Shiny dreams, rusty reality

By Mir
August 18, 2008

Thank you for all of the kind birthday wishes! As it turned out, this weekend marked what was perhaps my favorite birthday in a very long time. It was low-key and unremarkable, but no one bled or screamed or told me they hated me (to my face, anyway), and there was excellent food and many hugs and kisses, and it was all very nice.

Otto took me out for a fancy dinner on Saturday night, and while my margarita wasn’t quite as big as my head, it WAS very yummy. I had duck that came all fanned out on a plate like origami and Otto had frogmore stew that came in a bowl bigger than the one I use for mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. Because neither of us had had nearly enough food, we also had dessert (I had peach turnovers with ginger ice cream, and they are not fooling anyone at that fancy restaurant, THAT THERE IS SCRUMPTIOUS FRIED PIE) and then staggered out of there, full to bursting and very content.

After which, we went to the hippie grocery store and bought a big steak that presumably came from a pampered, organic cow who simply died of ennui while protesting global warming.

(No, we weren’t hungry again. It was so that we could have a family birthday dinner, last night. In our family, nothing says love like dead animals. Preferably dead animals lovingly coated in spice rub.)

Yesterday the kids fussed over me (after letting me sleep late!) and told everyone at church that it was my birthday (oh, so many sympathetic looks!) and insisted we do something fun together as a family. Alrighty! What to do?

Otto suggested we all go for a bike ride. But my bike—purchased use while I was in grad school a hundred years ago—is having technical difficulties. The tires were flat, so Otto pumped them up for me a while back, but they went flat again. They surely need new tubes, if not also new tires. “My tires are flat!” I protested.

“I’ll pump ’em up for you,” he said.

“But they’ll just go flat again! Like before!” I said.

“Probably not right away…” he said. And lo, my heart was filled with reassurance. Oh, wait. NO IT WASN’T.

“I need new tires,” I grumped. “And it’s stupid, because I hate that bike, anyway.”

Yes, I am totally in a position to judge the bike I haven’t ridden in ten years. I have a vague memory of hating it! Probably because it required me to move, but no, I’m CERTAIN it’s because I always feel all hunched over the handlebars. Also, there are too many gears. What do I need all those gears for?? I don’t.

And that’s how Otto and I got the brilliant idea that I need a new bike.

We poked around online and I found just the beauty for me: A shiny retro Schwinn cruiser. 7 speeds, so not ENTIRELY a granny bike, but… well, yeah, it’s a granny bike. But it’s SHINY! And RED! See?:

I was so taken with it that Monkey and I went out to the Big Box Store carrying it and bought it immediately. And by “immediately” I of course mean “after half an hour of waiting for the 85-year-old employee to put it together for me.”

By the time we got it home, it was pretty hot out, so we decided to wait until after dinner to go for our ride. Once we were all full of steak and potatoes and asparagus, the time had come!

Now, I want you to understand that I didn’t crash the bike or fall over or hurt myself, or anything. But the reality is that my bike-riding experience went more or less like this:

Wow, this is so much fun. I love this! How did I not know how much fun this is? The wind on my face, the— ow. Hey. My thighs feel sort of… OW. Jesus, THAT BURNS. What the hell? I’m not even half a block from home! Maybe if I switch gears. That’s… better. Yes, that’s better. I’m okay. I’m pedaling. It’s alright. That— DAMMIT. I’ll just switch gears again. Um, I seem to be out of easy gears, and yet I still can barely pedal. My thighs are QUIVERING, and not in a good way. OW OW OW. I think I’m having an asthma attack.

(My internal monologue is kind of a whiner.)

It turns out that I am in the worst shape of my life. I KNOW, IT’S SHOCKING. I mean, who knew that sitting at a desk all day and going for a nice brisk walk once a month whether I need it or not is not enough to stay in peak physical fitness? I HAD NO IDEA. But it was all kinds of fun to be out with the entire family and I do love my new bike very much, so I vowed right then and there that I will work on getting myself into good enough shape that riding my bike will not make me want to lay down and die.

This morning I suited up and headed out full of hope. I’d just do a short ride, something to ease myself into it, and then I can feel good, knowing I’m on my way to better fitness.

The same thing happened as before—my thighs began to scream in agony less than a block from the house. I decided I would just breathe deeply and pedal slowly. So I did. And that worked to keep me calm for about two minutes, and then I realized that—unlike all of my unsuccessful fitness attempts at home with DVDs or whatever—I was OUT IN PUBLIC on the STREET and that people could see me on my shiny red bicycle, floundering and panting for breath.

