About seven miles from The Manor, once a year, the CIA’s clandestine spandex detectors surely go off the charts. There, in the quiet Texas town of Cleburne, is held The Goatneck bike ride. I haven’t a clue what “Goatneck” means. I suspect it has something to do with the gently winding county roads on which the ride his held, but who knows? In any case, The Goatneck is 100 kilometer–a metric century–bike ride, with shorter courses 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 at the starting line and roaming the course helping with adjustments and repairs.
The last time I did The Goatneck I was riding my Rans V-Rex, and ended up with a staple through the sidewall of a tire. I made the mistake of putting a new tire on the day before the race, and didn’t adequately check it out. Lessons learned. This year, everything went very smoothly indeed.
This photo is of the pack just before the start. About 2000 riders participate every year. It began as a slightly cool day with a bit of a breeze, but the normal sunshine and 98° temperatures returned soon enough. Texans are used to that. The odor of sunscreen suffuses the starting area.
The 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, 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.
It’s a colorful event. The various types of people and bikes are always fascinating.
This year, Mrs. Manor and I–that’s her after we unloaded the trailer–rode trikes for the first time in our lives. As younger riders, if we gave any thought to trikes at all, we mildly sneered at the thought. Trikes, we thought, were for the aged, disabled and non-serious. But then we ended up on recumbents, which “serious” riders categorize the same way. And as age caught up with us–I’ve noticed it tends to do that with pretty much everyone–and trikes became more sophisticated, much faster and substantially more hip–we became what we once could not imagine: trike riders.
I am—gasp—62 years old, and Mrs. Manor is—double gasp—69. 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 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 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. Throughout high school, one or two other guys and I would trade fastest performances at track meets from week to week. 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 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, 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 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.
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, gently encouraging her as we go. 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, and particularly trikes, 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.
OK, you caught me. At several places on the course, I just had to go off on my own for a bit, passing upright riders–they were surprised–and even passing some going up hills, before backtracking and catching up with Mrs. Manor again. It felt good.
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 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). They 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 their urge to ride 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.
In this ride, the racers doing the 100K ride come screaming by as I’m still out on the 27-mile course with Mrs. Manor. It’s always wistfully fun to watch them, particularly as there are always a few very fit girls, much smaller than the guys, keeping up and kicking a bit of skinny, bicycling posterior, and remember what once was. This year the Peloton was quite a bit more spread out, and the fastest riders came flying past in groups of 10-20.
There is one spot on the course with a 90° turn. Despite a large portable sign warning of the turn, and a turn Marshall in blaze orange with a huge blaze orange flag, Mrs. Manor and I were delighted to watch several of the fast kids go screaming straight ahead, down the wrong road, unable to turn with their bretheren–and us–at the right moment. Oops. Trikes turn very fast indeed. Heh.
I was also a bit discomfited by something I hadn’t seen–actually heard–before: bicycling boom boxes. Some were iPhones adapted to bikes, but others were shaped to fit in water bottle mounts. 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. Technology isn’t always a good thing. Fortunately, they all passed us and we were eventually left in the peace to enjoy the sunshine, sights and smells, and the harmony of our machines.
There were relatively few recumbents this year, and only a few trikes beyond ours. For the first time, the good folks from Easy Street Recumbents, where we got our trikes, were present, spreading the recumbent gospel and doing adjustments and repairs.
These days loads of fit women kick my rear end. It is, however, something of 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.
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’re not experienced enough to know what they don’t know, so they do it anyway. I was particularly enchanted by a little girl, no more than eight or nine, riding a tandem with her father, grinning broadly, just a girl and her daddy. A young Hispanic couple brought their two daughters along, two toddlers riding in a small bike trailer pulled by Daddy, toting along snacks, books, and protected from the sun. They were having the time of their lives, and would, no doubt, one day do the same for their children.
There were 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.
Regular readers may recall I had a mild stroke more than three years ago now, a result of A-fib, with which I continue to deal. Fortunately, the A-fib does not interfere with my riding. 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.
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, but still don’t look too bad in Spandex, and even if we do, we could care less what the trendy folk think. In fact, 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 of the wicking fiber kind. They’re cheap and feel great. As long as I 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. 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 as well, perhaps even better. Who knows when or where my adventures will end?