You know those people who do everything they’re supposed to–eat right, get enough sleep, balance their checkbook, exercise regularly? I’m not one of them. Lord knows I try. And when my life is on track, I do manage to exercise four or five times a week. I eat a pretty healthy diet overall. But– I also indulge. Too often. Wine, sweet potato fries, the occasional dessert. Pecan pie and sausage balls most recently during Thanksgiving. Sweet potato casserole (which is, truth be told, sweet potato pie without the crust — dessert masquerading as veggie!).
I’ve struggled all my life with my weight. I’ve always been the fat kid–even my name –Patty — rhymes with Fatty. But hiding inside has been a secret athlete desperate to get out. Happily, several years ago, I discovered cycling.
One of the things I love so much about cycling is that on the bike, I don’t feel fat. I feel strong. I love the idea that my body is what enables me to move, that by pushing the pedals round and round, I can cover miles. That’s not to say that I don’t notice extra pounds when I’m on the bike — I definitely do. In fact, almost more than anything else, my difficulties climbing are what push me to lose weight. Who wants to lug an extra twenty pounds up a steep hill? Last Friday, I eeked out thirty miles on the bike — it had been far too long — and there were times when my heart hammered in my chest. At the end of it, I was grateful to have ridden–loved being out on a gorgeous fall day, the sun warm, leaves bright shades of honey yellow and crimson.
I’ve done some pretty cool things on the bike over the years. I’ve ridden several metric and half centuries (63 and 50 miles respectively), a few centuries (100 mile rides), including America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride in Lake Tahoe for Team in Training. I’ve ridden from Boston to New York in one of the early AIDS Rides; cycled in Provence — switchbacks and harrowing descents into fields of lavender and sunflowers; ridden from Sturbridge to Provincetown, 192 miles in two days for the Pan-Mass Challenge, and completed several MS 150’s. There is nothing to compare with the feeling of riding hard and strong, pushing up a hill that seems insurmountable, climbing to the top on your own power, the glorious, long stretches, the way it feels to put the hammer down, settle in and ride for long, flat miles, the pure joy of a seamless connection between bike and body.
When I’m riding there is no woulda/shoulda/coulda. It doesn’t matter that my fingernails are bitten off, that my allergy eyes won’t let me wear mascara, that the polish from my long-ago pedicure is peeling. It doesn’t matter that I need to lose weight or that my work lies piled unfinished on my desk, that I have emails to reply to and bills to pay. The only thing that matters is turning the pedals and the air on my face and the wind (though it is never at my back) and the sun and the road ahead. Cycling is a lesson in being present. Here and now are all that matter.
In these days of Thanksgiving, this brief lull before we leap into the holiday frenzy, I am giving thanks for the body that I have and for the ability to ride. In the coming months, I’ll write more here about cycling and training — I’m recommitting to training for an upcoming challenge this summer (more on that later). In the meantime, I will practice patience. With myself.