Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some Serious Spandex

As I have aged, the effects of…well…age, a completely corrupt lifestyle, and the appetite and dietary habits of a sixteen-year old have combined to offer your most humble and obedient servant a couple of choices. Those were specifically: 1) exercise and lose weight, or 2) get fitted for a box and a hole in the ground. After an appropriate amount of consideration, I finally chose number one, beginning a whole new trend in my lifestyle choices. I have ridden a motorcycle for years so anything with two wheels works quite well for me. The downside is that 800 pounds of steel and chrome won’t do me a bit of good unless I powerlift it in multiple cycles each day. The futility of that fell upon me, and, in an unaccustomed flash of intellectual light, the bicycle came to mind.

In reality, I have for several years enjoyed riding a bicycle. The new bicycles are equipped with sophisticated gearing systems that allow the rider to tackle terrain from steep hills to flat roads without having to be a candidate for the Olympics. All over the country, old unused railroad beds are being renovated and surfaced with compacted crushed stone, asphalt, or concrete. Thousands of miles of these ‘rail-trails’ follow streams, skirt hills, and generally wind unobtrusively through areas where steam trains chugged along 150 years ago leaving clouds of black coal smoke. These trails are largely in scenic areas and are a joy to explore. My highly touted town of Wheeling has two very nice trails that I know well.

It’s a hard transition from a sedentary corrupt lifestyle to an active corrupt lifestyle. The bicycle is a heartless taskmaster that requires effort, perspiration, and perseverance; but will, in return, strengthen muscles, improve breathing, and head off yet another open-heart surgery. So with this in mind, recent years have seen his somewhat bloated buttocks morph into slimmer and more muscular although occasionally sore as hell buttocks as thousand of miles pedaled by. Those miles were mostly very pleasurable and as enjoyable as any other hard, physical labor can be. They also introduced me to a breed of person that anyone who regularly engages in physical activity will recognize. Allow me to introduce to you Mr. or Ms. ‘Serious About My Sport’.

We’ve all seen them. They’re the ones who have the absolutely newest equipment, clothing suitable for that sport and that sport alone, and the ability to unerringly bore to tears even the most enthusiastic among us with lengthy tales of their fierce dedication and noble accomplishments. They have ALL of the specific sport magazines; their houses are adorned with memorabilia, trophies, and souvenirs; and they LIVE for their next lesson with this coach or that. SERIOUS! They are SO SERIOUS! No one on this planet has ever built their lives so completely around one undertaking, and they just can’t wait to brighten your otherwise dull life with their story of commitment. Yep, that’s the guy (or gal).

In bicycling I’ve labeled that character as the ‘spandexer’. Those of you non-cyclists probably have not seen this creature, but he or she can be found anywhere bicycles are ridden. Comes to mind a trip along the Great Allegheny Passage, a 110-mile rail-trail between Pittsburgh, PA and Cumberland, MD. After a seventeen-mile uphill grind from Connellsville, PA to Ohiopyle, the home of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater, I stood puffing like a steam engine and sweating like a pig in my old jean shorts and wet tee shirt. Suddenly there they were, pushing their way through the crowd of unworthy. My eyes beheld a cluster of four ‘serious spandexers’, two male and two female. Their bicycles were the most expensive model of the most expensive brand, two male and two female, all glowingly spotless and equipped with fenders, front and rear; lights, front and rear; basket, tire pump, water bottle, road bars, mirrors, speedometer, air temperature and humidity monitor, heart monitor, tool kit, and an agglomeration of options whose earthy use escaped me entirely. The only thing missing were the chauffeurs’ seats. Each of the serious was wrapped head to foot in spandex, an elastic and body molding fabric, carefully color coordinated to match his/her bicycle, with spiffy color splashes that seemed to dash about their bodies. On each head was a carefully designed helmet, color coded exactly to match the bicycle, tapered to a teardrop shape, and ending gracefully in a point almost a foot after the head ended. A small mirror the size of a thumb hung suspended on a flexible rod from the edge of each helmet. My heart raced at the sight before me. As they neared, one of the males slid off his especially notched and tinted racing glasses to show the masses that he too had eyes just as they did. Then, as if coordinated by an unseen director, each rider dismounted from his or her colorful steed and, although obviously disdained by having to pass so near the unwashed, walked their bicycles to a secure area where they could be guarded by paid staff. The click of their color coordinated cleated shoes against the asphalt echoed back from the wall of the old train station as they disappeared into an area obviously off limits to sweaty plebeians such as me. I remember thinking that they had probably ridden nearly a mile, and it was good that they had stopped before perspiration occurred. It must be rough on the aging butler to have to run along side and mop each brow. Although I was comforted by the realization that they were safe and comfortable now, I just couldn’t escape that nagging fear that the champagne may have become too warm during their arduous journey.

There are younger and apparently less affluent, but nonetheless serious versions of the serious. As we wide-tire, blue-jeaned, unhelmeted riff-raff trundle along the trails, we had just bloody well yield to the cry, “Passing on your left!” lest consequences be felt. They usually travel in groups, but occasionally one will venture out alone to reassert their unquestioned authority over the trails.

I have learned to keep a keen eye in my common little rear-view mirror for the approach of a serious. I have personally heard persons who failed to yield in a timely manner called, “dumb ass”, a scalding rebuke intended to scar the psyche of a less committed, and ultimately causing them to reflect upon the purposelessness of their attempts at bicycling. Some of the weak simply pull to the side of the trail, lay down their bicycles, and walk away never to return. It’s a frightening sight to see.

I carry within me a dream that some day I too may dress myself in panty hose painted to look like a candy bar wrapper, put my head into a plastic serving bowl lined with sponges, and wear yellow Velcro golf shoes as I speed down the trail asserting my superiority over those slugs who should still have training wheels. Some day…but not this week.

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