4 Lessons My $8k Mountain Bicycle Taught Me

Julia Hubbel, Walkabout Saga, Horizon Huntress

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Photo by Andhika Soreng

About My Aging Body

“It’s rusted together,” the REI bike tech told me. “We need to replace the whole bottom bracket. Apparently the part got some water on it. Over time it just rusted into a solid unit. How long has it been sitting in your garage, exactly?”

I gulped. This is embarrassing. I’d bought this bike right after I’d gone to Croatia in 2014. There, I’d ridden a poor excuse for a mountain bike but still had gotten hooked. True to my nature, I spent lots of time researching. Found a terrific bike. Nailed it, got it fitted, tuned up and ready to ride. Bought all the right clothing, shoes, gear, helmet.

Of course I did.

Then it sat in my garage for five years, the victim of my love of horse back riding, and more than a few serious injuries. I hardly even took it out for tuneups.

Denver may be dry. Apparently not dry enough. (Note to Dear Reader, I have since moved to Oregon where dry isn't the problem here either)

I had flirted with the idea of selling it in the spring. Good thing I hadn’t. This would have been even more embarrassing. The buyer would barely have been able to pedal two feet forward before pitching over the bars.

Well then. I’d be investing about $250 when all was said and done.

No worries.

When I hung up, I considered.

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Here's what I learned:

1. Maintenance.

Every single time I take too long a vacation from exercise, I get rusty. Whether that’s yoga, or swimming, or weights, my body responds in much the same way. It bogs down, clogs up. If I get up and move, I start working like a well-oiled engine again. Sometimes that involves a fair amount of discomfort, even pain. Which is, of course, why I can, at times, choose to sit on my couch for a while as opposed to getting on my training bike.

I have to get up the gumption every so often, to get the body’s WD-40- otherwise known as synovial fluid- moving through my joints. The only way I can move, the only way I can keep moving, is to keep moving.

Yesterday I had a meeting with my coach, who is 67. He’s active, but he also has injured himself rather seriously. As in, falling off a roof a few years ago and breaking his back, his arm and his leg. That’ll do it all right.

Talk about a wakeup call.

These days, like me, he does yoga. If he doesn’t, his body gets as rusty as my bottom bracket. Freezes up. Clogs.

He’s also a drummer. A good one. He plays gigs with a big band orchestra. Last weekend, by the end of their night his shoulders were in so much pain he could hardly function. Yet he had to pack up his drum set, a job that only he knows how to do. The rest of his band stood watching, unable to help, while he schlepped and packed his precious drums into his car. In terrible pain the whole time. I’ll bet a lot of you can relate.

“The only thing I can do is keep moving,” he smiled at me ruefully. God, do I understand.

In June/July 2019 I was on a pretty epic trip to ride in the Canadian wilderness, where I pushed my body harder and farther than at any other time in my life. My body chose at that particular time to announce, without much fanfare, that hey, you’ve developed a bit of arthritis at the base of your thumbs.

This is very common, particularly for women over 40. I’d been skating along just fine and now, while I am in cold country (even in summer) my hands hurt. A lot. Right when I need them the most. Arthritis really doesn’t much like cold. We were cold all right. Sometimes just taking down my tent and handling the metal shock cords in the icy hours before dawn was so painful I had tears in my eyes.

And that was on top of the two fifth metatarsal fractures I'd developed from the endless hiking in boots designed for horse riding, not hiking. Sigh.

But I kept moving.

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2. Take care of the damage immediately.

So after I saw my coach, I saw an occupational therapist. She tried all manner of protocols, ranging from heat (yum) to ultrasound (same) to massage (yeppirs) to exercises.

OW.

So of course she hands me a page of exercises that I now have to add to the two-inch pile of PT exercises that I already have to do so that I don’t rust into a crusty heap.

Like my mountain bike’s bottom bracket.

