By: Mike McDaniel Various venerable aphorisms suggest as we grow older, we grow wiser. This is, demonstrably, not universally true. We can all point to a variety of people who, as they aged, remained just as dumb as they were when young, and stubbornly proud of it. As for me, I can only hope that many of the people who knew me when I was younger have since developed selective amnesia where my youthful indiscretions are concerned. I was always energetic, and often wrong–embarrassingly so, but not this year.
About ten miles from the Manor, the last Saturday each July, in the otherwise unremarkable haven of Cleburne, is The Goatneck bicycle ride. Those of you that participate in organized athletic events know the drill: high entrance costs, cheap t-shirts, mediocre and few rest stops, and mediocre overall support. None of that is true for The Goatneck, the meaning of which–the name of the event–eternally eludes me. It is, without a doubt, the best organized ride I’ve ever done, with rest stops every seven miles stocked not only with all manner of appropriate food and drink, but cheerful, helpful volunteers, pavilions for shade from the sun, plenty of chairs, and plentiful, well-stocked and clean porta-potties.
It’s a metric century event, the century–100 actual miles–being akin to the marathon for runners. Mrs. Manor and I have done those, but not for quite awhile. It’s that older and wiser thing, that and all those miles taking a toll on body parts, some of which seem to age faster than others. In any case, the ride features the 70-mile–I’ve done that twice–41 mile, 27 mile, and 10 mile courses. There are multiple local bike shops present to provide help, and constantly present sag pickups. We did the 27-mile course this year.
Two years ago I flatted at about 6 miles, despite running Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires, which are nearly invulnerable. This year I made certain to put our trikes on the repair stand and go over them, tires included, with a fine tooth comb the day before the ride, and it paid off. Not a hint of a problem for either of us. Wiser? Maybe. Perhaps just more paranoid.
About 2000 riders participate every year. All were fortunate as the temps were in the low to mid 80s under an overcast sky, and a cool breeze helped. After about 20 miles of our 27 mile course, the clouds dissipated, and our usual clear, 100° skies returned to bake us all. The heady odor of sunscreen is ever present, mixing with the odor of sage.
In another example of potential wisdom, Mrs. Manor and I wear helmet shades called “Da Brim.” It’s nothing more than a cleverly designed hat brim that fits on helmets. They provide a great deal of protection from the sun, which is always an issue in Texas. Mrs. Manor was afraid our fellow riders wouldn’t think us “cool,” but we were riding trikes anyway, so what do we care? Actually, no fewer than ten riders complimented us on them and asked where to find them. I’d say we just found other stodgy old folks, but everyone asking was much younger, including several nothin’ but legs and lungs types who paused only momentarily to converse before vanishing rapidly into the far distance.
The course is a relatively hilly area of North Texas. Compared to the Black Hills of South Dakota where I spent many years, the hills of North Texas are barely speed bumps. The roads are generally well paved and smooth, and there are deputies and police officers at all of the intersections so there is no stopping and starting or worrying about becoming semi-tractor-trailer road kill.
This was our second year on trikes. As younger riders we gently sneered at the thought of trikes. Trikes were for the aged, disabled and non-serious. But then we ended up on recumbents, which “serious”–very young, fit and non-empathetic–riders categorize the same way. As age caught up with us–I’ve noticed it tends to do that with pretty much everyone–and trikes became lighter and much more sophisticated, much faster and substantially more hip–we became what we once could not imagine: trike riders. interestingly, trikes make up about 70% of the recumbent market.
I am—gasp—63 years old, and Mrs. Manor this year turned—double gasp—70. People always guess us to be ten or more years younger. We are both athletes and always have been. We’ve run multiple marathons and innumerable shorter races, including the first ever Devil’s Tower run, which was absolutely brutal. Yes, the actual Devil’s Tower from Close Encounters of the Third Kind—it’s not a movie prop. Finishing the race, we felt like we’d been abducted and worked over by aliens. We’ve also practiced a wide variety of other sports–racquetball, tennis, European fencing, Japanese fencing (Kendo), Japanese sword drawing (Iaito)–but until about a decade ago, running was our primary means of maintaining fitness.
I got my start in running in middle school, way back in the 1400s, long before Nike existed or introduced the iconic Waffle Trainer. In many ways, I was perfectly built for running. I made 6′ in 8th grade and weighed 155 pounds throughout high school and beyond. I was just about nothing but legs and lungs and I was one of the handful of fastest high school kids in my state in those days.
As I aged, my competitive spirit did not diminish. I could not stand to be passed or have anyone ahead of me. Seeing anyone out front would cause me, without thinking, to accelerate as hard as I could to catch–and pass–them. As a legs and lungs kid, I could do that. As my 30s approached, because maintaining maximum physical conditioning was no longer the primary focus of my life, I could no longer manage and had to do some mental readjustment, painful as it was.
From my late 30s into my 40s, I was, once again, a police officer and worked hard to rebuild my conditioning. By then, I had much more upper body strength and mass than in my teen years, and by regularly running severe, steep and long hills, and regular weight work, built up a remarkable level of fitness. My police department used to do the relay portion of the Black Hills Marathon with four guys running something more than 6 miles each. I was able to manage in the 5-6 minute per mile range, as could the others, but we were still being beaten by the other team entrants, like the law enforcement team from the local Air Force Base–Ellsworth. We finally figured it out: we were getting older each and every year, and they were always 20. That was a stunning, temporarily distressing, but valuable insight.
