Tag Archives: biking

10 Things I love About Biking

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I have been wanting to write this post for a while, especially since I wrote the 10 Things I Hate About Biking. So here it is:

10 Things I Love About Biking:

  1. Biking is Challenging – I love a good challenge. I tend to be singular in what I challenge myself with. Mostly, the only challenge I really have is my work. Last year was particularly difficult and work took up a huge amount of my time and focus. Biking offered a counter balance to the work challenge. It was personally challenging for me to get on the bike. I forced myself push a little farther every day.
  2. Biking is Fun! – Honestly, it really is. I have said many times it was hard work, but the pay-off for that hard work is that I get to bike. I love the feel of the sun on my face, the wind in my hair. I love flying down hills, or the steady pedaling of riding on a flat trail. I feel free in a way that I do not feel walking or *gasp* running, or doing any other kind of exercise.
  3.  The “Biking Community” –  I am not sure if it is the same in every community, but in Arlington, there is a big informal, (and probably formal if I looked into it more), biking community. A lot of people bike here. There are bike trails everywhere and most of the streets are accommodating to bikers. And other bikers kind of look out for one another. This is something I was not really aware of. One day in August was particularly hot. I was thirsty and pulled off the trail for a moment to drink some water. I’m sure my face was red and I was very sweaty and panting. One girl slowly road by me and asked if I was OK. I assured her I was just thirsty and she pedaled on her way. Occasionally, you get the person who is aggressively concerned with your biking. Annoyingly so, in fact. “That bike is too small for you!” One such person yelled to me as I was slowly riding up hill. “You need to raise your seat! You’ll blow out your knees!” I had to stop and walk the bike up the hill and he came over to try to show me how to raise my seat. Dude! Seriously? At that point in my biking I was just a few days out and feeling very unstable on the bike. Raising my seat was not something I was quite comfortable with yet. I waved him off and told him I was OK, and he grumbled his disapproval and walked away. Creepy. Fortunately, my experiences with other bikers has been much more pleasant.
  4. Supportive Bikers – This is probably a sub-group of the biking community, but I have really come across so many bikers who have been very supportive of my efforts. There’s the girl who offered to fix my flat tire. The guy who stopped to see if he could fix my handle bars. And bikers who just acknowledge me with a polite nod as they pass. But my favorite person, I “met” on one of my first rides. I was re-entering the Four Mile Run trail from South Glebe. There is a slight incline as you enter the trail. I was really struggling to get up the teeny hill. I wanted to push myself to the top. I was traveling at a snail’s pace. A woman rides up behind me and announces she’s passing me on my left. I was literally about to give up and get off my bike when she said as she rode by, “Keep pushing! You got this!” Her words were just the impetus I needed. Two, maybe, three pedals later, I crested the hill and yelled out, “I did it!” She raised her fist in the air in solidarity and rode off.
  5. Being Outside – I could go to gym and ride the stationary bike or join a spin class, but that really never held any appeal for me. I love being outside. The feel of the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. Amazing. Plus I get to see all the beauty around me. Spring and fall are my two favorite seasons. I love the feeling of renewal in the spring air, the blooming of the cherry blossoms, azaleas, budding trees. And the last splash of color and cool air of autumn. And everything in between.
