Tossing Lines: Bicycling down Aging Avenue into Painsville as springtime looms

Optimistically poised today on the doorstep of spring and a new season of bicycling, I can’t help but recall my autumn pedal fest down Aging Avenue into Painsville.

One quiet morning last October, I packed energy bars and electrolyte-infused water onto my bicycle in an empty Westfield, Mass., Stop & Shop parking lot. I half-listened to a woman nearby shouting, her voice amplified in the early stillness.

Confronting invisible demons, she shouted to no one about an imaginary person threatening her.

Considering my age and plan to ride 100 miles in a day, I wondered who was crazier: me or her?

I knew my first “Century” ride was going to hurt at age 63. I don’t worry much about normal muscle pain; it’s the non-muscular, age-related, old-injury pains that get my attention on longer rides.

As we age, we often pay a price for strenuous activities, thanks to collateral damage we’ve collected over the years. A color MRI of my lower spine looks like a Los Angeles traffic jam at night, and I endure a few other pesky issues that I fight to ignore, some age-related, some self-inflicted.

But as I pedaled up the ramp to the trail with my cohorts, I shook off concerns by using my wonderful human ability to rationalize the irrational.

People are doing crazy things into their 80s, 90s, even 100s. Age truly has become a meaningless number for adventurous souls with open minds.

As my wheels rolled through the first miles, I considered a man in his 70s I met in September at a cycling fundraiser.

He had an old steel Schwinn Continental bicycle, a heavy dinosaur compared to my carbon fiber bike, yet he rode the same 67-mile route as me.

Gladys Burrill, 92 years old, is the Guinness Book of World Records’ Oldest Female Marathon Finisher.

Yuichiro Miura is a Japanese climber who ascended Mount Everest at ages 70, 75 and 80.

And The Day just reported in January about 77-year-old Ledyard grandmother Maxine Shepatin, a swimmer, rower, boxer and black belt at Muay Thai.

There are many others who so defy age, inspiring us all.

Comparatively, my 100-mile ride began to look like a walk in the park, but challenging oneself in any activity when you’re over 60 isn’t always pain free.

The first 70-plus miles were comfortable, but after 80 miles on the bike, pain attacked me from different quarters and wouldn’t let go, like a dog on a pant leg, until the odometer clicked 102.

Cycling has taught me to push through pain to achieve goals, and it’s worth it. Sedentary lifestyles cause physical and mental deterioration, and it’s pretty much common knowledge that regular strenuous activity can decrease your risk of coronary heart disease by up to 50 percent and stimulate the brain.

Plus, physical challenges keep life interesting. I think I’ll continue bicycling my age every year until I’m 100.

Perhaps I am crazier than the parking lot lady.

John Steward lives in Waterford. He can be reached at tossinglines@gmail.com. Read more at www.johnsteward.online.

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