I’m writing this a few days before I turn 79 and a few days after my annual birthday bike ride. We started the tradition of cycling my age in miles in 2007, when I turned 70. We continued the tradition of riding my age through age 77 but then modified it to kilometers. That year we rode in Napa, California; a distance of 52 miles, 3,500 feet of total ascent. Riding 78 miles with even more climbing would have been too much.
About six months ago my son suggested we ride in Asheville, North Carolina this year in an organized ride, a total of 62 miles, 5,000 feet of ascent. Almost anything sounds like a good idea when it’s six months or more away. So we signed up, along with a friend from San Francisco as well as a husband and wife friends from Las Vegas.
A few months ago I realized that I needed to do some serious training if I expected to complete the ride. So I started doing longer rides with more hills in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where we live half of the year. A week before the event I completed a ride of 50 miles with 3,200 feet of elevation. I felt fine after, which was a good sign.
When we registered for the ride the woman processing us looked at my birth date and said, with a smile, “You’ll be the oldest rider.” This made me feel good in one way but nervous in another; was I too far out of my comfort zone? There were over 150 total cyclists in the event.
We had a beautiful day for the ride; mid-40s early, warming up to the 60s and bright sunshine by midmorning, with a light wind. The scenery in the Blue Ridge Mountains was terrific, rolling hills as far as the eye could see.
Some of the climbs were hard; even harder than I expected. I made all of them until we got to the toughest one. It started at an eight percent grade and then grew to ten percent, then twelve, topping out at sixteen percent. To put this in perspective, the maximum on any hill that I ride in Bucks County is twelve percent for a much shorter distance.
When my cycle computer showed fourteen percent elevation, and we were clearly a long ways from the top, I did what any intelligent, fit, 79-year-old should do; I got off my bike and walked to the top. I was far from alone.
We finished the ride in a bit over five hours of cycling time. I was far from the first to finish but also far from the last; several cyclists came in over an hour later. We were relaxing with a beer after and the woman who’d processed my registration came over, gave me a big hug, and said, “Congratulations to the 1937 birthday boy.”
Was I out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Am I glad I did it? Of course. I’m looking forward to a challenging ride next year, when I turn 80, in Bucks County. We already have ten cyclists who’ve signed up, including one from England.
My son sent me an email on his way home to San Francisco, saying, “All of us who do these birthday rides will remember them for the rest of our lives.” I will, too, just for a shorter period of time.
Moral of the story: It’s great to get out of your personal comfort zone periodically, but it’s important to do the necessary training to be prepared.