On September 10th, 2004, 10 years ago today, UPS delivered a box to my front door which contained a China Mascot Tsunami recumbent bicycle. After some assembly (and several wobbly starts), I was pedaling a bicycle for the first time in my adult life. In the 10 years since then, I have ridden 61,506 miles. Here is my mileage by year:
2004 – 930 miles
2005 – 5,013.7 miles
2006 – 5,044.6 miles
2007 – 6,161 miles
2008 – 6,708 miles
2009 – 7,440.9 miles
2010 – 7,555.4 miles
2011 – 7,519 miles
2012 – 7,224.6 miles
2013 – 5,034.4 miles
2014 – 3,804.6 miles
After I started riding, it didn’t take long at all for me to realize that I still loved riding a bicycle just as much as I did when I was nine years old, and I decided I wasn’t going to just get fit, I was going to get very fit. Over the years, my riding style has kept changing. Such is life. I started out very slow and easy. I was 53 years old when I started riding, just one year younger than my father was when he died of a heart attack, already 5 years older than my grandfather was when he died of a heart attack, just a year past quitting a longtime cigar smoking habit, and still 35 pounds or so overweight (down 5 pounds from a year earlier), so I didn’t need a doctor to tell me that I should start slowly. Those first rides were an easy 3 1/2 miles on a bike trail, and I slowly built up from there.
I did lots of rides in 2005, my first full calendar year of riding, but they were all short and easy rides. I was doing more club rides in 2006, but still nothing much over 60 miles. It was 2007 when I did my first 100 mile and first 200k rides. That was also the first year I did the 100 mile route at the Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred. Last month, I did that 100 mile route for the 8th year in a row.
I had met Mark Metcalfe in the fall of 2006. He’s a serious long distance cyclist, and got me to try randonneuring and even an ultra distance race in 2007. I was also doing longer club rides and charity rides by then. It was quickly obvious that I would never be fast enough to be much of a racer, but I did enjoy the randonneuring and other longer distance rides. In the fall of 2009, I started commuting to work by bike, and did that until early 2012. Of all the riding I’ve done, the commuting to work by bike has been my favorite. It wasn’t on my favorite bike, and riding a heavier bike with a heavier load than usual won’t do much for your speed, but there’s just something about doing something that useful on a bicycle that really makes it fun.
In 2012, I was off work for an extended time with a cratered left shoulder (40+ years of heavy machine shop work takes a toll), and when I went back to work, I took a new job that has me driving a company vehicle all over the state, so that was the end of my bike commuting to work. Last year, I moved to Gun Barrel City. The air is better here, but it’s 60 miles from the DFW metroplex, and there are no organized rides anywhere near, so my riding since then has been mostly just shorter solo rides close to home. The Hotter ‘N Hell Hundred has been my only organized ride of the year, this year. With fewer hours to ride, my mileage has also decreased. It seems unlikely that I’ll ever get back to the 7,000+ miles a year I was doing for four years, but I’d still like to keep riding 5,000 miles a year or more.
It’s pretty amazing what so many riding miles does to your body. My legs don’t look like those of a 63 year old man, and doctors smile when they look at my blood work. Riding can’t protect you from everything, though. There aren’t many words you can hear from a doctor that are worse than those I heard in November of 2007: “You have lung cancer.” I’d likely had it for years before I started riding, and though riding didn’t cure it for me, I think it certainly helped me recover strong from surgery removing the upper half of my left lung in December of 2007. And I give it a lot of credit for helping me remain cancer free for the almost 7 years since then.
Your body can’t regenerate lost lung tissue. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. But, you can definitely train the lung tissue you have left after surgery. On the only pulmonary function test I’ve had since surgery, I tested in the upper end of the normal range, and my primary care doctor was plainly very surprised. And I seem to be less out of breath after bounding up stairs, or doing a couple of consecutive line dances, than most of those around me, so I give great credit to what riding has done for me. Besides, even after 10 years and all those miles, I still love riding as much as I did when I was nine years old. Some things don’t change. Here’s hoping I can still say that after another 10 years, and that I’m still riding lots of miles.