Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Better Than Being a Crocodile

Exercise and I are not the best of friends. As a matter of fact, if reincarnation is possible, I wonder what I must have been in my previous lives to have been cursed as a human in this life, one of those creatures for whom exercise is quite necessary unless one relishes the idea of being bedridden for years, plastic tubes sticking out of veins, while being cared for by strangers who take all meaning from the word "dignity." Why couldn't I have been something like a crocodile, which, as far as I can tell, seems to get to lie around in shallow water all day, with a mouth so big and wide that merely opening it pretty much guarantees that some sort of dinner is going to float right into it? A crocodile barely has to think to get food, and if its prey does put up a fight, well, those steel-trap jaws sure are handy. In fact, one particularly lucky crocodile I had the pleasure of observing in Belize merely had to come hang out at the dock where our dive hotel was, and it would get fed things like spaghetti and cookies (no matter how many signs and warnings were posted not to feed it). There's some reason they can move (and believe me, they can. I've seen one do it, and you don't want to be there if one starts moving towards you like that), but I'll be damned if I can figure out why, because it's not as though they have tons of predators to out-maneuver.

I guarantee you crocodiles don't need a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and stretching in order to live long, healthy lives. I wish I'd been lucky enough to be a crocodile. Then again, I suppose it could be worse. I suppose I could have ended up an antelope constantly having to run to escape any number of predators' dinner plates. (Watch: that's what I'll be in my next life.) Still, no one ever sees antelopes with dumbbells. What is it about human bodies that we seem to need all this extra stuff? Why can't we just sit around on chaise longues all day and be fine?

Oh well, I suppose there's no use pining over the fact that I am not a crocodile: human I am. Not only am I human, but I also happen to be the sort of human who does not feel well without exercise. I get headaches. I sleep poorly. I don't think as well.  Sad to say, I am stuck with having to engage in some form of physical movement every day, and that's where things get a little tricky: it's not easy hating exercise as much as I do while living in a body that insists on having it. It means I've had to spend a good deal of time figuring out which means of exercise are the least tortuous.

I have two categories for that: "not too excruciating" and "sometimes even fun." Swimming falls into the former category. The problem with swimming is the need to breathe, something I've never really mastered all that well. I can do it, but it isn't fun. And then, there's also the need for a pool, which usually means swimming some place where others might see me. If I could swim laps with a mask and snorkel without looking like a fool, swimming might move into the latter category. Then again, blond hair and chlorine don't go together too well.

That means I have my choice of three forms of aerobic exercise that I can mention in the same sentence with the word "enjoy" (there is no such thing as a strength-training exercise that can show up anywhere near the word "enjoy." Needless to say, I don't do much strength-training. I'll probably regret this when I'm walking around a bent and crooked old hag in 30 years, but right now, osteoporosis seems preferable to lifting weights): walking, hiking, and biking. 

I've been doing plenty of walking and hiking since moving to Pennsylvania, but I hadn't been doing much biking until recently. That's because I didn't have a working bike. Now I do (thanks to a friend of ours who came over to fix our bikes one evening). I don't actually have my own bike to ride, because, of course, my bike is the one with stripped gears that need to be replaced. I have to wait for Bob to take it over to the bike shop our friend recommended to see how much they'll charge us to fix it. If it's going to be too much, we'll order the parts online, and our friend will come back and fix it. This means my bike will be fixed maybe sometime next year.

You may, very rightly, be wondering why I have to wait for Bob to take my bike to the shop to get an estimate. Did I not mention the fact that the evening of "bike fixing" also involved margarita-drinking? Well, and you know what can happen when you mix tequila with testosterone. You end up with a boy who has to prove to his friend that he can fix a bike just as well as his friend can, or at least, he could, if he'd also spent his summers and weekends as a kid taking bicycles apart and putting them back together, instead of perfecting his pitching arm for his oh-so-realistic future with the Yankees. Add to that mix a pesky girl with all her dumb questions, and well, I don't think I need say anymore. It means I'm stuck riding the "freebie" bike that was left by former tenants at our apartment in New York. It's a tad bit big for me, but it's still a great bike. (And don't worry. If it goes on too long, the pesky girl will put her foot down and take the bike over to the bike shop herself, maybe even fork over a lot of money to get it fixed, just to make a point.)

