Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

25 May 2015

Why I Didn't Spend A Day At The Races

Sometimes I start a ride with no particular destination or itinerary in mind.  Believe it or not, every multiday tour I have ever taken was such a ride.  I would buy a plane ticket to Paris or San Francisco or Rome or some other place and bring my bike, bike luggage and whatever I planned on carrying in the bike luggage with me.  Then, upon arriving at Charles de Gaulle or Fiumicino or SFO, I would decide to ride in one direction or another and decide on destinations—or, more precisely, a series of destinations—some time after checking into a hostel and looking at a Lonely Planet guide or a Michelin map.

It’s easier to do such things when you’re young—and male.  Although I never stopped riding altogether, save for a few months after my surgery, I don’t have nearly as much strength or endurance as I did when I was still living as a man.  Also, because of the circumstances of my life, I don’t have as much disposable income as I did as a male in my thirties. (It must also be said that I was in my thirties during the ‘90’s, when the dollar went so much further abroad as well as in its own country!)  But I sometimes go on day rides when without a set route, or even destination in mind.  It gives me, however briefly, the same sense of freedom I used to feel when embarking upon those multiday tours.

More often, though, I find that I start a ride with a destination or route in mind and find myself changing my mind when on the road.  Call me fickle if you will, but sometimes external factors—or a simple turn—can cause me to change my ride.  The latter is what happened to me today. 

I intended to ride to Somerville so I could see the races.  And I had a vision of riding home as the late-afternoon early summer sun descended the Watchung hills on my way back to the city.  That last vision came to pass, but for reasons I hadn’t planned.

For one thing, I started riding a few hours later than I intended.  I still could have made it to Somerville in time to see some of the later criteriums.  And, although I was pedaling into a wind blowing out of the west, from the hills I was ascending, I was still making fairly good time.  I was riding up more hills than I did on previous rides to Somerville because I took—part of me says unintentionally, but another part of me would claim or credit my subconscious—a slightly different, and unfamiliar, route.  In spite of my relative unfamiliarity with the route, I knew I was going in the right general direction.

Neighborhoods that haven’t quite recovered from riots nearly half a century ago gave way to suburbs and, finally, rather charming little towns with real old-time shopping strips and, in one town, an “opera house”.

Late in the 19th, and early in the 20th, centuries, nearly any town of any significance had an “opera house”.  Now, those places weren’t staging productions of Tosca or The Marriage of Figaro.  Rather, they showed musical plays or vaudeville acts.  When “moving pictures” came out, they were often shown in such halls.

Some of those “opera houses” were merely workmanlike or had a kind of sentimental charm.  But others were, if not masterpieces, at least interesting works of architecture.  Sadly, some were lost during “urban renewal” or other “development” schemes.  But others, like the one I’m showing in this post, were converted to everything from art galleries to concert spaces to restaurants.

My ride included that opera house as well as hills and meandering river valley.  Somehow I lost my incentive to see the races; it became very, very satisfying for me to ride through moments, light and the warmth of the sun on my skin. I didn’t see any place exotic.  Perhaps that will come again another day.  But for today, I was happy.  I didn’t take the ride I’d planned, but perhaps I took the one I needed.

24 May 2015

I Wasn't Expecting A "Beach Day"

This weekend began quite lovely, if rather chilly.  Now, if that sentence sounds impossibly Victorian, or at least British, so be it.  There is something languorous, in a pre-war sort of way, about Memorial Day weekend, which many in the US regard as the beginning of summer.

The sky has been almost preternaturally bright, as if breezes were brushing away every trace of clouds.  It also pushed away heat, which I don’t mind in the least.  Temperatures of 15 to 20 C (60 to 68 F) are, to me, all but ideal for cycling.  But it’s not exactly beach weather—at least to most people—and the water temperatures are around 13C (55F).  

So, I figured that people wouldn’t go to the beach—which meant it would be a good day to ride to Point Lookout.  Or so I thought.

The ride itself was pleasant enough.  I encountered a bit more traffic than I anticipated, and on summer days—in fact or in name only—it’s never too early in the day for drunks to spill out of the Long Beach bars.  If anything, I saw a few more inebriates than usual, for the college students had just come home.  A group of them played “chicken” with me, thrusting their faces into my path to see how close they could come to getting smacked by my helmet.