Eventually, the running stopped. All those miles, all those hills just wore out some of the moving parts. My knees wouldn’t take the pounding anymore, particularly since I’d also added weight, weight that I’ve discovered is ridiculously easy to add, but fiendishly difficult to remove as one increases in age. If I wanted to maintain conditioning, I would have to bicycle, and an on-the-job neck injury forced me into recumbents, which is one of the more fortunate choices I’ve made in life. Marrying Mrs. Manor was, without question and by far, the most fortunate choice. Some things do improve with age.
We went with trikes more than two years ago now because Mrs. Manor could see just the beginning of a balance issue. No disease, just the ravages of time. We researched carefully and ended up with the Terra Trike Sportster. It’s a fast, aluminum-framed trike. I kept my two wheeled recumbent, but soon realized it would be too easy to outrun Mrs. Manor, and when riding myself, I can push as hard as I like. Spending time with her and encouraging her is much more important, so I went to a Sportster too. The trikes are plenty fast. We can actually easily pass folks going down hills because of the aerodynamic advantage all recumbents have over upright bikes. Why do you think they’re banned from bike races? And we can still pass some folks, when we want to, going up hills, which recumbents, and particularly trikes, aren’t supposed to be able to do, heh-heh.
Bicycling is very colorful and tech oriented. It’s great fun to watch the different types of riders. There are the 5’8″ 155 pound, legs and lungs guys and shorter and lighter girls, the people with the absolute lightest and high tech upright bikes, which these days means swoopily sculpted carbon fiber frames and wheels with two or three spokes at most (I’m exaggerating–slightly). There are people that will spend hundreds to switch components to save 20 grams of weight, people who care only about speed and beating everyone else and looking stylish in color coordinated clothing and bikes while doing it.
Then there are the “teams,” of riders, people for whom riding is their focus in life. They wear identical shorts, jerseys and helmets in their team colors/logos, and are the kind of people who ride–together–30-40 miles a day or more. Eventually, most of them grow up a bit, or have to work more and ride less if they allow the chemical attractions of the opposite sex to overpower the adrenalin and endorphins of riding and end up with–gasp–spouses and family.
Hint: The easiest way to identify these people–male variety–is by their shaved legs. The females just look as if, for them, “body fat” is an old Village People song.
Last year, for the first time, I discovered a disturbing phenomenon: people playing bicycling boom boxes as they rode. There were only a few of them then, but far more this year. It was sort of like driving down the street as idiots with more wattage then brains come driving past, the boom, boom, boom of their speakers shaking everything around them. There is something particularly jarring about hearing that sort of thing out in the countryside on a bike ride. There were, to be sure, plenty of people riding with earbuds, which is never a good idea safety wise. Maybe it’s my advancing age, but on rides like this, I prefer to hear the scuffing of tires on the road, the mechanical noises of the bikes–and riders–and the whooshing of various aero wheels as they pass. Most people pass us these days, and I don’t care. Wiser.
This year there were at least two other trike riders, both older folks, on the course, and for the first time, at least three unicycle riders, but not the small wheeled circus type, but tall unis with a big wheel and a disc brake. One went down in spectacular fashion not far in front of me. Fortunately, he suffered only mild road rash, and at every rest stop, got to hear many people laud him for his unusual steed and his foolhardy bravery, which may have been the point.
This year, Mrs. Manor and I have been losing weight. We have plenty yet to misplace, but we’ve made good progress. She did much better, particularly in hill climbing, despite being older. I’ll be encouraging her about that well into the future. Wiser.
In these events, loads of fit women kick my rear end. It is, however, a pleasure to watch their gently swaying hips and lean, muscular legs flying past. Humanity, particularly the female portion, is a source of never-ending wonder. There were also plenty of older folks like me, some quite grizzled and lean, baked by the Texas sun over innumerable miles, which is what I guess Mrs. Manor and I am now. Wonder what they were thinking about us?
There were plenty of people out to do their best on their bikes regardless of age–a wide and wild variety of bikes—that day. And there are people like me, folks who enjoy riding and want to get a decent workout, but mostly, have a bit of adventure. I console myself with the knowledge that only a tiny percentage of the population of the world can jump on a bike and pump out 27 miles or more at a decent pace. At my age, with my increasing age-related physical issues, and with all of my other obligations, that’s something.
The inherently transient pleasures of winning athletic contests have come to mean nothing to me. What matters now is maintaining good health, solid strength and sharing all I can with Mrs. Manor. Neither of us want to be one of those old folks who barely have the strength to get out of a chair, and we’re betting that riding and lifting weights and other activities will give us a solid chance to avoid that kind of disability, and perhaps, to live longer. We’re no longer hard bodies, and could generally care less what the trendy folk think. I’ve pretty much abandoned bicycling jerseys. The rear pockets are useless on a trike, and they’re pricey. These days I just wear comfy athletic t-shirts and shorts of the wicking fiber kind. They’re cheap and feel great. As long as I don’t stampede the women and children and frighten the cattle, who cares? As long as I don’t wake up dead, I’m grateful for every new, additional day.
So I inflate my tires and hit the road once again, smiling, content, optimistic about tomorrow and grateful I can still crank out the miles and climb the hills with a bit of style. If I do that a bit more slowly than last year, who cares? I’m getting older every year and they’re always 20, but the best thing about that is it just doesn’t matter to me anymore. Every day is an adventure, and every mile, another pleasure and memory on the journey. I don’t have to be in some far-flung, exotic corner of the globe to experience adventure. The broad, wide-open Texas hill country works.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.