Saturday, September 04, 2010

Re-learning to ride

So I have a bicycle now.

I'd been telling a guy that I know that I was going to buy his mountain bike for some time now. I know nothing of bicycles but I know that this guy is a hard-core bike rider, so I know that he's chosen a good one and taken care of it. I've been wanting to get one for a while just to ride to stay in shape, and he really needed the money so I took it off his hands. Thing is, I haven't ridden a bicycle in at least twenty years, and the last time I did, I had two legs. But what the hell, eh?

I took it out the first day, and I was amazed at how easy the gearing made it to ride up hills in the local neighborhoods. I was a bit wobbly at first--ok, more than a bit--but I managed to get three miles down before my non-bike-riding body told me that it had had about enough of the pedaling and that seat. I gave it a day and took it out again yesterday for a bit longer ride. B y the end of that one, I was feeling pretty comfortable with it.

So today was the first "real" ride. I took it to Harpers Ferry and got it onto the C&O Canal towpath. Then I headed east along the Potomac River, riding it to Brunswick, Maryland, six miles away.

As it was a nice day, the towpath had quite a number of bike riders, runners and walkers on it. I quickly learned to call out to everyone that I approached that I'd be passing on the left. I also noticed that 19 out of 20 other riders seemed to be wearing bike helmets. OK, the last time I was on a bike, I don't think that the bike helmet had even been invented yet. So what's the deal, and why does everyone seem to have one? It's not a law or something that you have to have one now, is it? Clearly I have much to learn. And I guess I need to start wearing the helmet that my friend threw in with the bike.

Here's one of the locks that used to raise and lower the canal boats. This is Lock #31 just west of Brunswick. The old house is where the lock keeper and his family used to live.

I made it into Brunswick in about half an hour...not bad for someone who hasn't ridden a bike in a ton of years. I had lunch at as little restaurant where everyone seemed to know each other--and one was actually named "Bubba"--and then I rode back, making the return trip in 28 minutes.

This is the view of the towpath and canal remnants approaching the Harpers Ferry trestle. It's amazing to think that the entire canal was dug by hand and all those rocks were put in place the same way, and that it was done over 184 miles from Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC, mostly by indentured workers and rented slaves.

Total miles ridden today: Twelve. I like this bike, and I think I'm going to like riding it. The only downside to the day was being here at Harpers Ferry without Lagniappe. We've always walked or run the towpath together and it kind of felt like I was cheating on him being out here by myself. But I know that I've got to stay fit and the only way to do it is to keep exercising. Much as I liked the bike ride though, it just wasn't the same without my buddy.

Here he is, back at the Lair, laying on the deck and surveying his realm...and probably wondering when he's going to get another biscuit or dish of ice cream.


  1. Just returned from a bike ride myself, with my daughter. She has a 'trailer bike'. It's not a passive trailer, though - it has handlebars, seat and pedals - so she actually helps propel the bike up the hills (or whenever I tire of pedaling).

    Maybe you could get one of the kiddo trailers with a low center-of-gravity, that attaches to the seat post or rear wheel hub for Lagniappe, if he'd be inclined to stay still.

    We take our dog on rides. She's not as large as Lagniappe, probably only 30-35#. In the beginning, we let her pull us with her leash. At the end of a ride, we pedal m u c h s l o w e r.

  2. I forgot to mention - your route looks beautiful. Very picturesque and lots of history, too.

    Looks like a great place to ride.

  3. Oh, I am so happy for you. Biking is so awesome, fun and good for you too. Much less stress on the knees than running and with the fantastic options for trails in your neck of the woods, I am surprised it took you this long to get one of your own.
    You will love it! That's some pretty good mileage for your first time out. Your butt will thank you tomorrow and possibly even the next day too ;-).
    And unlike back in the "day" when you rode a bike, we all wear helmets these days. It's what all the COOL kids are doing.

    And since you are a fan of planes, just remember that those Wright brothers started out with one and look where that took them :-).

