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The Unnamed Bicycle Column: The First Three

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Three miles.

Three miles was all I could ride without a break on my first few rides after deciding to get back on a bicycle after a 20-some-year hiatus.

They were a hard-earned three miles, too, what with the wheezing and the heart pounding and all. I felt lucky to have completed them and dreaded the thought of riding that same distance back home.

I learned some things on those early rides, too. For instance: Cars move very fast when they pass by less than 12 inches to your left. The shade from a tree canopy changes the temperature considerably. The unexpected smell of a patch of honeysuckle is really lovely; a dead opossum on the side of the road, less so.

But even from the first ride -- panting and sweaty though I was -- I was planning my next.

* * * * *

I just said it one day, nearly out of the blue, giving voice to my inner dialogue: "I think I'd like to get a bike."

I had been running almost daily for months prior, and had just completed a 5k run. Having never run before in my life -- at least not without the threat of imminent peril encroaching directly behind me -- I was fairly impressed with myself and my 33-minute finish.

I also hurt myself so badly I could barely walk for the next several days. And even a month later, my feet were still sore.

Running was not for me, turns out.

I was never under the delusion that after 25 years of smoking and never being an athletic type I was going to suddenly become a runner. I did, however, have a real interest in losing some of the weight I had gained after quitting smoking and a general, if newfound, interest in being healthy.

I'm also a journalist, which is a nice way of saying "broke.'' Running required the lowest entry fee of all exercise routines I could think of, since you need little more than a road and some feet. I had those. It seemed like a good choice.

I never really enjoyed running, though, at least not as an exercise itself. I enjoyed the minor accomplishments involved in it, however. Progressing from my baseline goal -- Do Not Die Today -- to slightly more ambitious milestones like Do Not Die After One Solid Mile.

Occasionally, I'd get a glimpse into that "runner's high'' thing that all the kids talk about, and that would be nice. But every morning I'd still have to force myself to get out and run. I was accomplishing good things, but I wasn't having fun.

* * * * *

As the weather has begun to trend toward milder temperatures, I'm busily planning out my riding season, choosing events to fill up the spring, summer and parts of fall.

Starting slow, I've signed up for a 50-miler the first weekend in May. I recently found another 50-miler the weekend before that, and I might try to squeeze that one in.

There's the New York City Century the first weekend in September, which I'm also planning, along with the Ronald McDonald House of New Brunswick and Long Branch Metric Century (62-ish miles, or 100k), which should be the latter part of September. Both of those events I rode last year.

The one that has caught my eye, however, is the Coast the Coast ride being put on by the national Multiple Sclerosis Society. The benefit ride is a two-day, 170-mile ride from Monmouth University in Long Branch to Cape May.

Awesome.

* * * * *

I have two friends who also are planning serious rides this season, for no other reason than they can.

One is riding the AIDS/Lifecycle Ride in June. It's a seven-day, 545-mile ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles raising money and awareness for AIDS research.

The organizers say the ride "delivers a life-changing experience for thousands of participants... united by a common desire to do something heroic."

Heroic indeed. I may have to start planning this one for next year.

I have another friend who's planning a 100-mile trail ride in Michigan.

Neither of my friends has ever ridden anything approaching these distances. Neither one cares, either. They're going to try, and that's that.

That's exactly how I got through those first three miles.

Go get a bike. I'm sure you can do it, too.
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The Unnamed Bicycle Column appears on the Wall Township Patch website at wall.patch.com Mondays at 11:11 a.m.