One fact of getting older is that bodies and brains don't age at the same rate. My chronological age is 62 years and 8 months. But in my mind, I am 30, going on 19. This conflict often gets me in trouble.
My son rides a mountain bike on the many trails in our area. He tells me of the rapture of communing with nature, the exhilaration of biking a winding trail on a cool morning. He is 31 and naturally concerned about his father's lack of aerobic exercise. For months he has prodded me to get a bike and start riding with him. I watched videos of bikers on the Ozark trails, on their full-suspension bikes dressed in appropriate shoes, shorts, and helmets, whirling through Slaughter Pen or the Back 40 trails, whooping with delight. I had to admit, it did look like fun.
I put forth many excuses, but my son rebutted each one, coming close to basically calling me "chicken." To preserve my manliness and keep up the façade of being fearless, I took the plunge and ordered the bike. I justified spending what amounted to three months of mortgage payments by reasoning that I needed something to give me the most help possible. I bought the helmet, elbow and knee pads, and shoes made specifically to adhere to the spiky pins on the pedals. The local bike shop put the bike together, exulting at its awesomeness. The time had come to ride.
I am not a fearful person. My son freaks out when I'm on a 20-foot ladder, certain that I will fall to my death. I have downed trees that I probably should have left alone. I can drive a skid steer like a madman, just ask my brother. Doesn't faze me a bit. But I was nervous about this ride. As we headed out to the trail by John Brown University, my son told me that it was probably the easiest of all those in the area. "We'll just take our time and enjoy the ride. It'll be so much fun for you, Dad!"
So I'm on a brand new bike of which I have no familiarity. I'm going to ride a trail I've never seen. My son starts off ahead of me. "Just yell when you need to stop," he says. I do so 90 seconds into the ride. "Already?", he says.
"This trail is too narrow! The handlebars are barely clearing the trees on either side of it! And I can't ride a straight line on this thing!" I manage to cough out as fear grabs a firm hold of my throat. He assures me that, yes, I will fall, most likely hit a tree, but that's part of the fun! Besides, I have all this protective gear on. Just roll when you hit the ground. Except if there is a drop-off. Make sure you fall on the side without the 100-foot rocky ravine.
So I climb back on, determined not to chicken out in front of the kid. I grit my teeth as I approach a downhill with a rock-strewn turn. I make it, amazingly. But after about five minutes, I'm out of breath and my legs are on fire. My son tells me I'm doing great, and there is no shame in puking. He was very encouraging and reminded me that he had taken a CPR course. I gamely got back on the bike and continued.
We came upon a downhill portion and all I had to do was coast. Going a little too fast, I couldn't make a sharp turn and tumbled into a pile of rotted logs. My son came running back and picked up my bike. "Dad, the bike is fine, don't worry!" I glared at him as I pulled myself up. "Hey, your first fall! Isn't this fun?" I concluded that our ideas of "fun" vastly differed. But now I was angry at myself. I mentally vowed to finish this thing.
The ride continued with more terror. Uphill portions with huge rocks jutting out of the ground. Trees stationed at turns I was sure I would hit. Closing my eyes actually seemed to help me get through it. I refused to ride one portion of the trail that looked like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. It was even marked with orange road cones, so I knew it was dangerous. I expected the symptoms of a heart attack to hit me at any minute. I still stopped every 5 minutes or so to keep my legs from cramping.
After what seemed like 15 miles but was "only" 3, we arrived back at the starting point. Scratched and bleeding, but I had made it! My son was proud of his old man and said the next time would be a piece of cake. I told him to drop me off at the emergency room. He took that to mean the nearest bar. We had a beer and talked about the ride and our bikes. The fear seemed less now.
I guess age is just a state of mind.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
Editorial on 10/02/2019
Print Headline: Bikes, brains, and beer