by Nancy King
Recently, researchers wanted to test the effects of aging. So what did they do? They put young people in body suits that restricted their eyesight, hobbled their movement, and diminished their hearing. The measurements for the suit were based on the supposed physicality of a 74 year old. When I read this I was 74 and it made me so mad I decided I would celebrate my upcoming 75th birthday in an age-affirming way. I wanted to raise my proverbial finger at the media and people who worship wrinkleless faces and taut bodies. I arranged to take a five-day bicycle tour with a friend to the Sonoma wine country in California, north of San Francisco. Since I wasn’t sure I could ride 45 miles in a day, or five days in a row, we trained, riding up and down hills in Santa Fe. Every time I huffed and puffed up a hill I thought of that suit and found energy I didn’t know I had. Besides, I figured if I could ride 35 miles at 7,000 in New Mexico, maybe riding at sea level would be easier.
Our first day was cold and wet. I put on my rain suit but the pants kept slipping. It is not possible to ride a bike with one s crotch hugging one s knees. I decided I would rather be wet than fight to keep my pants around my waist as I struggled to ride in traffic up a long, steep hill. I felt like the little engine in the children s story: I think I can I think I can. When I got to the top I lifted my face to the rain. It felt like a benediction. After riding 32 miles, we parked our bikes, high-fived each other, and celebrated by tasting four different wines.
Wednesday s ride was going to be the longest 45 miles. I was anxious, but every time I thought about that suit I got mad all over again. So, Tuesday night, I drowned my doubts in the marvelous Jacuzzi at The Tides Inn in Bodega Bay where The Birds was filmed.
The next morning was cool and foggy as we began our ride, a ten-mile hilly stretch along the California coast on Route 1. By this time I had figured out how best to shift uphill, allowing me to focus on stunning views of the bay and the ocean. Even the trucks that passed too close for comfort couldn t diminish my sense of well-being. When we turned off the coast road, the sun came out, and I rode on the beautiful, undulating road along the Russian River, smelling newly mown grass, delighting in the profusion of wild flowers, I started to sing. I was ecstatic. I kept thinking; life doesn t get any better than this. Feeling strong and confident, I followed my friend into the Redwoods Reserve. The morning s ride was 25 miles and I could hardly contain my joy as we ate lunch amidst towering redwoods that somehow felt like approving ancestors. When we rode out of the park and onto a busy four-lane highway with cars and trucks speeding by, looking into my mirror to see on-coming traffic made me nervous, as did shoulders on the road that disappeared or were so filled with gravel I had to lurch onto the driving lane. I was relieved when we turned off the highway onto two-lane roads, filled with wineries. Potholes, rather than traffic was my main concern. Despite the hills, by the time we rode into Healdsburg, our final destination, elation was fueling every turn of my pedals.
No one in our group boasted about mileage. No one but me, that is. When I got off my bike and learned that we had actually ridden 47 miles, I started to dance and sing. My feet barely touched the ground. Even the bystanders were laughing. Then, I said to one of the guides, You should have told me. I would have ridden three more miles to make it 50. He rolled his eyes and grinned. I felt terrific. So there, I told that damn suit. Take that!
By the end of the trip I had ridden 145 miles in five days, with increasing happiness and ease. This bike trip was the best possible 75th birthday celebration. A month later, I m still beaming.
Nancy King s most recent books are three novels: A Woman Walking, Morning Light, The Stones Speak, and a nonfiction book, Dancing With Wonder: Self-Discovery Through Stories. You can read excerpts of her books, as well as order them, on her website: www.nancykingstories.com, at local bookstores, or on Amazon. For information about her upcoming readings and workshops, please contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography by Linda Dickson.