Anyway, all this is to say that I am so enjoying being on a bike again. I'd forgotten how much fun it can be and what a fantastic way it is to burn off excess energy. Especially fun is riding around here, where there is almost no traffic (I'm more likely to encounter horses and buggies than cars) on the back roads, and where the terrain is relatively flat. I'm amused by those Lancastrians who complain about the "hills" around here, noting that they don't tend to ride bikes unless they're at the shore, where it's flat. These hills are nothing, far preferable to the "hills" that turn into "mountains" in Connecticut the minute you mount a bicycle and try to climb one. The only problem these days is the heat, which is limiting me to either very early morning rides or rides at dusk, but that's a small price to pay for pedaling along idyllic roads either lined with towering corn on both sides or offering up stunning views of rolling green hills and old farm houses. Oh yeah, and saying "hello" to a few cows, sheep, and chickens along the way, other creatures who don't seem to need to get much exercise in order to be perfectly healthy. I wouldn't want to be one, though. They don't get to ride bicycles, which I suppose means being human is also better than being a crocodile.


Charlotte said...

I don't ride seriously at all, but I love it. There is something about being out on my bike that makes me feel like a kid - and like your territory, the land where I live is pretty flat so I don't have to struggle.

Would you consider yoga for strength training? I've found it an amazing outlet, especially since I've now found a teacher who focuses on actively improving our stances and not letting us slip into bad lazy habits. It's a technical class rather than a slow, meditative class, which I love.

But I hear you on "needing" exercise - I too get grumpy and out of sorts if I don't do some.

knitseashore said...

So glad to read you are enjoying riding your bike! I've been a slacker this year, but I'll blame the weather for that.

We have tons of hills here on the shoreline, sigh. But whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?

Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that bit just yet. :)

Stefanie said...

yay! So glad you got your bike (almost)fixed but at least you have a bike to ride. Your rides sound lovely. I don't get anything so idyllic here. One must always be alert so as not to run over a squirrel or joggers on the bike path and we are having a drought so the pretty creek I like to ride along is nothing but mud puddles. I shouldn't complain though, Minneapolis is a great city for bicycling. Enjoy your rides!

litlove said...

Chronic fatigue has made me terrible about exercise (one of the ways they diagnose it is if you feel worse after exercise rather than better), and now I feel very unfit and that I really ought to do something about it. But I loathe most forms of exercise, apart from t'ai chi, and I've yet to find a class I can make the time of. We do however, have an exercise bike, and my son and I are taking turns on it this summer, and playing catch at the same time. It's quite fun with him, but I am still very bad at doing it regularly! If you are hiking already, then you are doing very well. You only need half an hour of raised heart beat three times a week to make a big difference.

Emily Barton said...

Charlotte, I did yoga for a while. Alas! I seem to be the sort who likes to keep moving, and I find holding poses to be quite boring. I really would like to get into it, and am always considering pursuing new classes, because I really liked the way some of the stretches felt, but I never seem to get around to it.

Stef, yes, you are lucky to live in a bicycle-friendly city. So many aen't! And thanks. I am truly enjoying my rides.

Litlove, I'm definitely getting my needed amount then. These days, I walk for half an hour with my friends in the morning and then go for at least an hour-long bike ride in the evening most days.

mandarine said...

I've just tried crocodile trying to lie still on a beach for two weeks in Corsica, and for all the great weather and clear water, I guess I like riding my bike best.

For the mountain-hills back home, I have just purchased a mighty addition to my bicycle: an electrical assistance kit, to turn my bike into a prius.