When I was a kid, you could hardly get me off my bike. If the weather was good and I had somewhere to go, I was on that red Schwinn 10-speed as fast as my little legs would take me.
I did hill repeats on that thing. Pedaled to friends’ homes. It was my ride to my favorite fishing holes.
But I became a teenager, had friends with cars, and upon getting my driver’s license, pretty much abandoned the bike as a mode of transportation. Sure, I rode every now and then, including a couple of hilariously ridiculous attempts at mountain biking in my 20s. But for many years, if the journey wasn’t on foot or behind the wheel, it wasn’t happening.
A move last fall inspired me to start a bike commute to work. The rig of choice, a 20-year-old Trek mountain bike, is actually a fine piece of machinery. Reliable as all get-out. And cheap. Just $150 off a friend.
About the same time I was soliciting social media for bikes for sale, a co-worker offered to pawn off a $75 road bike. I didn’t need it, but at that price, what the heck? A bike built for pavement might be a nice alternative to all this running I do, right?
It’s an aluminum frame 10-speed — very light, definitely not fancy. It needs some work — I sound like a rattletrap when cruising by — but it’s rideable. As the weather has improved, I’ve taken her out for a spin a few times, mostly to do something different and squeeze the life out of every last bit of weekend daylight I can get.
I love being outside. I run a lot. I hike some. Hiking is awesome when you’re looking to do something outside and don’t want to kill yourself physically. You can, of course — hiking in the Rockies will flat wear you out, as will any kind of backpacking. But in my local woods, you can take your time and be very chill. The trouble is, you can’t cover much distance unless you want to spend a bunch of time out there. I’m good with that, but life happens and doesn’t always allow for a day-long trek.
Running will get you that mileage a lot faster. Even at my pedestrian pace, I can run for an hour or two and cover a lot of ground, see a bunch of things and generally have a great time doing it.
Funny thing about running, though. It’s hard. You sweat a lot and come back from any decent-sized run pretty spent, even beat-up. Want a good excuse to call it a day and go to bed by 8 p.m.? Pound out a 10-mile trail run with lots of vert. Or sign up for and run a marathon. Problem solved. But if you look to have some pluck later in the day and don’t want to sweat out every last bit of energy you have, choosing a run for every outdoor adventure may not be the best thing.
The bike is another matter. On a bike, you can ride 10 or 20 miles and feel pretty good when you’re done. You can see a lot. You can see it while whizzing by and not feel like you’re going to die, and do it all in an hour or two while still being up for taking your gal/guy on a date or meeting up with friends for a brew or five. Yes, you can slaughter yourself on a bike if you so choose (see mountain biking), but you can also just cruise along, get your heart rate up a little, but not tax your heart and lungs to the point of self-destruction.
I’m digging the cruiser rides. A lot. We have bike trails in Tulsa that follow both banks of the Arkansas River, and they’re mostly flat and kinda pretty. That’s where I’ve been going lately.
On Saturday, I had a long agenda ahead of me. I hit the gym, then rewarded myself with a short but hilly trail run. I ran it pretty hard, but when it was done I felt I had something left in the tank. So I hurried home, grabbed the road bike and spirited off to the bike trails for an hour of riding as the sun dipped to the west.
Aside from my noisy/cranky gears, my rides are quiet. There is wind in my face and ears, but I’m not bothered by the labored breathing of running. I like the quiet while on the saddle of my bike.
And like I said, I saw a lot of stuff. There were a bunch of families out, and on the lonelier parts of the trail a few runners and other cyclists. But not so many to make things crowded.
I found a spot to stop and take a look across the river, admiring the colors of the skies reflecting off the river as the sun began to set.
No one was out there, and the river lazily made its way south. Canada geese announced their pending arrival, squawking and honking as they made their final approach to the stiller waters below. I drank that in, and once they’d settled down, I turned around to head back.
Recreational life along the river isn’t confined to runners and cyclists. People like to fish the river, too. I saw a couple of guys walking south as I rode north, a full stringer in hand. “Nice haul!” I shouted as I zipped by. I couldn’t quite hear their response, but it looked like they had a decent day.
Cruising north, I rode past a couple of retention ponds near a big power plant. Industrial skylines are interesting to me, and when you add that to the yellows, oranges and reds of dusk reflecting from the ponds, it added up to a really cool visual. Gorgeous, really. Mountain lakes are far more beautiful, sure, but I’ll take what I can get and what I got was pretty good.
Nearing the end of the ride, I coasted past a more crowded part of the trail system, where there’s a restaurant and more green space for people to hang out, listen to music and play with their kids. There were some hippie-looking 20-somethings lounging in some hammocks, two dudes playing a guitar and a drum, and one guy twirling fire pots tied to chains. Seeing how the sun had just set, that fiery display stood out — an exclamatory sight on what had been a peaceful but sensory-rich little ride.
People spend a lot of money on vacations, heading off to tropical beaches, European hot spots or swanky ski resorts. I envy that. But then I think back to picking up that childhood pastime of hopping on my bike and zooming off to somewhere, and the freedom it brings. Nothing epic was achieved. No fancy vacation pics to put on Facebook for people to fawn over. But it was a good time.
A really good time.