An old skill, relearned

We’ve all been going through the COVID adjustments. I’ve had more time to pursue some of my interests such as writing, painting, gardening, and hiking but also to get back to some old interests – like biking.

Lillian Nakamura Maguire with the bike her son refurbished for her.

I used to ride a motorcycle many years ago, but that’s not the kind of biking I’m talking about here. I mean the pedaling kind, the hard slog up the steep trails and the heart-pounding race to get back home. You know the kind; when you do get back and standing on two legs, they feel a bit rubbery and you wonder how you’re going to manage to get your leg over or through the opening to the other side of the bike– gracefully. Well, let me tell you for a 71 year old, who hasn’t ridden a bicycle for about 20 years; it takes a bit of getting used to. Training in fact. 

I got into this training as a result of a bit of free-wheeling family discussion about what to do physically during this isolation period. We were doing lots of great walking around the trails on our property and the surrounding area, but I found myself thinking about what it would be like to be able to explore more widely, but not on a noisy motorized bike. I got my wish on Mother’s Day when my son presented me with a vintage Kuwahara women’s mountain bike that he recycled and refurbished from the local landfill! You’d be surprised at the treasures that can be salvaged from the local dump. What a find! After a new seat, oil on the chain, adjustment of gears, new hand grips and even a purple bell – I was in business! 

 I have some friends who are in their 60’s and 70’s and they’ve done the Chilkat Bike Relay. Yes, there are some olders out there who are very physically fit.  I know, you may be wondering if they’ve lost their marbles. No, they are not a bit daft – maybe obsessed, and that’s great. I have admiration for those who train for that kind of challenging pursuit. But alas, I have set my own physical challenge to pursue, in my own 15.5-acre backyard. 

People say that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. I’m not so sure about that. I learned to ride a bike when I was about seven years old and that was a bike that I had to share with three other siblings who ranged in age from about nine to twelve. You can imagine that the bike was not exactly the right fit for me, being the youngest at the time. We practiced riding in the back alley with one of the older siblings holding on to the seat and running along beside us until we were able to balance on our own. Sometimes we rode too fast so that our support person was left behind, and we crashed! Thankfully I haven’t had to recreate that sort of training today.

With today’s training, the first challenge for me was getting on the bike. My arthritic hip wouldn’t allow we to swing my leg over the seat or even to put my leg through the opening to the other side of the bike without having to lay it on the ground first and then raise the bike. The next challenge was finding that sweet spot where one can balance just before heading off. The two times when I fell down and bruised my arm, scraped my knee, and cut the back of my lower leg on the pedal were precisely when I was trying to find that sweet spot! I think my pride suffered more than my body. I was glad that no one saw me fall, although they were close enough to hear my call if I needed some help. Getting up and getting back on to try again was tough! 

It takes all my effort to get to the top of the driveway after a nice long coast downhill, and a gentle turn upward to the intersection with our side road. Maneuvering through the trails on the bumpy terrain and avoiding trees and stumps is another challenge. I remember the advice that my husband told me when I was learning to ride a motorcycle – look in the direction you want to go, not the direction you want to avoid. In other words look at the trail ahead, not at the trees alongside the trail. I suggested to my son that he cut down some of the brush and trees on the narrow pathway.  He reminded me that the surrounding trees were one of the reasons why we chose to live here. He also suggested that as I became more experienced, it would remove the joy of dodging and weaving through the trees on the winding trail.  

Each day I take little steps to meeting the challenges of bike training. It’s a fine balance challenging myself to try new physical skills but also recognizing that my flexibility and strength are not as good as they used to be. Age is not an excuse to avoid the opportunity of re-learning and dusting off some old skills or teaching an old dog new tricks. Maybe my next challenge will be to test out one of those electric bikes.

Let loose your inner kid

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