  6. Pushing Myself – I love pushing myself. This past year, I have ridden harder and farther than I ever thought I could. I love to see how far I can go. There have been times I have pushed too far, but I’ve always made it back home, even if I had to walk. The farthest I ever pushed myself to date is my ride from home to Chinatown in DC. It was much farther than I thought it was. Google Maps initially said it was only 6 miles from my house and would take an hour. Google lied. On the bike trail, it was probably 10 or 11 miles. And it took almost two hours. I do not regret doing this though. It was hard and a little scary, but I had a lot of fun.
  7. Riding Downhill – Need I say more? Yes, it is a little scary, but man is it ever fun! I push myself to ride a 4 miles on a slow steady incline on my regular ride. The reward is, I get to ride about 4 miles on a slow steady decline on the way home. The downhill part of the ride is what everyone who dreams of riding thinks biking is like, pedaling effortlessly down the trail and enjoying the ride. And that is what it is like sometimes. But you do not think of the long slog of pushing up hill to get there. The uphill is what makes the downhill really worth it though.
  8. It Is Hard – I like that biking is difficult. One of my favorite movie quotes is from A League of Her Own when the obnoxious Tom Hanks character says to star player who is walking away from the game, “It’s supposed to be hard.  If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” Of course, in Northern Virginia, I think everyone does bike, but that’s not the point. The point is, that I have forced myself to do something that was difficult for me. And the rewards have been immeasurable.
  9. Being Present – There are numerous articles about the benefits of being present in your life, living in he moment, appreciating the here and now. So many of us just coast through our days. Or our schedules are so full, we are just racing to get to the end of the day so we can collapse on our beds for a few hours of respite before we begin again. I often say that when I’m at work, I feel like I’m wishing my life away 8 hours at a time. I’m never fully there. Always planning for the next thing. When I’m biking, I’m not doing that. I have to be focused and present all the time. There are so many things that can derail my ride, cars, traffic, pedestrians, obstacles on the trail errant two-year olds running in front of the bike. You have to pay attention if you want to be safe. Of course, my mind wanders and I think of other things while I’m biking. I think about writing, and all the things I have to do when I get home or get to work, but always, I’m paying attention to the trail, the bike, how I feel, am I hydrated, should I rest, how far I am from home. Biking is one of the few parts of my life where I’m not just waiting for the time to pass so I can get to the next part of my day. I am happy just to be in the moment biking and loving it.
  10. Overall Feeling of Well Being And Accomplishment – I feel better when I bike. My health is better. My breathing is better. I feel stronger and more confident because of biking. I know something about myself. I know that I can push myself physically to achieve a goal. This is something I have not always felt I could do. As someone who spent most of her adult life morbidly obese, the idea of excelling in any kind of physical activity was almost unthinkable. That is no longer the case.

