream, and I also convinced myself that it was healthier than bars covered with chocolate; that the orange juice added a dollop of healthful Vitamin C with its sugar.
One of the advantages about being a sexagenarian is that I no longer believe pleasure must be earned with exertion. I’ll take my pleasure straight, thank you very much.
I took my maiden ride with my friend Sam, the one who had convinced me to buy the same Faraday he had (though his was steel grey, and lacked the easy step-through, not to mention the colorful pizazz of mine). When the first hill we encountered seemed too long, I flicked my finger and turned on the assist. I still had to pedal, but the struggle was alleviated, and I sat tall and proud as I whizzed up the hill. Sam lagged behind; I didn’t hear the susurrus of his electric pedal assist which meant he was soldiering up the hill on his own steam.
When he arrived at the top of the hill, I asked. “Are you sixty-five or sixty-six?”
He gave a derisive snort, “Oh Ann, you’re so competitive.”
I am competitive but it was not he I was competing with that afternoon: “I’m really competing with myself,” I explained. “My younger self. A year ago, like you, I was chugging up this hill on my own endurance. And now I doubt I’ll ever attempt it without my pedal assist.”
“We all get older,” Sam reminded me with a smile, as he took off down the hill.
I ride my Creamsicle Cycle much more than I used to ride my standard hybrid bike. Perhaps it’s the forty-pound weight that makes it feel more solid, solid enough that for the first time I feel comfortable riding along the highway into town to meet a friend for lunch or drinks, or to go to the doctor or an exercise class. In town, my bike always draws compliments, even more so when I explain it’s a pedal assist bike.
Despite the assist, I still compete with myself. I don’t use my assist until I’m down to the lowest of the bike’s eight gears, then, electrically buoyed, I return to gear four, so I have to pedal harder. Only when I’m forced down to gear one on the light assist, usually on the penultimate killer hill on the way home, do I bring in the super boost with another flick of the finger. I arrive home refreshed, with a gently aerobic heart and a lightly sweated body. All pleasure, no pain.
One of the advantages about being a sexagenarian is that I no longer believe pleasure must be earned with exertion. I’ll take my pleasure straight, thank you very much. The Creamsicle Cycle, like a creamsicle on a hot summer day, makes a too long, steep hill, like a too hot, humid day, an unmitigated delight. Now, where is the Good Humor truck?
About the Writer
Ann Patty is the author of LIVING WITH A DEAD LANGUAGE; MyRomance with Latin (Viking/Penguin, 2016). Her essays have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Linga Franca, Society for Classical Studies, Oprah.com, The Bucket, Publishers’ Weekly, and TheToast. She lives in Rhinebeck, NY and her Bucket Age is 18.
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