Category: Health

“I want to ride my bicycle…”

“I want to ride my bicycle…”

Freddie Mercury, Queen

Health. Thankful that I have it, but all too aware of our fragility.

So what’s with my philosophical musing today? Well, in mid-January I went on a trail ride with a friend. My first trail ride since moving back to Louisiana, believe it or not. We were having a nice ride on a flat, but very winding course. Having a good time on a warm January day. The trail was (mostly) dry, and well-maintained. We were just about done the circuit. About 100 yards from the end, we came across a slightly wet portion of the trail. Roots everywhere. All of a sudden, the bike went one way, and I endo’ed. Yep, splat. Perfect face plant, splayed out completely. My left wrist hurt a bit as I untangled myself from the bike and the roots and stood up. Got back on the bike and rode out to the levee for the trip back to the car.

My left wrist complained. I wasn’t sure if it was broken…I did immediately think back to when my wife had a bike mishap that led to surgery and multiple screws in her wrist…I drove home and took some ibuprofen. My wife and I agreed that if it still hurt the next morning, I’d go to Urgent Care.

Well, yep. First thing next morning. X-rays showed what’s called a “buckle fracture,” a tiny little thing. A few days later the orthopedist put my thumb/wrist into a cast. It’s still on…they tell me they’ll (probably) take it off next week.

I want to ride my bicycle. Not exactly feasible right now. I want to go see the “House Floats” that have sprung up all over the city in this pandemic-cancelled Carnival season. I want to get out with my wife and ride around town to explore the amazing creativity that fuels this city in spite of everything. I don’t want to have to get in the car to do that. But the reality is that, for now, I have no choice. I realize this is really a tiny setback, and that things are much worse for many other people. Unlike some others, I will be able get back to this thing that I love to do, very soon.

Next week, though…

A thing apart

A thing apart

“It is no exaggeration to affirm that a journey by bicycle is like none other; it is a thing apart; it has a tempo and a style of its own.”

James E Starrs, The Noiseless Tenor

A journey by bicycle is a thing apart. It’s not like driving a car.

In a car, you are separate from the world, not a part of it. The metal box has its own environment; one created by the car manufacturer, and customized by the driver, to minimize the interaction with the world outside. In recent years, the car’s environment has become even more insular. Touch-screen interfaces, messaging, Bluetooth connectivity, all combine to make the motorist even more laser-focused on the inside of the vehicle and the inside of his or her mind. More and more distractions are available. Less and less attention is given to the outside world, to the ROADWAY, and to OTHER ROAD USERS! 

We’ve seen (among many other things in 2020) an increase in bad motorist behavior. It seems that as the streets emptied early in the COVID era, those who were on them decided that they didn’t need to follow the rules so closely. Average speeds increased, with a parallel increase in crashes, injuries and fatalities.

But another thing that has increased in 2020 is bicycle use. Data show increases across the country. People have rediscovered the bicycle’s tempo and style. Continuing the musical analogy, what’s the tempo of a bicycle? Somewhere between a pedestrian’s “Andante” (a walking pace) and a motorist’s Allegro” (quick) or “Presto” (very fast). Moderato,” then, using the musical term for “moderate.”

And it’s more than just a difference of speed: it’s a difference of approach. When driving a car one sees the world in glances, in (often) disconnected bits. The driver passes through the world at a pace that allows only glimpses between the start of the journey and its destination. The journey is incidental. The goal is the destination. 

On the bicycle, the journey is often as much a part of the experience as the destination. One sees so much more. The more relaxed pace allows the bicycle driver to see details that would be missed by the motorist. The sights, the smells. The sounds, the breeze. The hills, the weather. The light, the clouds. In all, a journey, not a mere conveyance from Point A to Point B.

Think about your neighborhood, and about your usual haunts. Most of your travel is within a few miles of your home. What if you used a bicycle to get to the hardware store for those batteries you need to replace? How about a bike ride to get that gallon of milk? Do you ever think about driving your bike instead of your car to the drugstore? What would you get?

A little cardio exercise…a little saving on gasoline…a little less wear on your car…maybe even more time to do something else, since you didn’t have to get the car out, find a parking place, park it, walk to the store’s front door (you can park right in front!), put things in the trunk, drive home, find a parking space (or put it back in the garage)…

And it’s not just about those things; it’s about being outside on a bike. Maybe it’s been a very long time since you’ve been on a bike. Maybe it’s time to rediscover the joy that is possible on two wheels!

Go outside! Get healthy!

Go outside! Get healthy!

