Last Sunday I headed out for a morning ride with my friends Lane and Richard. We had hoped to hit the hills of Harvard, but had to turn back in Stowe. Not because we were tired, but because we had to be home before noon.
Out on my bike I felt the warm, happy glow that I get from those feel-good neurotransmitters that are released every time I turn the cranks. Add in the warm summer weather, a melted home-made energy bar, and the pleasure of being with friends, and I was in the middle of what I can only describe as a state of bliss.
As we rode we talked about the usual stuff: family, work, and the Tour de France. Saturday, June 30th, marks the start of the 99th Tour. Which means that I, and many of my biking buddies, will be glued to our screens, waiting to hear what Phil Liggett (the Johnny Most of cycling), has to say about the hard men of the peloton.
On our way home I asked Lane, who has ridden one of the most storied stages of the Tour, the Alpe d’Huez, what it was like to ride in biking heaven. More importantly, I wondered if he thought I could make it to the top. His answer made a good day even better.
The next morning I sat in my doctor’s waiting room. A tall, middle aged, slightly overweight man, sat down next to me. He carefully looked me over and then smiled. “Did you ride your bike here?” he asked. I had. I suppose my cycling shoes and helmet gave it away.
He asked if I raced and what kind of bike I rode. And then he told me a little bit about himself.
It turned out that my new friend (I never did learn his name) used to ride a lot. He biked to work and pedaled up and down the steep roads that circle the Blue Hills. “Once I even raced a truck down Blue Hill Avenue. I was in that kind of shape,” he added.
Unfortunately he hurt his back. And then he developed what he described as life threatening asthma. “It got so bad,” he told me, “That I ended up in the ER and had to take a lot of meds. Some of them made me irritable and hungry, and now,” he pointed to his stomach, “I’ve got this. Believe it or not, I used to be 48 pounds lighter.”
My friend paused and turned away. It seemed like he was recalling happier times, times when he was younger and could ride his bike with ease.
For a moment I thought that was the end of the story. Until he smiled once again and said, “I’m thinking of getting back onto my bike. Maybe just a little to get started, but I really want to ride again. To get healthy. And to lose this weight. But mostly,” he added, “I want that great, happy feeling I get whenever I hop on my bike.”
Now it was my turn to smile.
For the next five minutes, until the nurse called his name, we chatted about bikes, bike paths, and the power of the pedal. We did not talk about carbon wheels, the Alps, or who would win this year’s Tour. All of which are very interesting to people like me. Still, they pale in comparison to the journey he was hoping to begin.
I imagined his Tour would be every bit as challenging as the one I’ll watch on Saturday. No, he wasn’t aiming to win the race. He just wanted to be healthy, once again. Fortunately he knew just how to get there.
Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist and an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published later this year.
Readers: Tell us your story about getting back on the bike.
Looking to read about the Tour? Check out “Vive le Tour!” by Nick Brownlee, “From Lance to Landis,” by David Walsh, and “French Revolutions,” by Tim Moore.