It’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning.  On July 27, we rode the Goatneck    at Cleburne, Texas.  I have no idea what that means–the name of the event, that is, but the event is a 100 kilometer bike ride, with shorter rides of 41, 27 and 10 miles.  It’s one of the best organized rides I’ve ever had the great pleasure to do with excellent, well-stocked rest areas about every seven miles, excellent sag support, and several local bike shops roaming the course helping with adjustments and repairs.

Unfortunately, I needed that this year as I flatted about six miles into the ride. Despite using Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires which are all but invincible, I somehow ended up with a staple through a sidewall.  Oh well, I was able to change it quickly and off I went, and as Mrs. Manor wandered on without me, I got to fly a bit to catch up with her.

Goatneck 1

The photos are of the pack just before the start.  It was an unusually cool day.  The normal sunshine and mid-90s temperatures were missing this year.  Instead, it was a bit below 80° overcast and a nice breeze blew for the entire ride.  In many ways, ideal riding weather.

Goatneck 1AThe course is a relatively hilly area of North Texas, but “hills” are relative, of course.  Compared to the Black Hills of South Dakota where I spent many years riding, the hills of North Texas are barely speed bumps, but 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.

Goatneck 2

As you can see, it’s a colorful event, even with gray skies.  The various types of people and bikes are always fascinating.  Here’s a photo of my bike–a Rans V-Rex, which sadly, isn’t manufactured anymore.

Rans V-Rex

Rans V-Rex

And this machine is Mrs. Manor’s Rans Stratus LE, which is still in production.  To read more about these machines and recumbents in general, take this link to my yearly updated recumbent article. 

Rans Stratus LE

Rans Stratus LE

And if you’re interested, here’s the Rans website.  They also manufacture upright bikes and light aircraft.  Interesting company.

I am—gasp—59 years old, and Mrs. Manor is—double gasp—66.  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.  We certainly felt like we’d been abducted and worked over by aliens.  We’ve also practiced a wide variety of other sports, 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 all through high school.  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.  Throughout high school, one or two other guys and I would trade fastest performances at track meets.  I was a sprinter in the days when distances were measured in yards, not meters and specialized in the 220 and 440 and various relay races.  I initially ran the 100, but it made the coaches too nervous.  I would just be getting up to maximum velocity at the finish line where I would usually beat the shorter legged guys by fractions of a second, so they relegated me to the longer sprint distances.

As I aged, my competitive spirit did not diminish.  I simply 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 them.  As a legs and lungs kid, I could do that.  As my 30s approached, because maintaining maximum physical conditioning was not 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, 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 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, but valuable insight.

Eventually, the running stopped.  All those miles, all those hills just wore out some of the moving parts.  My knees simply 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 was 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, the most fortunate choice).

At first, speed was all that mattered, but as age intruded, forcing longer recovery periods, which allowed more time for contemplation, I realized that while regular exercise is important, living honorably, treating others with sincerity, and caring for loved ones is far more valuable.  So I ride at Mrs. Manor’s speed, even helping to push her up some of the more brutal hills.  Sure, I can ride faster, but riding with her provides greater rewards.  OK, I admit it.  It’s occasionally a little frustrating, but she’s more than worth it.

Oh, when someone passes me—and a huge number do these days—I feel that momentary flash of heat, that desire to catch them, but I smile and let it pass.  That’s no longer why I’m out there on the bike.  Instead, I concentrate on really seeing everything and everyone around me, and on appreciating and enjoying it all.  OK, so I do enjoy passing people, particularly when I climb hills—recumbents aren’t supposed to be able to climb, after all–but I don’t do a great deal of that anymore.  I can, but it’s no longer as important as it once was.

Bicycling is very colorful and tech oriented.  It’s great fun to watch the different types of riders.  There are the 5’7″ 145 pound, legs and lungs guys and girls, the people with the absolute lightest and high tech bikes, people who 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.

In this ride, the racers doing the 100K ride come screaming by in a relatively compact pack by the time I reach the second rest stop.  It’s always wistfully fun to watch them–this year a girl, about 2/3 the size of the guys, was keeping up and kicking a bit of skinny bicycling posterior–and remember what once was.

There were more recumbents this year, and two Catrike 700s, very low and light trikes, and very pricey as well, both ridden by women.  Oh yeah, these days loads of women kick my rear end.  There were also plenty of older folks like me, some quite grizzled and lean, baked by the Texas sun over innumerable miles.

There were also many kids, obviously not serious riders, some even on mountain bikes with their huge, clunky tires, but youth can compensate for a great many things, and they all seem to have great fun.  They not experienced enough to know what they don’t know, so they do it anyway.

Then there are 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 25 miles or more at a decent clip.  At my age, and with all of my other obligations, that’s something.  And this year, with a stroke only six months in the past, I was particularly pleased with myself and with life.

If I experience average life expectancy, I have about 20 more years, though I frankly expect more as long as my medications continue to work and I suspect they may.  Even so, the small and 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, but still don’t look too bad in Spandex, and even if we do, we could care less what the trendy folk think.  As long as we don’t stampede the cattle and frighten the horses, who cares?  As long as I don’t wake up dead, I’m grateful for every new, additional day.

So I inflate my tires, oil my chain and hit the road once again, smiling, content, optimistic about tomorrow and grateful that I can still crank out the miles and climb the hills, perhaps a bit more slowly than before, but not that much.  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 accomplishment on the journey.  Who knows when or where it will end?