“So ardent a cyclist must be full of good health.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

A cyclist is full of good health. Riding a bike has a real health benefits. First, it’s low impact. Since you don’t land on a hard surface with every step, you may experience less joint pain and damage…I’ve known a number of riders who used to be runners. They gave up running eventually and discovered they they could continue to get great aerobic exercise by hopping on a bike instead.

It also uses lots of the body’s muscle groups…not only the legs get a workout. Glutes, back, core, arms; all help keep the bike upright and keep it moving.

Riding a bicycle generally gets you to breathe deeper (you can vary the intensity to made it as hard, or as easy, as you’d like!). And a 2014 study actually showed that people driving bicycles were exposed to far less air pollution than those driving cars!

Active people just feel better! Exercise causes the release of adrenalin and endorphins, which may energize you and make you feel good. And the extra activity burns calories…there’s no guarantee you’ll lose weight, but if that’s a goal, cycling (or any other exercise) may help you reach it.

Heart rate: cycling raises it, and is a good way to cut risk of heart disease. Many exercises will do this, and more. Possible side effects of exercise include improved sleep, brain health, and a strengthened immune system.

And here’s a shocker: using a bicycle for those short trips and errands often takes less time than using a car. Think about it. Getting in the car, driving to where you need to go, finding a parking place, walking to the entrance…or…jump on the bike, drive to where you need to go, park right by the front door, BOOM. Many “races” in numerous cities ended with the bicyclist arriving long before the motorist.

Want a little more information about how cycling can help? Check out these articles from Cycling Weekly, Harvard Health Publishing, MDAnderson. Or try it out yourself. Get on your bike and ride!

Food, glorious food

Food, glorious food

“I eat to ride, I ride to eat. At the best of moments, I can achieve a perfect balance, consuming just the right amount of calories as I fill up at bakeries, restaurants or ice cream parlors.”

Daniel Behrman, The Man Who Loved Bicycles

Yep, my philosophy. I used to joke about it with my riding buddies. When I first started doing long-distance rides (by that I mean the annual 7-day, 500-mile charity ride I participated in for 9 years), I ate massive quantities of food during the ride. To paraphrase the hobbits: breakfast, second breakfast, 11sies, lunch. tea, dinner, supper, snack…I’m sure it was the riding that allowed me to consume such a massive amounts of calories without blowing up like a balloon. But that elusive balance he talks about? It’s kinda hard to achieve sometimes. Especially since I’m not doing anywhere near that kind of riding these days.

When I moved back to New Orleans a few years ago, I noticed a bit of weight creep. Nothing major, just a few pounds, but at the same time my bike miles were down significantly. Realizing what was going on, I started paying attention to it. That was something I never had to do. Good genes, I guess, but adding excess weight was never a problem. That changed.

So I started paying attention. But I live in New Orleans! I need not tell you what that means re: food. I’ve mostly found a balance again. I get out on the bike for a long ride once a week or so, and get in what I can for short trips on other days. And I’ve cut back on some of that food, glorious New Orleans food a bit.

But…all things in moderation. I think I’ll go get an order of beignets and cafe au lait now…

Bikes as a workout, too

Bikes as a workout, too

“My own preferred fitness regime is to use my bicycle.”

-Paul Hollywood, celebrity chef

I’ve done a lot of different types of exercise over the years. Nautilus machines. Dumbbells. Barbells. Kettlebells. Aerobics. Cybex. Universal. Ellipticals. Body weight. Rowers. Bodypump.

You get the idea. For my entire adult life I’ve exercised in one way or another. Maybe that’s why in a recent hospital stay, they kept saying, “Wait. All of your vitals and lab values are great. You’re a healthy man living in New Orleans. How does that happen?”

Or maybe it’s in the genes; or both? I don’t know.

But, I will say that my favorite activity to keep myself going/ healthy/ happy is to ride my bike. For so many reasons. When I train new League Cycling Instructors, part of the very first exercise includes the question, “What one word would you use to describe what learning to ride a bike meant to you?” The most common answer is freedom.

Yes. The freedom to expand your life: from your home, your neighborhood, even your city (for more ambitious riders)…

For me, as an adult, it’s another kind of freedom. When I’m on the bike, I can think about anything, or nothing. I can solve the problems of the world, or I can intentionally let everything go. And regardless, I’m exercising! Oh yeah, this is about exercising.

But bicycling gives me so much more. Out in the air. Seeing the world. Smelling the flowers (and in passing the farms in New Jersey, smelling other things!). Talking with friends (I like riding alone, but it’s better when friends are there too). And thinking, or not. And meanwhile, my heart is pumping more. I’m breathing more deeply. My muscles, at least the lower half of my body and my core) are getting a workout. OK, so I still need to exercise the upper half, but that’s fine. Days on a bike are especially good days.