The beaches and boardwalks were full of people.  A few dipped themselves in the water; a few donned wetsuits and surfed.  At Point Lookout, as you see in the photo, people propped themselves on the cinderblocks or on beach chairs to watch airplanes make squiggles and bows with their vapor trails.  

Shows like that aren’t my kind of thing.  My father loved them, so I saw lots of them when I was growing up.  So, while I respect the skills the pilots of those planes have, I’m not enraptured by frivolous displays of bravado.  More important, though, I don’t like the message behind those shows.  Most people—at least, the ones I saw at the show-- seem to believe it’s “Support Our Troops”.  Having a brother in the Armed Forces, I’m all for “supporting” them.  However, I don’t want to throw them in harm’s way for no good reason—or, worse, for them to be used to celebrate our ability to make war.

After two of the planes made a heart or something with the vapor trails, I hopped back on my bike.  The wind blew off the ocean and at my left side until I got to Rockaway Beach, where I turned right.  From there, the wind carried me home under blue skies, away from the vapor trails.

23 May 2015

How To Ride Like A Lady

Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has written, "Well-behaved women seldom make history".

She, of course, is correct.  However, when women are entering previously-unchartered territory, we sometimes have to behave in accordance with accepted gender norms in order to hold onto our places in those worlds.  In other words, we can't be perceived as a threat to men.  On the other hand, we also have to do whatever we're doing in our own way--and, indeed, we often have to figure out what that way is--in order not to be seen as inferior to the men who are doing whatever it is we're doing.

I know from whence I speak: In my transition from living as a man to my life as a woman, I have been criticized for being too much like a man and too much like a woman--sometimes by the very same people.  The same people who told me I was too aggressive on the job told me, in the next breath, that I was too submissive--"like a woman."  It's a bit like telling a woman she throws too hard for a girl but that she "throws like a girl".

I thought about that when I came across this list of "don'ts" for female cyclists that was published in the New York World in 1895:

  • Don’t be a fright.
  • Don’t faint on the road.
  • Don’t wear a man’s cap.
  • Don’t wear tight garters.
  • Don’t forget your toolbag
  • Don’t attempt a “century.”
  • Don’t coast. It is dangerous.
  • Don’t boast of your long rides.
  • Don’t criticize people’s “legs.”
  • Don’t wear loud hued leggings.
  • Don’t cultivate a “bicycle face.”
  • Don’t refuse assistance up a hill.
  • Don’t wear clothes that don’t fit.
  • Don’t neglect a “light’s out” cry.
  • Don’t wear jewelry while on a tour.
  • Don’t race. Leave that to the scorchers.
  • Don’t wear laced boots. They are tiresome.
  • Don’t imagine everybody is looking at you.
  • Don’t go to church in your bicycle costume.
  • Don’t wear a garden party hat with bloomers.
  • Don’t contest the right of way with cable cars.
  • Don’t chew gum. Exercise your jaws in private.
  • Don’t wear white kid gloves. Silk is the thing.
  • Don’t ask, “What do you think of my bloomers?”
  • Don’t use bicycle slang. Leave that to the boys.
  • Don’t go out after dark without a male escort.
  • Don’t go without a needle, thread and thimble.
  • Don’t try to have every article of your attire “match.”
  • Don’t let your golden hair be hanging down your back.
  • Don’t allow dear little Fido to accompany you
  • Don’t scratch a match on the seat of your bloomers.
  • Don’t discuss bloomers with every man you know.
  • Don’t appear in public until you have learned to ride well.
  • Don’t overdo things. Let cycling be a recreation, not a labor.
  • Don’t ignore the laws of the road because you are a woman.
  • Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes “to see how it feels.”
  • Don’t scream if you meet a cow. If she sees you first, she will run.
  • Don’t cultivate everything that is up to date because yon ride a wheel.
  • Don’t emulate your brother’s attitude if he rides parallel with the ground.
  • Don’t undertake a long ride if you are not confident of performing it easily.
  • Don’t appear to be up on “records” and “record smashing.” That is sporty.

  • Some of these "don'ts" made me cringe.  But I had to get a laugh out of "Don't try to ride in your brother's clothes 'to see how it feels'!"