What I Think About While I’m Biking (Hint: Not you!)

I have been biking quite a lot recently. I try to get out at least 3-5 times a week. I have even biked to work, although I do not do that often. I’m often hot and sweaty after I get there and the ride home, while primarily downhill, is mostly on city streets and is kind of brutal and scary.

A few months ago, a friend of mine, or maybe someone I know only slightly posted this meme oh Facebook:

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I think the person was trying to be encouraging by showing how judgy they are not by posting a meme on Facebook. I was slightly offended by it and became more so the more I thought about it. I’m not upset with the person, just the idea. The idea that there are good fat people, those who exercise or do something other people deem to be healthy. And bad fat people. To me, this is just another form of fat shaming.

The idea that my health, my appearance somehow belongs to other people is offensive to me. If I do what you think is the right thing, I’m worthy of praise, and if I do not, I deserve derision.

Now that I am biking myself, I’m here to tell you that while I’m biking, none of that matters. Here’s the secret. Fat people bike for the same reasons skinny people bike…because they love it. Yes, it is exercise and helps to build muscle mass and burn calories, but that is not my primary motivation.

So I thought I’d share some of the things I actually think about while I’m biking. (hint: those thoughts have nothing to do with you or what I think you think I look like!)

  1. Balance! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa Whoa! Don’t fall! Don’t fall!
  2. I put my feet not the pedals! Whoo hoo!
  3. OK, pedal, pedal! Don’t fall!
  4. I’m biking! I’m biking!
  5. OK get to bike trail…
  6. Big hill! It’s downhill, you can do this!
  7. Holy crap here comes a car! It’s OK! It’s OK! They’ll go around me.
  8. Whew, they went around me. Catastrophe averted.
  9. I made it to the bike trail! OMG, it’s uphill! At least it will be downhill on the way back.
  10. On the way back: How can the bike trail possibly be uphill in both directions?? Seriously? Who designed these trails?
  11. OMG, my legs.
  12. OMG, my butt hurts.
  13. OMG, I cannot breathe.
  14. Just breathe!
  15. OMG, I think a bug flew up my nose!
  16. Now my nose is itchy!
  17. Can’t take hands off handlebars to scratch nose.
  18. I have to scratch my nose.
  19. Scratches nose. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Don’t fall!
  20. Making bike trail part of the sidewalk…not a good idea!
  21. Case in point…who decided to put a lamppost in the middle of the bike trail/sidewalk? WTF? img_1858
  22. Bike around lamppost by railing and risk running into the railing and possibly tumbling down the embankment and into the creek? Or bike around lamppost street-side and risk tumbling into traffic? Nice.
  23. Preparing to bike up a short, but sharp hill. I can do this. I can do this. Uh oh, someone is coming downhill fast in my lane! He’s not looking up. Look up, look up look up! “Hey, look up! Coming towards you!”
  24. He moved, thank God.
  25. Lost momentum. Great, now I have to walk up the hill.
  26. OMG, I didn’t know I could sweat this much.
  27. Family with kids, “I’m on your left!” Please, God, don’t let the kids run out in front of me!
  28. Did the runner I just passed going downhill just pass me as we are going uphill? Holy crap, I’m slow!
  29. When does this get easier?
  30. Does it have to be so hot out?
  31. When does this hill end?
  32. Breathe! Just breathe!
  33. You can do this!
  34. Home at last!
  35. I so totally rock!

I do not think about what other people think I look like. Not at all. I think about safety and the other people I see on the trails. I do not want to put myself or anyone else at risk.

A friend of mine recently asked me that since I live in an urban area and I bike on the streets a lot if cars scare me. The answer is, they terrify me. I have a healthy fear of cars. Every time I have to cross a street or bike on the street, I’m terrified. I know most drivers are cautious and do not want to hit me, but in that moment, all I can think about is trying to avoid being hit. I yield to everyone.

But here’s another secret, I spend most of my time on my bike being terrified. Terrified I’ll fall. Terrified I’ll run into a pedestrian. Terrified of going uphill. Terrified of going down hill. Terrified of going too slow. And terrified of going too fast. Still, I get out there.

So, why do I do it? I do it because I have to. Not because I’m required to, or that the doctor told me I must. I do it because I love it. When I’m on my bike I’m not concerned about what I look like or what anyone else thinks of me. It is the only time I feel free from the judgment of other people; free to just live in the moment. I think that more than anything gets me out there on the trails as often as possible.

I see people of all sizes on the bike trails. Some a much smaller than me, some much bigger. One girl in particular stands out. I saw her this weekend and I think she was biking with her boyfriend. She looked like she was struggling. Still, she was faster than me. The two of them whizzed by me without a problem. I later caught up with them as they had stopped for water. She saw me coming and smiled. She looked just as hot and sweaty as I felt. I smiled back and gave her the biker nod – the nod many bikers have given me. A nod of recognition; of camaraderie; a welcome to the club. I hope she sticks with it and loves it as much as I do.

Biker Girl!

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So, yesterday I tried something new, something I have wanted to do for a long time. Something I used to do when I was younger.

I went biking!

OK, I didn’t go very far, but that’s OK. I have not been on a bike in over 20 years. When I was very young, a kid all the way through high school, I used to bike all of the time. It was my main source of transportation and gave me a sense of freedom.

Once I became morbidly obese weight in the high 200s to low 300s, biking was not an option for me. So to be able to get back on a bike again held a lot of meaning.

My sister moved to Texas a few weeks ago and she gave me her bike. She knew I was looking to buy one, but I did not really have a lot of time to be trolling Craigslist to find an inexpensive used bike. She was purging before the move and decided to just give me her bike.

When I first got on the bike, the tires had no air. I fit on the bike perfectly. We put it in the back of my car, and it stayed there for a few weeks until I could deal with the no air problem.