I soldiered on, and ten minutes later I was back home. I rode my bike into the garage and dismounted… and nearly fell on the floor, as all of the bones in my legs seemed to have liquefied.

It’s going to take more than a shiny bike to get me back into any semblance of shape, I’m afraid.

There are milestones in life, you know? Baby’s first birthday. The first birthday in the double digits. The first birthday as a teen; sweet sixteen; and the highly-coveted “of legal age.” Twenty-one is a big one, and so is thirty.

I am here to tell you that thirty-seven is another monumental event. It’s the year you realize that that you’re too old to continue living like you’re in your twenties and too young to be at peace with being flabby and out of shape. It really sort of sucks, actually.

Still, I’m really digging my new bike. If only I didn’t have to ride it with my old thighs.


  1. Megan

    Just this weekend I came bump up against what I really truly knew but didn’t want to know: a) having once been in shape (ie biking 100+ miles a week AND running every night) does not mean one is still in shape (ie walking… sort of… a mile a day then sitting on one’s arse and doing computer work) and b) my father who has his 70th birthday this year bikes 7 miles one way UP MAJOR HILL every. single. day. Also, I kinda sorta hate my lovely father (in a totally loving sort of way).

    Please don’t further disillusion me by saying that shiny and red doesn’t stop out-of-breathness and jelly legs. I’m not sure I can take that.

  2. Leandra

    Awww…I’m totally green with envy over your shiny red bike! However, as we now live down in a hole and the only way out is UP a hill, I think I’ll pass on the bike for now.

  3. MomCat

    You’re thirty-seven! You’re not old!!

    (Apologies to non-Monty Python fans)

  4. Jen

    LOL! You are too funny!! Thank you for the laugh, I’m sorry it was partialy at your expense. Your bike is awesome though, and at least you’ll have a chance to get in shape in style!

    Happy belated birthday!

  5. Anna Marie

    Happy belated birthday! You are young still!

  6. RuthWells

    Bwah! My dad bought me a bike this summer for last summer’s birthday, and as my car is ailing and has been deemed “unsafe to drive”, I rode said bike to work today. My commute’s about 1.5 miles, but I hadn’t realized quite how much of it is uphill (ouch!).

  7. Burgh Baby

    Happy birthday, Mir, and keep on riding. Eventually you might be able to catch up with my young ass as it pedals me around on our usual 9-mile jaunt. ;-)

  8. Jess

    Mir, I managed to pull muscles in my thighs while BUYING SHOES. ;)

    Happy bday, though! :)

  9. Jamie AZ

    I feel your pain – I’m in the same shape and just a couple weeks older. Even when we go swimming, I’m amazed at how crappy my ability to hold my breath under water is anymore. Ah, exercise, how can I love you?! I told hubby while watching the marathon on the Olympics that I *want* to enjoy running, but I’m not sure how to get to that point. Keep pedaling, Mir! Hopefully I’ll catch up soon, too. And what a great bike!!

  10. Cassandra

    I, too, turned 37 this year. Have to say that number sucks. I keep telling myself that 37 is light years away from 40. And I gave up on my thighs long ago…

  11. Rebecca

    Happy Birthday! Just keep riding and it will get easier. It’s those Georgia hills that are killing you!

  12. The Other Leanne

    Holy Cow, what better birthday could there be than one that results in a Shiny Red Bike!
    I laughed out loud at your description of the ride, though, because I have a Shiny Red Bike in my office. People ask me if I ride it to work, which would be crazy because the only exercise I get is walking to and from my car. Once a year I pump up the tires and take it for a ride and the effect is exactly the same as what you describe: “My thighs are QUIVERING, and not in a good way.”
    I would probably ride it more often if I didn’t have to wear a dorky helmet that makes my hair all flat.
    You DID wear a helmet, didn’t you?

  13. Tricia

    Thank you for this. No, seriously. You just saved me a bit of cash. Just yesterday I had decided to get my bike out, have it serviced and to start riding. Now I know why that is a really, really bad idea.

  14. dad

    The fact that you got a shiny red bike for you birthday is indisputable evidence that you are still a child (at heart).

    The “burn” in your thighs will dissipate as soon as you rid yourself of all the lactic acid which has buit up in your muscles from not exercising.

    So much for those yogurt milk shakes. Go for the gold.

  15. Cele

    Get on the bike and ride religiously now, because it becomes VERY HARD at fifty plus.

  16. arduous

    Happy birthday, Mir. Glad you had a great day, thigh pain non-withstanding.

  17. zeghsy

    man that’s a sweet bike. i would gladly trade you bikes. i like mine and everything, but yours is so cool. mine’s not that cool. and i haven’t ridden mine in a long time either.