    On a different note, I am so truly sorry to hear about Lagniappe. I hope that what time he has left can at least be spent comfortably relaxing on his deck with you. Give him some extra popcorn and a big hug from his blog friends.

  4. Biking is *much* better than walking or running -- you can actually enjoy where you're riding, go to some specific destination, do something nice there, and then enjoy the scenery on the way back.

    But also unlike walking or running, you'll dump it for any of a hundred reasons and rock and pavement hurt. Wear the helmet. (And watch out for the cars -- you're invisible on that bike.)

  5. I get the bike temptation every so often. I had one in Colorado, but the combination of no oxygen available and many more ups than downs, left the bike largely unused. Now in flat-land N. Texas, I might give it another go.

    As for helmets, I'm like you. I grew up with no such thing. Surprisingly after thousands of bike hours for self, friends and anybody else in the world, no one died. I've got lots of hog-rider friends. No helmets, no deaths. (I know they occur...sort of like global warming events last Tuesday.)

    I also skied for 25 years pre-helmets. Not namby-sking, but Zermatt, Gstaad, Wengen, Snowmass, Aspen, Vail, ie. real mountains. Other than a Kennedy playing football on skis and Sonny Bono, no injuries to report.

    My thought is unless you are going macho, extreme, or stupid back woods you probably could make your own choice on a brain-bucket or not. At least until the bacon/cigar/whisky/sugar/meat/helmet Gestapo step in.

  6. I never wear a helmet, and I ride a lot; but I know it's a good idea. Accidents on bicycles, as opposed to motorcycles, tend more towards 'header' type spills, OVER the handlebars, and at speed, you'll hit hard.

    I know people who've smashed helmeted heads on pavement and split the helmets clean in half. Motorcycle riders, however, tend to go THROUGH the handlebars: check out a bike graveyard sometime and see. Despite the speeds being similar, the physics are different.

    Although, don't wear that guy's helmet. Go to a professional shop and get fitted. That bucket needs to fit you exactly to be effective. Children's helmets aren't as critical in fit, because the skull is more flexible and the body weighs less. And, if it hits, trash it. The shock absorbing material in it is a one-time use thing.

    You know, I had numerous wrecks as a kid, but in my opinion, the bike helmet is something I make my kid wear because, like many other machines, bikes are waaayy faster than 40 years ago. Only freaks had ten speeds, most adults had single- or three-speed bikes, and almost everyone rode a plain old back-pedal braking Schwinn type. Now, you can go to Wally World and get a bike off the rack that'll do 45 mph. That's fast. And helmet worthy.

    For your dog, since he's going to start losing weight at a horrific rate, you might consider getting a bike trailer, the size for two small children. He'll fit into it easily, and if you can get him to stay in it, he can go along with you.

    My dog, Blue, had the same disease, and I do not envy your heartbreak. It was awful. And, since like Blue, your buddy is unlikely to quit by himself, you're very likely going to have to make that decision for him. I had to. I keep his ashes on my desk, and made his leather leash into a rifle sling for my Yugo Mauser.

    Man, I'm sorry.

  7. Looks like it was a great and beautiful ride.. :):)

  8. Glad to hear you're working on the exercise routine! Pretty area too!

  9. I think I'm going to cry- damn you have me missing that place! Riding on the Towpath was just about my favorite activity back when I was in Harpers Ferry. Not only was it exhilarating exercise, but there was somebody's story in every inch of that pathway. All those locks and aqueducts and so many other reminders of the canal days just fascinated me. And the back end view of the railroad yards at Brunswick was always a treat for this train geek.

    There's a mile-by-mile guidebook-- I seem to recall the name was something simple like "Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal" -- which is well worth grabbing if you are going to spending time riding there.

  10. I use to ride all the time from Cumberland Maryland to Paw Paw, WV. The C&O Canal is a wonderful ride albeit the sore butt from all the roots, divots and holes on the trail.

  11. Bruce just got a new road bike to replace his old hybrid. He likes riding so much he has inspired me to trade a shotgun for a bike. :)

    Glad you are enjoying your new purchase!