Wednesday, August 20, 2008

To bike or not to bike

I recently bought a bike for health purposes and I’m keeping it deep in the garage for health purposes.

With gas prices skyrocketing this spring, stopping at a yard full of used bikes to buy a spiffy 10-speeder for $80 seemed to make sense. I could ride it the two miles to my office in town. It would be good cardiovascular exercise and would help me stay tone and fit.

I’ve always liked riding bikes. Unlike running, people who ride bikes are almost always smiling and you never hear grim news stories about the kick stand crowd suffering from bouts of things like bike rage.

I took a bike tour of Philadelphia -- a city you wouldn’t normally associate with biking -- and it was a splendid. We hit all the great historic sites and had a picnic lunch at a lovely park. And I have great memories of an overnight bike trip with my wife through scenic Ohiopyle State Park.

So I thought biking to work would be a pleasant way to save gas, keep fit and enjoy that smug eco-superiority we’re all striving for these days.

Of course, as with any impulse buy, I immediately began experiencing regrets.

I failed to realize commuter biking is not conducive to where I live and work. I live in the Laurel Mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. The first part of my two-mile commute is nearly straight downhill. I road it one Saturday morning to get the paper while suffering from a mild hangover. I made the mistake of thinking a bike ride would sweat the toxins out.

The ride down was great. I felt the “Wind in the hair! Lead in the pencil!” euphoria that Jack Nicholson exhalted about in “Terms of Endearment” moments before wrecking the T-Top he was steering along the beach with his feet. I didn’t wreck, but I didn’t figure on the “ride” back up the mountain being enough to kill me.

I wound up laying on the side of the road, cold sweat covering my pale skin, until Val and the kids responded to my humiliated cellphone calls for assistance. Their ridicule and laughter did nothing to help my hangover.

I chalked it up to being out of shape. I figured I could scale the hill after a week or so of two-wheeled exertions.

But then I began to do a little thoughtful reconnaissance about the entire two-mile trip to my office above The Pond (the tavern that, if you’re not counting parking lot puddles, is about three miles from the nearest body of water).

Riding mostly downhill to the office would be a cinch. I’d be motivated and eager to get to my destination. Riding back uphill was another matter. The hill’s daunting enough. Worse, the ride home requires navigating past four lively taverns.

That means dodging drunks as they come and go. And I’m not even counting myself. I might become so fatigued that I’ll need to stop in for refreshment. Once there, generous friendlies might insist on refreshing me so much that I’ll be unable to mount the bike again.

The perfect solution is to could get The IOC to build one of those Olympic tracks from my house to The Pond. There’d be no traffic, gentle slopes and thousands of smiling Chinese children yelling patriotic slogans in fractured English for NBC cameras.

I began to conclude that my route is simply too dangerous for me to dare it. The odds are that I’ll either fall or get hit on these country roads. Drivers are too distracted. They’re yapping on their cell phones, switching iPod playlists -- doing anything but watching out for a gentle soul who’s single-footedly trying to pedal America to energy independence.

Plus, I read about CBS golf analyst David Feherty and his near-fatal bike accident in his Dallas neighborhood. He nearly lost a limb. Just two years after recovering from alcoholism, his newly virtuous life nearly ended when a truck went crooked and wide into his straight and narrow.

A man with so much to live for nearly had to kiss it all goodbye.

Life’s so funny like that.

The only way for some of us to save our sorry asses is to do something that’ll ensure we’ll be forever saddled with flabby butts.

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