But ride

But ride

“Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short, as you feel. But ride.” Eddy Merckx

Yes, that. For many reasons. I find that my riding has been neither as frequent nor as far as I would like this year. Part of it is the back and forth of travel. Part of it is inertia. None of it is for good reason. I have noticed that no matter how much or how little I ride, I love it equally. I have managed to get in a few longer rides, but many of my trips this year have been short ones: to the bagel shop, to the hardware store, to the farmers’ market. On that one, I got my wife to ride with me. She didn’t think we could do the trip on the bikes; she assumed we’d drive the car. I grabbed the Ortlieb bags. We carried home corn, tomatoes, and a number of other fresh herbs and vegetables, zucchini flowers (for stuffing at dinner that night!) and a bouquet of fresh flowers for the table. It was nice.

A few trips on the Mississippi River Trail in New Orleans; a few rides on Long Beach Island in NJ. Other than that, short jaunts on the cruiser. But on all of them, the same feeling of joy. Of freedom. Of peace. All days are gifts, but days that include a bike ride are special.

You’ve seen articles on the bike and its contribution to physical health, to the environment, to business, to traffic mitigation…and to mental health. I can only speak for myself: a bike ride is a recharge/reset; a mental break; a chance to enjoy the beauty around us.

Go recharge. Go do yourself some good. Go for a long ride, or a short one…but ride.

A moment…

A moment…

OK, this is a complete (well, not for me) diversion from the usual. I’ll relate an experience I had this week (off the bike) and it’s only tangentially related. So if you’d rather not get philosophical today, move along…

Those of you who know me may know of my fascination with labyrinths. I’ve admired them, walked them…even tattooed one on my leg. That’s part of the story.

I’ve never been much on tattoos. I felt that, for me, at least, it had to mean something. Until I found something that truly meant something to me, I would not put it on my body. As some of you know, that happened last year. I had said for years that a tattoo of the Chartres labyrinth would be cool. For me, these were the reasons why: 1) I’ve been fascinated with it for years. The journey of faith, of pilgrimage, of prayer, represented there was important to me; 2) I’ve often considered bike riding a “physical” prayer, much like walking the labyrinth; 3) the dentelles, or teeth, surrounding the labyrinth reminds me strongly of a chainring.

So I finally decided to do it last year. I had it placed on the inside of my right calf, right where a “chain tattoo” would be.

And then this happened early this week:

A local church advertised a labyrinth walk. I decided to go in. I approached the canvas labyrinth, and near the entrance, two ladies were seated. As I got close, I said, “Good morning,” and, having worn shorts, I turned slightly and they saw the tattoo. One responded enthusiastically and asked if she could take a picture of it. The other, meanwhile, asked how much it hurt then said, “You idiot.” The first lady laughed nervously, and said, “Leave it to (second lady) to come up something like that.”

Second lady scurried away, and I began walking the labyrinth. I prayed. I was overwhelmed by the comment and thought that I needed to address it with her. I had no idea what to say. On my way back from the “center,” it came to me. Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matthew 18:15)

So I did. As I exited the labyrinth, she was walking by. I said to her, “I really need to speak to you about something.” I told her that Jesus said we should point out our brothers’ and sisters’ fault. I said, “This is the first time I’ve ever come to pray and been called an idiot.”

She apologized profusely and we hugged. She thanked me for giving her the opportunity to right the wrong. She had realized what she had done the moment she said it, and moved away in embarrassment. We talked some more, about labyrinths, about who we were, about prayer, and then we hugged again. It turned full circle – from a wonderful moment, to a moment of doubt, to a wonderful reconciliation.

The Lord works in mysterious ways.



The problem is that you can be wounded in your mind as well as your physique.

Marco Pantani

A crash changes lives. The injury is real. The scars prove it.

For some, getting over it and moving on is not very difficult. For others the fear paralyzes. It prevents them from experiencing the joy they once felt. It imprisons them in a world that threatens, not promises. It causes them to deny that which they love to prevent further loss.

I understand the “wounded mind.” Let me tell you about two experiences in my life. In the 90’s, I was in a car crash. Later, even when the doctor cleared me to drive, I was afraid. I coudn’t bear to get behind the wheel again, until finally my wife told me I couldn’t stop living and she wouldn’t drive me anywhere. I had to face the reality, no, the fear, of driving in order to continue living my life. And of course, my wounded mind healed.