I went to a bike shop near my apartment to get air in my tires and get a couple of supplies. I wanted to get a helmet and some lights for the bike. I also wanted to get a bike rack because getting the bike in and out of the hatchback is a pain in the ass.

Immediately after getting air in the tires and getting the bike rack installed, I drove out to my brother’s house and hung out with him and my niece for a bit. Well, really him, because my niece is now 8 and friends are much more important and fun than aunties. So basically, I drive 40 minutes to get a hug and then she runs off to play.

Such is life.

Anyway, it was late by the time I got back home. I took the bike off the rack and was walking it out of the garage and up to my apartment. I stopped in the lot for a few minutes a figured I would give it a quick spin.

To my surprise, I could barely touch the ground. I immediately felt very unsteady o the bike and almost toppled over. I tried a couple of times to find my balance, but I just couldn’t.

Feeling a bit embarrassed and nervous, I took he bike up to my apartment and just stared at it a bit. I was absolutely convinced I would never be able to do this. But I really wanted to. I put the bike in front of a bookcase and practiced sitting on and putting my feet on the pedals just to get the feel. In retrospect, holding onto the bookcase was probably not the brightest idea. Had I toppled over, I risked pulling the whole thing down on top of me. Fortunately, that did not happen.

Yesterday I was determined to at least get on the bike and maybe try to do a couple of laps in the parking lot. The parking lot of my building is kind of big, so a couple of laps would be a good starter.

I was very nervous and feeling very self-conscious about what people would think because I couldn’t even find my balance. Nonetheless, I did it. At first, I tried to position myself near a pole so I could balance myself. Then I practiced just scooting along to get the bike moving. I tried a couple of times get both feet on the pedals, but could not find my balance.

After a few minutes of scooting, I just told myself to do it. I took a deep breath and just forced myself to put both feet on the pedals and push. And I was off! A little wobbly, but I did it!

I rode around the lot for about 10 minutes. I did several loops in the front of the building and around the back. When I was done, I was exhausted and a little sore, but I did it!

I took the bike back inside and figured I was done for the day. Then my friend Sush texted me and asked if I wanted to come watch the DNC with her and watch the democrats elect Hillary, the first woman to run on a major party ticket. I excitedly texted back sure! I’ll ride my bike over!

I don’t know what made me say that. Maybe it was the endorphine rush from my short ride around the lot that made me feel invincible, but a huge part of me was screaming, “WTF! Why???”

Now Sush lives about a mile down the W&OD trail from where I live, so it’s not far. That wasn’t the problem though. I live on this HUGE hill that leads down into Shirlington and then down to the bike trail. While I could ride comfortably in my parking lot, and I was pretty sure I could make the mile on the bike trail, I was very worried about going up and down that hill.

So, I walked the bike down the hill. Once in Shirlington, I started riding towards the bike trail. I stayed mostly on the sidewalk except when I had to cross the street. It was a pretty easy ride on the trail. I was slow and other bikers did pass me. Fortunately, I had spent enough time walking on the trail, that I was familiar with biking etiquette. If another biker wants to pass you, they ring a bell or say, “On your left,” and that is your queue to stick to the right so they can safely pass. And it truth, I wasn’t on the trail long enough for this to really be an issue.

I did get off the trail a little too soon and wandered around a neighborhood that was not Sush’s for about a minute, then got back on the trail to get to her actual neighborhood. Sush was so excited to see me riding a bike. She knows what an accomplishment this was for me. She has been one of my biggest cheerleaders since I started my weight loss. She knows how much I struggled before, and she is so happy to see me doing things I never would have attempted.

The ride back was a little more difficult. Coming back to my neighborhood was kind of uphill, so the ride was a little more of a struggle. And it was so hot yesterday. And when it came time to walk the bike back up to my apartment, I was thoroughly exhausted. But I did it!

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Me post bike ride.

I’m going to go for a little ride tomorrow in the other direction on the trail just to see how far I get. I don’t work until the evening, so if I start early enough, I should be OK. I’m so glad to be biking again. I think my next investment though is going to be a pair of padded biker pants.