I Ride My Bicycle

Chapel Hill News logoJuly 25, 2010

My latest column in CHN’s long-running “My View” series.Pawing through my purse at the gym a few months back, I couldn’t find my ear buds. No way was I going to get on a cross-trainer for 30 minutes of agony without them – I can’t stand exercising sans the Jon Stewart distraction, or CNN, or Cary Grant on Turner Classics.

My club sells headphones but I knew I had several pairs, somewhere, and didn’t want to buy more. Thinking about finking out and heading home, I happened to notice a woman in spandex shorts and an oversized T-shirt duck into a dark room. I’m not sure why, but I followed her. “What happens in here?” I asked.

“Spin class,” she said. “It’s the best.”

“You won’t find a better workout anywhere,” another woman said, as she unscrewed and raised the seat on a bike. “Just try it once.”

“How long is the class?” I asked.

“Only an hour and the time races by,” the first woman said. “The music’s great too.”

I shrugged. Why not give it a try? Over a dozen stationary bikes faced the front of the room. I picked one in a back corner. A woman showed me how to adjust the seat and handlebars. I hopped on, the first time in years I’d been on a bike.

I quit riding when the 10-speed I’d bought at a yard sale skidded out from under me and I fell hard and fast on some slippery dry leaves. The fall left a bruise from thigh to knee that looked like the map of Africa. I’m still swollen, ten years later. The impact also destroyed the steel-enforced wrist splint I was wearing (carpel tunnel issues) but mercifully spared my bones. I was also lucky that no cars were coming around the blind bend in the narrow road.

After that accident, I swore off bikes but missed riding. As a child, I lived on my bike and over the years owned several; most had only one gear, pedal brakes, and temperamental chains. They all had bells and baskets. My bike and my dog were my best friends. I rode all over the college town where I grew up – to local parks, along every campus path, and out a country road to the swimming pool. Nobody wore helmets and my parents had no idea, nor did they particularly care, where I was.

The instructor came in, turned off the dim lights, and turned on the loud music. She got on a bike facing the class. I started pedaling, like everybody else. I closed my eyes and imagined riding down my childhood driveway and heading up the street. I pretended to turn right at Lilac Lane, imagined the shrubs in their lavender glory, and headed past the Hughes place, where, most days, two stout golden retrievers bounded out to greet me.

Over Mick Jagger, the instructor was yelling at us to stand and climb, so I stood on my bike, increased the resistance, and took myself up that steep hill on Elm Road, the route I took home from an afternoon of weaving and racing along the sycamore-lined trails at Marquand Park.

Despite Lady Gaga, I heard the wind rustling the dune grass on that long ride I took allover Nantucket Island one summer day, decades ago. At every beach I stopped and swam, then jumped back on my rental Schwinn and let the salty warm air dry my skin.

I’ve been going to spin class now for months. I sprint, hover, and climb when told, but I’m never really there in that dark room with the loud music and humming fans. I’m a kid out on her bike. Forget the news. Forget ear buds.

Look. I’m riding down the home stretch – no hands!