Then nearly six years ago, I crashed on my bicycle. It was serious. Broken clavicle, broken ribs, torn bicep tendon, broken thumb, chest bleed, brain bleed. Medevac to trauma hospital. In the trauma unit for 9 days. I have no recollection of the event itself. I “wasn’t there;” short-term amnesia occurred. I don’t remember falling over. I don’t remember hitting the pavement. I don’t remember the pain of my (not insignificant!) injuries. My first (fleeting) memory was opening my eyes and hearing (realizing? being told?) that I was in a helicopter. I don’t remember much else for the next few days. Just pain. People coming and going. Bad dreams. The sheer joy of seeing my family. Bad food. Friends beside me. LEGO candies (yes, really!)

The wounded mind, though.

After this crash, things were different. I didn’t experience the same prison I did after the car crash. I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike. I was ecstatic when my doctor cleared me to ride again. But my mind was wounded that day too, and I was not the only one. My wife was wounded, too. Her wounds are just not visible…to you. They were and still are real. I still see them each time I say I’m going for a ride. But I can’t stop living. And I won’t stop doing the things I love. She knows that I take the utmost care when I go out on a ride. And she gives me her blessing. But like the scars I still have on my arms and the clavicle that healed out of kilter, our wounded minds are scarred as well. I still think about that day, and she still worries. It’s not the same as it was before. But we have healed.

A couple of days ago, I shared a meme on facebook that is relevant here: “God didn’t add another day in your life because you needed it…He added it because someone out there needs you.” There is something to be learned (and shared) in your experience. You may not know what that is right now. Search it out. Embrace it. Share it. And in that, you will heal.

So if you’ve been through this in some way, know that like your physique, your wounded mind will heal.

Reading bike books…

Reading bike books…

So I’ve been reading bike books. Yep, my inner bike geek is showing. I recently bought “Bikenomics” by Elly Blue. It’s about how bicycling can make a huge difference in the economy…now there’s a surprise! From the title, you might have suspected…what? But that book will be the subject of another post. I’ll just say this now. Get it. Read it. Pay attention.

This short post will be on another book about bike riding, bikes, eating, fear, “bike culture,” etc. In other words, random musings. It’s called “Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling,” by the guy who calls himself Bike Snob NYC. It’s a lot of fun, and occasionally led me to chuckle while on a plane today (thankfully, my seatmates didn’t ask that I be held for questioning when we disembarked). You should get this one, too.

There were multiple occasions of chuckling between Houston and Phoenix. But the book has some serious stuff, too. Sort of. Here’s what made me actually pull out the computer and start writing:

“Don’t worry, you’re not turning into a brain-dead, zombie-like sleeping and eating machine. If anything, you were probably a brain-dead, zombie-like sleeping and eating machine before you became a cyclist. Really, what cycling is doing is burning the fat off of your life as well as your body.” (page 169)

I’ll just let you ponder that for a while.

The hills are alive…

The hills are alive…

“[Motorists] do not understand speed the same way we do. They know it only from the seat of a car, so they have no idea of the force and finesse required to propel a person on a bicycle at twenty miles per hour, let alone twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five – or the inhumane forty-plus hit by the great sprinters and trackies. Real people might remember from a physics class that wind speed increases exponentially rather than linearly with speed, but they have never been taught this by having the wind punch them in the face then swirl down their bodies and settle around their legs like concrete. Their loss.”

Bill Strickland, The Quotable Cyclist

Their loss, indeed. I have heard many bicycle riders say that they love to ride their bikes, but that they really don’t enjoy riding on hills. Why not? For many, it’s probably that they find the climb uncomfortable, or just too much work. Sure, it seems like there’s less work involved when riding flat roads or trails. The thing I don’t like about riding flats is that I have to keep pedaling! I never get a break. If I stop pedaling, I fall down…But seriously, there’s never a break. Hills provide the wonderful feeling of coasting freely, and even accelerating, down the road/trail, relying only on gravity to propel you faster and faster towards your destination.

Riding a bicycle also changes your perception – that road that you thought was flat turns out to be undulating, rolling up and down in small, but real cycles of ascent and descent. Unless you ride only on towpaths and rails-to-trails conversions, you will face hills…small though they may be. You know it is so because your legs tell you it is so.

To my mind, the joy of descending more than makes up for the work of ascending. Yes, it can be hard. But it’s worth every moment. Your legs become stronger every time you do it. You heart beats faster to bring oxygen and nutrients to the tiring leg muscles. Your lungs work harder to bring in even more breath. And then the joy of the descent! About as close to flying as one can get.

I miss the hills.

Theme: Elation by Kaira.