So I slept with splints on my thumbs. For the short term, I walked with a boot on my right foot (stress fractures). I’m just waiting for something else to bend, break or disintegrate so that I can get a list of exercises for that, too.

I have exercises for my suboccipital muscles (from poor posture while I write). I have exercises for my thoracic region where I’m so stiff I can hardly do a cobra pose any more. I have exercises for…you get the drift.

I try to do pelvic floor exercises while riding my bike while using the Body Blade to keep strengthening my rotator cuff. It’s a wonder I don’t kill myself while trying to exercise to keep myself going.

My body is as bad as an old bike left outside it the rain.

Unless I move it.

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3. If it's been sitting for a while, it'll be creaky at first.

I have a love/hate affair with this body. At almost 68, I have subjected it to everything from skydiving to cycling accidents, everything in between. After 22 concussions, my brain has to be lubricated with medical grade oxygen to keep working. Exercise helps.

It also hurts, in the sense that those first few reps kinda rip. That is, until I warm up, the body gets into the swing of things, and in no time there is no pain.

For those who love to exhort others to Just Do It, and I have been one to say the same thing, there is a caveat. That caveat is the respect for the fact that particularly as we age, we need a touch of ramp-up time. We often require a few minutes to get going, to ask permission. The older we are, the more likely we’re going to injure ourselves badly if we don’t offer our elder parts the respect they deserve.

No matter how much energy I have, and I have enough for three people, I still have to ask my body, mother may I?

While too many of us use that soreness as yet another excuse to avoid exercise in the first place, for my part, it’s the tempering that comes with having inhabited this physical form for approaching seven decades. Warming up is an act of respect. I want this body to serve me well for at last another three decades. I won't get there in style if I rust up in the garage.

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4. Invest in upgrades, new parts as necessary.

he REI tech informed me that I also needed new brake pads. I love the parallels. I am, in some key places, slowly losing the cartilage that pads my joints. As do we all, particularly if we are active. That’s not as easy to replace. How I wish I could simply put in an order to the local warehouse for parts. Truth? That’s likely going to happen someday, but it’s also likely after I’ve hit my due date.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t want to end up on a rack in life’s garage like my $8k mountain bike did for five years. Slowly rusty from lack of use. Her sleek lines and carbon frame, all her potential power, her Promise.

I want to hit the road running, cycling, horseback riding, paddling, rafting. Keep on skydiving and bungee jumping. Until I hit the wall that says it’s my turn to turn in for good.

As you and I age, and we suffer the results of all the sports and dumb decisions we visited on our bodies, we also are given the opportunity to start taking care of ourselves the way we might have better done in decades prior. We rarely do. Even now, endurance sports have taken over so many folks in midlife, despite the research that argues that the very thing we think we’re doing to be healthy actually does one heck of a lot of damage when done to excess.

I don’t want to do so much damage to the only body I have that in a few decades I can’t get out of bed at all.

Creaky? Yes. Cranky? You betcha. But rusting in a corner while gathering cobwebs?

Not on your life.

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Welcome home. You are HOME if you like irreverent, smart, funny, in-your-face writing. You are HOME if you like stories about interesting people of all ages, cultures, stripes, backgrounds, beliefs doing amazing things because they made different decisions. You are HOME if you wanna learn about aging vibrantly, being in the outdoors, getting and staying fit no matter our number. You are HOME if, on occasion, you like to laugh so hard you spew your drink of choice on your lap cat/dog/gerbil/centipede/soon-to-be ex. I work hard, ride fast horses, do lots of sports, fly high and still leap out of airplanes. Yeah, really, and I am 68. And yes I love, respect and appreciate feedback, including stuff that's hard. Because hard is the recipe for resilient. Wanna play? Let's. Please. Pull up a chair. There's room by the fire. In summer, there's room on the patio. (Okay so I don't have a patio. I made that up.)Get comfy. Bring a towel for your lap. Welcome home.

Eugene, OR
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