The Great Bikening

I’ve mentioned it on Twitter a few times, but I purchased a used bicycle about two weeks ago. My reasoning for this decision was because I’d cancelled my boxing gym membership and I needed something to provide a measure of physical activity. I’d loved boxing, but after moving five miles in the wrong direction, suddenly a 30 minute drive just to get to the gym didn’t seem so appealing. Not to mention, I’m trying to get financially squared away and a $45 monthly gym membership just didn’t fit with that goal, especially after I’d picked up a poor attendance habit and was only going about once a week (I’d been hitting the gym three times a week when I first started).

I’d been reading on a few blogs (Mr. Money Mustache and the Art of Manliness) about how rewarding it is to commute to work via bicycle. I checked the distance between home and work on Google maps and discovered it’s just a hair under 10 miles one-way. Shit, I thought to myself. That’s doable. Yeah, I could do that.

The math worked out. Google estimated the time at 50 minutes. My normal commute right now via motorcycle is about 25 minutes. But since I was already spending two hours on fitness when I went to the gym (and only getting one hour of actual exercise out of it), this scheme would allow me to spend my time more effectively since I was turning commute time into exercise time!

So I went out and purchased a used bike. It took a few tries; I looked into BICAS first but they didn’t have anything comfortable for my height. Bookman’s Sport Exchange had a very reasonably priced, very stylish looking green bike that I fell in love with after one test ride.

I rode it home. It was about five miles. I nearly died of exhaustion.

I recall lying on the carpet, gasping like a fish and wondering two things: first, how the hell was I going to do twenty miles a day and second, how had I let myself get this out of shape?

Because I used to bike a lot as a kid. And as a kid, I was able to go on my bike forever. It isn’t until you revisit things in adulthood that you loved in childhood that you realize how much slower and heavier adult bodies are if you don’t keep them in working order.

After that humbling experience, I spent a week building up my stamina. I took a long ride to get some miles under my belt. I tested the commute itself on a day off, reasoning that if I collapsed in a heap on the road somewhere, at least I wouldn’t have to call in.

The commute itself is lovely. I’m really lucky. Around 7 miles of it are on a dedicated, bike-only path that runs the length of a dry river, because in Tucson, rivers don’t need to have water in them to be considered rivers. Even the few miles I do spend on the streets are mostly well designed with generous bike lanes. I only hit three stop lights in ten miles. It’s amazing.

Today is my second day biking to work. I make sure to give myself an hour and a half, even though the commute itself is just about an hour. I have accepted the fact that I’m basically the slowest person on the entire bike trail. Senior citizens zip by me at roughly 1 million miles per hour and politely do choose not to mock me.

But I’m getting better. I’ve improved my commute time by almost ten minutes from the first time I rode it until today. I didn’t need to stop and catch my breath at any point.

I still feel bad when I see how much faster everyone else is. But it makes me really happy to feel the improvements already. I’m getting better. I don’t think I’ll ever be as fast as the senior citizens on their carbon-fiber super bikes, but you know what? That’s okay. Because I’m doing this for me. I’m getting healthier again. I like that.

Apparently, Fencing Isn’t For Adults

This is a post about fencing, as in sword fighting. Not fencing as in building fences around things. This is a crucial difference that search engines don’t seem to understand. When you Google fencing, you’re going to learn a lot about the cost of installing convenient and attractive fences around your property. I was thinking about a nice picket fence for myself until I remembered that I live in a second-story apartment building.

I started boxing last summer and I really enjoy it. It’s good to feel in shape again. I’ve been idly contemplating trying some other forms of physical activity to complement my current training. I don’t really feel the need to go back into a martial art since I’m already learning how to hit people with my hands.

What I really want to learn is how to hit people with a sharp piece of metal. I want to learn fencing because I’m a nerd and nerds seem drawn to swords as a general trend.

I did an idle Google search the other day and came up with a few websites about fencing classes local to my area. The initial results were not encouraging. Most hadn’t been updated in over five years.

Regardless, I plunged ahead and finally located a phone number that was in service. I called it and a woman answered. I was expecting the usual greeting: “thank you for calling such-and-such academy of stabby things, this is . . .”

Instead, my call is answered with a curt “Yes?”

“Uh,” I say. “I found this number because I was looking for fencing classes.”

“Yeah, yeah, I do fencing,” the woman on the other end of the phone says.

Well, okay, that’s encouraging. We got off to a rocky start but at least I’ve found something more promising than an abandoned website. I ask her if she’s taking new students; she says she is. I ask her if she’s taking complete beginners, she says yes, as long as they’re already in shape.

Translation: Fatties need not apply.

I assure her that I’m fairly active and I’m in good shape, which is true.

I ask about her specialty and what style of fencing she teaches. I learned from my reading online that there are three kinds of fencing weapons: foil, epee, and saber.

Saber sounds like the most fun to me because it involves both slashing as well as stabbing movements. The various guides I read said it’s traditional to learn foil first before moving on to the others.

Whatever, I just want to have a sword in my hand and learn how to poke people with it, all in the name of sport and fitness, of course.

She explains the tradition of starting with foil, “because it’s the hardest” before moving on to the other styles. I don’t mention that I think saber sounds the coolest. I get the feeling it won’t earn me any points here.

I ask about prices, which are higher than I expected but not outside of my means.

I’m just about to ask if I can come for a trial class to see if I like it when she asks me “how old is your child?”

“Uh,” I say. “My child?”

“Yes,” she says impatiently. “How old is your child? I don’t work with kids under 10. They don’t have enough focus.”

“Oh,” I say, glad this is a phone call so she can’t see my embarrassment even as I’m certain she can hear it in my voice. “No, I’m asking about classes for an adult. For myself.”

“This is an after-school program,” she says.

“So . . . ” I venture, hoping for more information. When none is forthcoming, I take a stab at it. “So not for adults?”

Her silence indicates that I’m either correct or an idiot for asking an obvious question. Perhaps both.

“Do you take adult students?” I ask. “Ever?”

Surely I can’t be the only person who has decided at the doddering old age of twenty-seven to decide, you know, I think I’d like to learn a new sport!

I’m sure adults try this sort of thing all the time. After all, this feels like an adult sport. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the signature of any adult sport is how much gear you need to buy or rent. You can’t just pick up a ball from the sporting goods store when you’re a grown-up. You need to have gear and that gear is always expensive. I can’t walk out of an REI without dropping a hundred bucks when all I went there for was a dehydrated meal and a map book.

Apparently, I’m wrong about adults and fencing. It seems the fencing instruction train left when I was a wee lad and I didn’t even realize it because I was born to parents who preferred the unrefined barbarism of football rather than the civilized art of poking holes in people with sharp metal bits. They missed their opportunity to raise a world-class fencer, even though at the time, I certainly would have hated it.

“Sometimes we do adult classes in the summer,” she says without conviction. “When the kids are off doing competitions or out of school. Try calling back in May, we might have something for you.”

Translation: We don’t do adult classes ever. The fact that you want to try this is laughable. Go away, old person. Go away and be old somewhere else.

Sigh.

I promise I’ll call back in May to see about starting a class. We hang up. The whole experience was vaguely bewildering. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I’m now past my prime for wanting to learn something new.

The only things I’m certain of, besides my waning mortality, is that I won’t be calling back in May and that my fencing career is over before it even began.