  18. cupcake40

    Happy Birthday. I know how you feel. I used to ride for hours (about 25 years ago)however, I found out how out of shape I am a couple of months ago when the kids and I went out to ride around the housing plan (note – our housing plan is called “Rolling Hills”). I could not even make it up the first hill.

    I still have an urge to ride my nice shiny bike, but just can’t figure out how to get to the nice straight roads.

  19. jennielynn

    This is why I hate my 36 year-old best friend, the tri-athelete. She takes away all my excuses for being out of shape. You’re my new best friend. Congratulations.

  20. The Other Other Dawn

    “…a pampered, organic cow who simply died of ennui while protesting global warming.” BWAH HAHA!

    I hear you on the too old-yet too young thing. At this point I almost wish I’d taken up brick-laying or something. Anything but a job that forces me to sit for many hours of my day.

    But that bike! How cool! You MUST continue riding it!

  21. just beth

    Happy belated birthday Mir! I laughed so hard, and now I feel bad. I guess I just didn’t have to tell you that I laughed, but I did. And I’m against deleting, it turns out. It’s just that I was all aglow with happy birthday thoughts, thinking how fun bike riding is, lalalaaa… and you hit the part about your thighs and I just snorted and giggled the rest of the way though. So thank you, because laughing is fun.

    And it doesn’t involve thighs AT ALL.



  22. hollygee

    Oh, honey, I know. We just bought me a new-used bike and after Steve replaced the crumbled front wheel, straightened the fork, and adjusted the brakes (“No wonder she crashed.”), I gave it a try.

    Whoa. It’s been a lot of years and computer-chair time. Your monologue sounded a lot like mine, only yours was longer as I didn’t last 5 minutes. And at 61, I’m going to be taking it very slowly.

    Happy Birthday

  23. susie

    I never thought of 37 as a ‘tween year – but so right you are. Here’s to the tween years, ours that is.

  24. tilda whirl

    Happy Birthday!
    You know… it’s never too late for roller derby. It’s the best work out I’ve ever done. Just sayin ;)

  25. Crisanne

    I know that feeling all too well. Except not on a bike. My sense of balance isn’t quite so bike worthy.

    Glad to hear you had a good birthday. Here’s to a fanstastic 37th year for Mir!!

  26. Mom on the Run

    I love my new bike too. Well, by new I mean 3 years old. I well remember the burn…the worrying about neighbors seeing me. I well remember getting off the bike and walking home…very out of breath.

    Soon after I joined a health club. I prefer riding a stationary bike, plus I can control the speed, terrain, etc.

    Happy B-day, Mir!

  27. Sheila

    I’m late to the party, but happy birthday anyway, Mir.

    Also? Check the brakes on your shiny new bike. I worked in a bike shop in college, and I can’t tell you the number of bikes that rolled in to our repair shop after having been put together by big-box store employees (especially the geriatric and teen aged ones). Chances are high that one or both of the brakes are rubbing on the wheel rims, which makes pedaling a lot like driving with the parking brake on. (Not that I’ve done that or anything.) It may not be your thighs after all! Of course, if it WAS put together properly, then yeah, it’s you.

    Also also? It’s only a granny bike if you put a big flowered basket on the front.

  28. Mysh

    Happy belated birthday Mir! Love the shiny bike. And I don’t think it qualifies for “granny” status unless you’ve got 3 wheels on it. :O)

  29. Tammy

    Rilly? The whole “not-satisfied-with-being-flabby” thing doesn’t kick in until 37?? Whew! I have 6 more months to live in denial. Yay me!!

    Love the bike…so cute…so you!

  30. Lucinda

    I’m turning 37 in October and I’m not looking forward to it although I think 36 really bothered me way more for all the reasons you describe. I too did the start to exercise seriously because dammit, I’m too young to be old! It sucked. But I got in an email group with a bunch of other ladies to keep us accountable and after 5 months, we all did a 5k. It was beyond awesome because I have NEVER been athletic in anyway. At all. So if I can get my lazy (and very clumsy) ass in some semblance of shape, so can you. You go girl!

  31. Fold My Laundry Please

    Wow! I thought the realization that you were too young to be flabby and out of shape was supposed to happen at 33! Then again, I AM an overachiever! Guess this means I can stop jogging ever, ever soooo sloooooowly through my neighborhood in front of God and everybody and park my big behind back on the couch for a couple more years. YES!


  32. Aimee

    Your bike is PRETTY! And SHINY! Sorry that it’s also painful, but it has to get easier, right?

    I’m going to be (shhhh) thirty-ten in October, and I so know what you mean about things getting harder. Gah.

