This is an article I last updated in 2019. Much has changed with Mrs. Manor and me, but one thing remains the same. Venerable aphorisms suggest as we grow older, we grow wiser. This is not universally true. We can all point to a variety of people who, in middle and old age, remained just as dumb as they were when young, and stubbornly proud of it. I like to think I’ve learned a few things, and perhaps, am a better person. Perhaps, gentle readers, you can decide, at least regarding the first proposition.
About ten miles from the old Manor, the last Saturday each July, in the otherwise unremarkable town of Cleburne, was The Goatneck bicycle ride. Those of you that participate in organized athletic events know the drill: high entrance costs, cheap t-shirts, mediocre and few rest stops, and mediocre overall support. None of that is true for The Goatneck, the meaning of which–the name of the event–eternally eludes me. It is, without doubt, the best organized ride I’ve ever done, with rest stops every seven miles stocked not only with all manner of appropriate food and drink, but cheerful, helpful volunteers, pavilions for shade from the sun, plenty of chairs, and plentiful, well-stocked and clean porta-potties. Sadly, that satisfying event is now across the nation, more than 20 hours away, so we won’t be riding it this year, perhaps never again. Equally, sadly, the damned Caronavirus canceled it for 2020.
There is another annual ride in the area, The Honey Tour. We thought of riding it this year, but unfortunately, it was held the day before we packed the U-Haul and headed North to the new Manor, so that just wasn’t a smart thing to do, and it was canceled due to Covid-19 anyway. What hasn’t been? Sigh.
This photo is of a small portion of the pack–the century riders–before the start of the 2019 Goatneck. About 2000 riders participate every year. 2019 was our fourth year on trikes. As younger riders we gently sneered at the thought of trikes. Trikes were for the aged, disabled and non-serious. But then we ended up on recumbents, which “serious”–very young, fit and non-empathetic–riders often categorize the same way. As age caught up with us–I’ve noticed it tends to do that with pretty much everyone–and trikes became lighter and much more sophisticated, much faster and substantially more hip–we became what we once could not imagine: trike riders. These days, trikes make up about 70% of the recumbent market.
Now, we’re in the high desert, the rolling prairie: Wyoming. It’s where we’ve lived much of our adult lives, so in a very real sense, we came home in our retirement. Devil’s Tower is not far from the new Manor.
This year, our rides and training have been seriously diminished. We’ve just been too busy making the Manor into our home–building shelves, cabinets, putting up pegboard walls in the garage, etc.–a process that continues to this day, and will continue for some time thereafter. Still, we’ve managed some rides and mapped out some favorite courses. As a result, we’re not going to try to find any local rides this year. Most are probably canceled anyway.
I am—gasp—66 years old, and Mrs. Manor this year turned—double gasp—73. People always guess us to be 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, circling the base of the Tower. Yes, the actual Devil’s Tower from Close Encounters of the Third Kind—it’s not a movie prop. Finishing the race, we felt like we’d been abducted and worked over by aliens. We’ve also practiced a wide variety of other sports–racquetball, tennis, European fencing, Japanese fencing (Kendo), Japanese sword drawing (Iaido)–but until about 16 years 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′ by 8th grade and weighed 155 pounds throughout high school and beyond. I was nothing but legs and lungs and I was one of the handful of fastest high school kids in my state in those days.
As I aged, my competitive spirit did not diminish. I 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–and pass–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–actually, small mountains–and regular weight work, built up a remarkable level of fitness. My police department used to field a team for 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 sub-six minute per mile range, as could the others, but we were still being beaten, year after year, by the other team entrants, like the law enforcement team from the local Air Force Base–Ellsworth. I finally figured it out: we were getting older each and every year, and they were always 20. That was a stunning, temporarily distressing, but valuable insight.
Eventually, the running stopped. All those miles, all those hills just wore out some of the moving parts. The body wouldn’t take the pounding anymore. 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. Some things do improve with age.
We went with trikes years ago now because Mrs. Manor could see just the beginning of a balance issue. No disease, just the ravages of time. We researched carefully and got her a Terra Trike Sportster. It’s a fast, aluminum-framed trike. I kept my two wheeled recumbent, but soon realized it would be too easy to outrun Mrs. Manor. Spending time with her and encouraging her on our rides is much more important than attaining my maximum speed, so I went to a Sportster too. The trikes are plenty fast, particularly for people for whom maximum velocity is no longer a compulsion.
They say Montana is “Big Sky” country, but so is Wyoming. One of the fun things about living in Wyoming is the greatly reduced traffic, which makes biking a bit more comfy. Also interesting is the ever-present wildlife. The new Manor is in the middle of cottontail territory, and Mrs. Manor is already worried about all the bunnies getting enough food in the tough Wyoming winters. Today, a small flock of Geese landed about 30 yards away and spent a few hour resting. Antelope are constant riding companions, in and out of town. There aren’t any “antelope crossing” signs, because they cross everywhere and anywhere, and we often have to wait got them.
During my active Kendo days, after a particularly hard training session, someone would always grunt, Samurai film style: “much blood on floor: good training!” There wasn’t really blood on the floor—well, not much, usually–but you get the spirit of the thing. Biking doesn’t normally leave any blood on the pavement, but the wind in Wyoming is much more present, and much more fierce than it was in North Texas. Mrs. Manor is getting a little tired of my grunting: “much wind; good training!”
Until the Manor is mostly squared away, and because of the damned virus, we aren’t going to be able to ride as much as usual, which is annoying. We 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 20 miles or more at a decent pace. At my age, with my increasing age-related physical issues—my knees are regularly informing me their warranty is almost up–that’s something.
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, and could generally care less what the trendy folk think. I’ve abandoned bicycling jerseys. They’re pricey, and the rear pockets are useless on a trike. These days I just wear comfy athletic t-shirts and shorts of the wicking fiber kind (see the above photo). They’re cheap and feel great. As long as I don’t stampede the women and children and frighten the cattle, who cares? As long as I don’t wake up dead, I’m grateful for every new, additional day.
So, when we can, we’ll inflate our tires and hit the road once again, smiling, content, optimistic about tomorrow and grateful we can still crank out the miles with a bit of style. If we do that a bit more slowly than last year, who cares? We’re getting older every year, and it just doesn’t matter to us anymore. Every day is an adventure, and every mile, another pleasure and memory on the journey to eternity. We don’t have to be in some far-flung, exotic corner of the globe to experience adventure. The broad, wide-open Wyoming prairie works, and for most folks, it’s plenty exotic.
We haven’t been 20 for a long, long time, but we have each other. That’s really what matters.