Not Done Yet

Every now and then when I hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near I feel the need to write about personal matters. Self-indulgent, I know, but a compulsion. Today is one of those days.

I went out for a group ride this morning and was totally destroyed in, and by, the fast portion of the ride. With about a third of a mile to go in the three or four mile section that the local morning ride group races every day, I was spit out by the peloton of faster riders, unable to accelerate to the speed of the final sprint. Not only was I not in the hunt for victory, I was roadkill. They waited for me after the finish line – a well-established ritual that is meant to be kind but feels a little humiliating to the vanquished, as I now know.

The morning ride’s rituals have been set for nearly thirty years. The faces have changed, though, as regular participants have come and gone. Most of the men – initially, it was only guys – who were there in the early years are long gone, replaced by riders who were schoolchildren when we started. One brave woman has ridden with the group regularly for nearly twenty years.

I have endured – sort of. For the ride’s first twenty years or so I joined the fun daily; indeed, I generally led the rides since in those days, unlike at present, the routes varied from day to day – I usually called the turns. I was also the strongest rider in the raced portions and almost always won the sprints.

Those were good days; I remember them fondly. For a few years in the mid-nineties the group’s strongest riders would also travel into the city together on on early weekend mornings to race with vast numbers of other amateurs in Prospect Park or, less frequently, Central Park. Sometimes we did pretty well.

The other morning riders from that era – all professionals who commuted into the city from our quiet suburb – came to be numbered among my closest friends. I spent an awful lot of time side by side with those guys. During the warm months, an hour a day, five days a week, for years – and innumerable longer weekend rides.

Lives changed. People moved away or other responsibilities took precedence (fwiw, I do think of adult athletics as a responsibility for those of us whose waking hours are, or were, mostly spent at desks – they are necessary if we are to remain healthy and maintain a sense of mental balance; the fact that group riding is also enormously fun is a bonus).

Eventually, I moved away, too, in the sense of buying a vacation home where I would spend most of my weekends and summers and, later, entirely leaving the routine of daily commutes to the city that anchors the group’s daily riding time between 5:30 AM and 6:30 AM. I left town often and my morning ride participations, even when home, became sporadic; after all, if I can ride in the warmer, brighter hours, why get up at five?

The morning ride has continued – and even grown – since I began my long absences from it eleven years ago. As mentioned, younger riders joined the group, replacing those who left. They ride together on weekends and some also race in the city, with occasional triumphs. Most of the talk in the morning rides’ warmups and warmdowns is about the various riders’ children’s schools, sports and vacation plans. In short, the newer riders are who we were.

Those of the old gang who still live in town have mostly dropped out; a few – like me – show up occasionally; when we do we are almost always ritually slaughtered.

Now that I no longer have a full time job, I’m actually exercising more than I used to have the time to do. Wherever I am, I ride three or four times a week, generally in the form of longer but slower rides than the morning rides. I kayak and swim as often as I ride. As you may recall, I even rode across the country, mostly solo, two years ago. All these activities have left me feeling pretty fit.

***

The Beloved Spouse and I are back home now, awaiting the imminent, happily-anticipated birth of a third grandchild. When the baby girl arrives, we’ll stick around for a while, nominally to help her mother, father and brother, but just as much to enjoy the sights and sounds of new life. So I have a few weeks, at least, to reintegrate myself with the morning ride gang.

I awakened this morning looking forward to the morning ride and hoping to be in the hunt. Maybe if the fastest guys didn’t show, or if I was particularly clever, or both, I could take the sprint.

Aaaah, no. Humiliation awaited me.

***

Most of us men, myself included, secretly believe that our bodies really don’t change in any fundamental way between the ages of twenty and, let’s say, sixty-five or seventy. Sure we generally gain some weight – hey, work and other responsibilities – but we’re convinced that we could get right back to where we were with a little time and effort.

Women, whose bodies go through more obvious phases, are more realistic than we are about this sort of thing and, if the Beloved Spouse is fair representative, about other matters too. We older men are kidding ourselves. Sometimes, as this morning, that fact becomes painfully obvious. The younger guys are much stronger and – with less training – can wipe the floor with us.

***

In so many ways that it would be indecorous to list them, I am a lucky man. To name just one: I savor the joys of grandparenthood – which, in my view is a lot more fun than parenthood – all the love, very few of the responsibilities. Ok, two: the Beloved Spouse. I’ll just stop there, though.

And yet, and yet, I still dream of the day when I will taste taste victory on the bike again. Even though I know that these little contests mean absolutely nothing to anybody not in them, they mean a lot to me – and to my friends. The competition gives shape to those relationships and the relationships, in turn, play important roles in defining who we are.

And notwithstanding the slow but sadly undeniable gradual degradation of my physical potential, victories are still possible. After all, on a relative basis those other riders are ageing more quickly than I am, amIright? And they probably don’t even know it! So all I have to do is train a little harder and hang on long enough…

In some ways, our illusions sustain us.

 

M.H. Johnston

3 comments to Not Done Yet

  • DCS  says:

    Ritually slaughtered. It’s a serious group these days.

  • Ron Cypers  says:

    Mark – I share your experience as a cyclist, also hopefully as a grandfather-to-be,and even a happily semi-retired gent. My advice is to accept [gracefully] the humiliation of aging, as we all do, in our unique time frames. Recall the days when you were the king of the pack, as I’m sure you were at times. For me there are plenty of guys, my age, who can whip me on a ride. But for many years, until perhaps into my early 40’s there weren’t many that could. There are many reasons for a person’s physical decline, some known, some not. Importantly, our days of competition, even in a friendly group ride, which I would maintain should not include competing, are over – those were and are for younger men [and women]. As Nike says “Just do it”.

    Know that you can still have tremendous fun and enjoy the fruits of late summer fitness that include riding up hard hills with relative ease. Leave the competition for souls with ego issues, you don’t need that.

    PS – more importantly, I bet the guys on the group ride would have a hard time keeping up with your intellect, writing ability, or your mental acuity. You’d drop the pack in a fast second in those areas…..

  • john primm  says:

    Perceptive and grace filled Mark.

Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>