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Bicycling – Then

I recently started toying with bicycling outdoors again. That’s a story for tomorrow. Today I want to talk about my previous experience in cycling.

I came of age in Los Angeles in the 1980s. I grew up with a bicycle, usually second-hand. No one called child services on me just because I was roaming the neighborhood roads. When I was in High School I elected to a magnet school about 12 miles away from my house. For the first year I really hated the school bus ride. Then, as now, I don’t make friends particularly easy. Back then I also got teased a lot for various reasons. The ride was also slow because we had to wind through several neighborhoods to pick up students.

I think it was my sophomore year when I realized I could bike to school. It was fine with my parents. It was easy getting to school. I could leave the house 20 minutes later than when I caught the bus and actually beat the bus to school. Some of the neighborhoods were so so, but as long as I kept moving, no one hassled me. It was mostly peaceful despite the traffic. The wind was in my hair and no one was around to tease me. Coming back from school was a chore. Most of my way was flat, but there was a sizable hill about three miles from home that I often had to walk up. Once I was on the other side, the ride was easy till I got to my street. I lived in the foothills just outside Los Angeles City Limits. My street was steep up hill. I had to walk all but a little of it. It was especially hard on hot days as I trudged by the cactus on the side of the road. I also had to contend with a set of dogs who charged me a few times a week. I was always able to drive them off without being bit, but it was still scary. But I would have had to face them even if I took the school bus. So overall, I was very happy biking back and forth to school. It helped me feel strong and independent at a time I could use all the encouragement I could get.

High School ended, thank God! I moved on to college. I did my undergrad at UCLA. I took my bike with me but did no useful commuting. Westwood was just too much traffic for me. Sometimes late at night I’d go to campus when I was feeling really frustrated and pedal down steep hills as fast as I could go. It took the edge off loneliness and there was no one to run over. I’d spend an hour or two, diving down the hill. Walking my bike back up and charging down again. I don’t know if UCLA had a cycling team or club. If they had, I should have tried it out. It might have done me good to be with people to encourage my pedaling.  But I stayed alone with just a few close friends — who just weren’t into biking.

So I got sedentary in undergrad. Then I lived in other places that weren’t bike friendly to me. Immediately prior to coming to Alaska, we lived in Florida. I think I had a bike there and while it was impractical to commute to the Air Force Base I worked at – 20 miles away AND long security lines, I did sometimes bike the neighborhood. But only in spring or fall – so hot and humid in Panama City Florida.

So I brought my bike to Juneau Alaska. And it snowed. And snowed. Snowed some more. Rained. Rained harder. Rained longer. I was exhausted by the learning curve on my new job. By the time I decided to try my bike again, we were living in Douglas – at the bottom of a hill. I barely got a 1/4 mile before thinking, “No, this won’t do.” So I gave my bike to a nun. I hiked, I walked, but I didn’t bike – outside.

About five years ago I got a recumbent stationary bike. Nearly every weekday morning I did (and still do) about 30-40 minutes at a fairly high resistance. I aimed for 10 miles or 40 minutes, whichever came last. I enjoyed the pedaling and have gotten health benefits out of it. I did find myself wondering whether this indoor experience would map out to a real world bike ride. Last October I decided to find out. Join me tomorrow if you’re at all intrigued.

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