I own a lot of bicycles, and bicycling was once a major part of my life, so it seems odd that I have written so many articles on my fitness routines and interests and haven’t yet mentioned bicycling.
Until just last year, I still possessed my first Raleigh 10-speed, which I bought for 20,000 yen when I was 14 years old. We were living in Japan at the time and I was earning money baby-sitting. Those were the days when a U.S. dollar was worth 360 yen. I can still remember the feeling of freedom when I hopped on my new bike and transported myself alone somewhere new. Later, when I went off to college in the United States, I took my bike and didn’t consider learning to drive. I could ride anywhere I needed to go in my college and work life, and there was public transit for everything else. I even found friends who also didn’t know how to drive. If you had told me how dangerous it was to be riding a bike without a helmet all over Portland and later Seattle, I would have ignored you. When I graduated from college, I rode up and down the entire West Coast as a tourist. I still didn’t give a hoot about learning to drive.
Then I moved to Maine. My trusty bike arrived and seemed to like it here until November of my first year. I simply couldn’t dress warmly enough to ride the bike. Nor was I strong enough to battle the coastal winds. And when it snowed, that was it. I was stuck at home. I began to think about learning how to drive. I became a licensed driver at the ripe old age of 31, and my bike sat unused for months at a time. According to my nondriver vegetarian Greenpeace career brother, I was a sellout.
Whenever I get on one of my bikes (I now have a commuter bike, a road bike and a mountain bike), I get that familiar feeling of independence and adventure. The car is true freedom, but the bike offers a holistic way to experience it. You can see, smell and feel the world around you as you propel toward your destination. I feel so privileged to have been able to see the entire West Coast twice on a bicycle.
Yes, you have to stop and buy new tires and other parts regularly, have maintenance done and still find camping sites, but back in 1972 it seemed so easy. Of course, my parents were home having palpitations and awaiting the call from the police that they had found my body. I guess I was lucky, as nothing bad happened and I was a lot stronger and healthier at the end. I can recall taking off the panniers (which I still have) in San Francisco and being able to ride up any hill without heavy breathing.
Bicycling is great for fitness. I don’t ride as much as I once did, and now I always wear a helmet. And at this point in my life, you couldn’t pay me to bicycle cross-country and camp out. Nonetheless, the occasional sunny-day bike ride is enough to make me feel like I am just discovering the world once again.
Noelle Merrill is executive director of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor.