Thursday, July 28, 2016

Aging, chronic illness, and the bicycling life revisioned

I've written here a number of times about my life with Crohn's Disease, a chronic, incurable disease that affects the auto-immune system on multiple levels. Symptoms include everything from difficulty in digesting food (classic, textbook Crohn's), vision problems (I'm night-blind) and arthritis to grinding bouts of fatigue and internal damage including fistulas and strictures that impede basic bodily function. In short, Crohn's can happen anywhere from entry to exit (in terms of food and waste) and can be a bitch to live with.

I've been very lucky. For most of my life, my Crohn's symptoms have been mild enough to live with and still function. I've held down a job, paid my bills and lived a pretty satisfying, blessed life.

But things evolve. We get older. Metabolism slows down, sensitivities to environment and other things change and grow, and we all slow down. The constitution you begin life with is not a guarantee that you will always be robust. Things change. And life slows down and eventually comes to its end.

It has been very hard, lately, to live the bicycle life I've been accustomed to for the last four-plus decades.

I no longer have the stamina to wake up at 6am and go on an all-day ride with friends.
I no longer have the strength or joint flexibility to race.
I no longer have the recuperative powers I used to have; it takes me several days to recover from a 20-mile recreational ride now, and most days I'm not able to even finish a ride of that length. Rides f three to five miles are the norm for me now.

And it has become lonely to live this new bicycle life on my terms, with the body I have. Because none of my friends rides this slow or short yet. And I am embarrassed to ask them to join me for a bike ride that is more coffee shop than ride. So I don't ask.

Advertising and marketing in the bicycle world doesn't help. Shops and magazines and web sites are still hung up on the racing image -- and on the young, male energy that helps to sell bikes and gear. Even if you're not wearing lycra, you'd better be young, male and slender to look good in that tweed outfit while riding your $2,000 Pashley.

So I have joined the ranks of the uncool. The older, The overweight, dumpy women who ride at a slug's pace to and from the store and call it a day. That's where I am these days. IF I have the energy to even get on a bike. Many days this past year, I have not had the strength to pull my bike off its hook and ride around the neighborhood. So, in addition to the drugs which have made me gain weight, I haven't been able to stay active enough to hold steady. I've gained fifteen pounds in the last eight months. And no diet will help me lose that weight while I'm on life-sustaining medication with ferocious side-effects.

Crohn's. Perimenopause. Aging. Metabolic changes. Even, perhaps, heredity.
All are playing a part in shaping this new body and its new parameters for living.

Even traffic management and infrastructure development are based on a younger, stronger bicycle rider, someone able to keep up with motorized traffic in the city and nimbly avoid hazards that suddenly appear in the road. For the older and slower, there is little respect and no regard. I suppose that past a certain point I will be expected to hop on an electric bike, or stop riding altogether.

I am ready for neither alternative. Not yet. I cannot afford (nor do I want to own) an electric bike; and I refuse to stop riding entirely. Even if it means my rides are solo and sometimes lonely experiences.

But I DO wish that I could find a convivial group of folks to ride with, without having to create and lead and organize something all by myself.
I tried to do that with Slug Velo, and while it was fun at first, logistical and other considerations meant that I couldn't sustain it for more than a few years. I got burned out on always having to be the leader. I'm tired now, and I don't want to be the leader. I want someone else to take a turn.

That may be asking too much. But since I own the rights to the name, I will gladly share my collection of routes and other tools with anyone who'd like to resurrect this idea and run with the ball. Message me if you're in Portland and you're interested in facilitating socially-paced (9-12 mph average) group rides for older, slower folks.

Slug Velo Fall Colors Ride, October 2003.
Me on my beloved Peugeot Orient Xpress, a bike that was a little too big for me and weighed a ton, but which I still miss to this day.
I have the cue sheet for this ride and may offer it up again in the fall, depending on my health at the time.
It's a very nice route, though the parts that take place along the Springwater Corridor might have to be re-routed now. Because things change.
Slug Velo patch. Since I had to be so organized, with waivers and helmet requirements and everything, I decided it might be fun to earn a patch for completing so many rides. I still have mine. I also had T-shirts made up once upon a time.
I wore mine until it fell apart, then turned it into shop rags.

If Slug Velo takes off again, I'd like to see it be a leaderless affair, adults only and no organization other than picking a coffee stop. Just sayin'.

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