It wasn’t for the food, or the architecture, or the beautiful people in their beautiful clothes. It was for one reason: I’d never seen so many old women”well into their seventies and eighties”cruising the streets on bicycles.
“Now that is how to be alive,â€? I remember thinking. “Why don’t old people ride bikes like this back home?”
Of course that was the blissfully ignorant, Euro-centric college student in me wondering those things, but the image has stuck, and today, at 29, as I am fast becoming a city-bound workaholic, I cling to that vision more than ever. It speaks to me”bellows at me, really”as a reminder that it’s never too late to get outside.
I thought about this the other weekend as I ran my way down the Double Dipsea. The Dipsea’s a popular trail run amongst the masochists of the Bay Area. It starts at Stinson Beach and climbs and drops into Mill Valley, at which point the sane would stop running, and the rest turn around and head back to Stinson, covering, by the end, fourteen miles of hilly terrain and roughly 4,500 vertical feet.
“My life depends on moments like this,â€? I remember thinking on the run. It felt good. At the end I hurt. I was starving, and a little delirious. “Perfect,â€? I thought. “This is why I’m alive.â€?
But not every day is this way.
Usually I work. A lot. As a result I have, in the past seven months, become the weekend warrior that I, as the mountain girl of yore, used to so easily scorn. I see why old folks around here don’t ride bikes. It’s because we work too much when we’re young, and when work gets us down, we fold. We get tired. We sit inside. The world goes by. And there goes the bicycle opportunity, just like that.
Or that’s one way of looking at it, anyway.
I thought about this again today when I woke up and didn’t go skiing. A head full of snot, a chest burning with what felt like croup, and a grandmother who’d just passed away, kept me from heading to Mt. Hood with friends. It was a perfect opportunity to pout. I have two days each week to get outside. Every second counts. If I’m not out there, I’m dead, right?
But I went for a walk in Forest Park instead. I was with my family. It was bitterly cold, the sky was clear, we were swimming in mud, rosy-cheeked and smiling. Thinking about my grandmother took me fast to the octogenarians of Italy, which took me to my friends on Mt. Hood, whom I could all but see anyway, the view was so crisp. And I didn’t feel envy. I felt fine.
It’s not the burliness with which we get out that matters, it’s whether we’re getting out at all. That’s what those wise old women are telling me. “Get out while you can,” they say, and the silent, unspoken coda, as illustrated by a vintage Bianchi whisking over cobble stone streets, is that you always can.