Thursday, July 2, 2009

Who Inspires You?

Take a look in your local bookstore and you might get the impression that Lance Armstrong is the only guy who ever rode a bicycle. In our spectator society, there are the few that do and the many that watch. The watchers think, "I could never do that," and maybe there are some who think, "I could do that," and even one or two who actually get inspired to get off the couch and do it. I'm not particularly inspired or daunted by Lance. Not to take away from his remarkable achievements as a cyclist, combined with his remarkable achievements as a cancer survivor. It's just that I have no particular urge to race bicycles; my interests are in other kinds of cycling. I do like to go fast, and I like to match the pace of fast riders when I encounter them--especially when they pass me in all their lycra-clad gaudiness. It's just that I am more interested in being able to ride long distances, going somewhere interesting, or in using my bike to go where I am already going, than in competition. I am certainly aware that others feel differently about it. A lady I know who has won a number of mountain bike races told me she had hardly ever ridden once she stopped competing. And for her, a racer like Lance is an inspiration. But today I want to tell you about some people whom I find inspiring. In today's Washington Post there was an article about an elderly gentleman, Larry "Curly" Haubner, celebrating his birthday in the assisted living facility where he now resides. The incident that resulted in his moving into said facility was a bicycling accident, in which he broke his hip. He was 102 at the time. The birthday he celebrated yesterday was his 107th. He is fit, healthy, mentally alert and highly articulate. He attributes his long life to good diet and exercise. His biggest problem seems to be that he has outlived his money, and lives in Virginia, one of eight states that do not allow Medicare to pay for assisted living. The article did not say whether he still rides his bicycle. I hope he does. Then there's my friend Zoe. She is, to put it politely, a big girl--a very big girl. Not long ago she mentioned she had bought herself a bicycle and was riding it. Last night as I was leaving the seminar in which we are both participants, I saw Zoe and another equally large lady preparing to ride their bicycles home. They were wearing helmets, the bikes were properly set up (and in an appropriate gear) and had lights on them. Zoe told me she had already lost 20 pounds so far. She wants to add fenders, a rack and better lights to her bike. It's an honor to assist someone like Zoe to find them. One of the great things about bicycling--one which made it suspect when it was invented in the class-conscious 19th century--is its egalitarianism. Bikes are relatively inexpensive, easy to care for and store, and rideable by just about anyone. They were the first experience of personal mobility--going somewhere other than on foot or by paying to ride in someone else's conveyance--that most people in that time had ever had. And I will never forget the feeling of freedom that my first bicycle gave me--a feeling I have never entirely lost. Just about anyone, you ask? What about those whose physical abilities are, we might say, limited compared to the rest of us? One afternoon on the bike trail, I was, with considerable effort, making my way up a long hill. In front of me was a man on a recumbent three-wheeler, who seemed to make light work of it. I could scarcely keep up with him. Not only did he appear to be quite a bit older than I was, but he was propelling himself with his hands operating grips in place of pedals on the cranks, which were positioned in front of his chest. He had no legs. He was outpacing me, up a hill, on a handcycle. Such a sight is both humbling and inspiring. I don't know who he was and I haven't seen him in a while. I hope he's still riding. So what's stopping you? You got a better excuse than they do? I don't really want to hear it. It's just a story anyway. Get out and ride.


  1. Thanks. I noticed Tim's cartoon on your page also. Of course I have left myself wide open to my own charge--I am under doctor's orders not to ride until my arm heals. I accept unavoidable medical necessity as an excuse. However I will be back on the road as soon as I am cleared for it.