  33. Katie in MA

    Your Ride of Hope certainly sounds like a Changerous Thing To Do. Your brand new happy thighs are just a few short bike rides away! (Umm…maybe that didn’t come out the way I meant it.)

    Go, Mir!

  34. Em

    Oh! There is a place on the back for Otto to sit! Awesome! That can be your challenge once you get your thighs to stop liquifying – start carting your hubby around sort of like rickshaw meets Laverne and Shirley.

  35. Mom, Ink.

    Oooooo, shiny object. Purty red shiny object. Oooooooo.

    Okay, I’m back. I’ve tried to use new sneakers to motivate me to get into shape. Inevitably I end up wearing them with my baggy sweatpants and hoody to buy donuts or something. Maybe that’s your trick. Is there a donut shop within riding distance? You could ride there, gorge yourself on donuts and then make Otto pick up you and the purty-red-shiny-bike in the car.

  36. Flea

    The worst part is realizing that the distance home is equal to the distance already traveled. Noooo!

  37. Karen

    I looked at as bike this weekend, but decided against it for right now. Of course, I had just walked uphill for about 1/3 of a 1/4 mile trail. Thankfully, there was a thunderstorm on the horizon so that was a good enough excuse not to go the entire length of the trail.

  38. Bri

    I used my old bike with shiny new tires to ride to Target last week and by the time I got there, I was sure I was going to lose some internal organs, at least my uterus. It was like a giant light bulb went off over my head, “Oh, right! Riding a bike is EXERCISE!!” I don’t think I believe in exercise. I’m sure it doesn’t believe in me. ;)

    I feel your pain, though I hope you handle it better than I do!

    Bri@Under the Arch

  39. Karen

    OH…..the real pain begins tomorrow morning when your body decides it’s time for revenge. Love the bike, it is pretty!

  40. Amy-Go

    Happy birthday, Tulip. I pointed you out in a magazine and bragged about knowing you to a total stranger today! Not much of a gift, I know…it’s the thought that counts? Let’s go with that. ;)

  41. Lady M

    Anything red is worth a second look. Or a second ride.

  42. Hall

    You’ll be amazed how fast it gets easier. I was sooo out of shape when I started riding. Find yourself a loop that leaves from your house and that seems doable, meaning a short loop. And ride that loop two or three times a week at your pace, not Otto’s, not the kids’. In two or three weeks it will feel easy and you can start adding to it and/or riding faster. If you’re like me, after you’ve gotten strong and used to riding, you will have periods when you can’t ride for a while due to busyness, weather, illness, etc. When it comes time to start again, don’t overdo…. just do your loop. By then you’ll probably have a longer default loop, but the principle is the same. Enjoy your bike! I personally believe that bikes are the best exercise for most of us.

  43. Brigitte

    That’s why I’d have to go the granny TRIcycle route. When my legs give out after about 1/4 mile, and I pass out, at least it won’t fall over. ;-)

    “pampered, organic cow who simply died of ennui while protesting global warming” – awesome line!

  44. Gaslight

    Thirty-seven is a very good year! I liked it so much I went and got married :-)

    Biking is not as easy as it looks, but it’s good for you and and all, blah-blah.

    When you’re starting out, it helps to try riding the bike actually TO someplace. Like the library or the post office, where you can toss your wares in little backpack. That helps me not turn around and go home before I’m supposed to.

  45. StephLove

    Happy belated Birthday, Mir! I sometimes forget you are younger than me because you often seem so wise. (And also because your kids are older than mine. I guess you’re older than me in Mom years.)

    Good luck with the bike. I keep vowing to exercise more and sticking with it for a few months and backsliding. I’m hoping it will be easier when school starts and the little darlings aren’t always underfoot.

  46. Liz

    Happy Belated Birthday, Mir and…um…I covet your bike. If only for the fact that I’m dorkiskly klutzy, I might have even considered getting one for my 44th birthday; thighs and gravity be damned!

  47. prophet

    yes, it will get easier – if you keep on keepin’ on. . . . (talk to me in a week) – and a very happy birthday to you, too!

  48. crockpot lady

    I’m not yet as old as you (read that with love. lots of love), but OMG this sitting at a desk thing is not good for my ass. or my arms (huh?). My back-to-school resolution is to do something about it.

    I think. maybe. I don’t know now.
    I may need more coffee.

  49. Barbara

    My thighs and your thighs, sympatico – oooh, sorry. I’m 5 years older than you. Just like crockpot lady, I say that with love. There, that makes it all better, eh?

  50. Heidi

    I’m way older than you, so I laugh heartily at your wah-wahing about your current age. Be careful–if you consider yourself old now, how are you setting yourself up for the next 60 years?

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