If cycling makes you feel young, it's probably because you forgot what it felt like

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Every once in a while I have one of those conversations that makes sure I don’t ever have too many friends. I ran across a buddy the other day coming in on Palos Verdes Drive North. I was returning from a race and he was finishing up the all-day training regimen prescribed by his coach. “I feel great!” he said.

“That’s nice,” I answered, knowing that we were going to a bad place, soon.

“That’s why I love cycling. It keeps me young.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

Appalled silence at the heresy. “Sure it does. I feel better now at fifty than I did at twenty-five.”

“Then you must have felt like shit when you were twenty-five.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“When I was twenty-five I could ride 600 miles a week on a saddle designed to block all blood flow to the pelvic region, have boners on demand not to mention an ‘uninvited guest’ every time I saw a cute girl, memorize thousands of kanji with minimal effort, work late, get up early, and remember everything I read the first time through.”

“So?”

“Now I can ride 300 miles a week only if I bookend each ride with a three-hour nap. Boners require advance notice, an engraved invitation and a saddle with a cutout big enough to put my fist through, my memory is limited to breakfast, I collapse in a heap at nine o’clock, get up in the morning only with massive amounts of coffee, and can’t walk ten steps without having to take a pee.”

My interlocutor then pivoted onto the tried-and-true high school reunion comparison. “Yeah, but I feel so much younger compared to the people I went to high school with. I went to my 30th reunion and I was the youngest, slimmest, best looking person there. Most of them were so fat and hairless and in such bad shape or surgically altered that I couldn’t recognize them without name tags.”

“I’m sure that’s true. But bicycling isn’t ‘keeping you young.’ At best it’s slowing the rate of decay compared to your classmates, which rate is nonetheless rapid, irreversible, and accelerating logarithmically with each year.”

“That’s ridiculous. It’s not how old you are, it’s how old you feel. You’ve got to stay young at heart, and cycling keeps me young at heart.”

“Wrong again. It’s how old you are, not how old you feel. The most ancient-feeling two year-old is going to far outlast the youngest-at-heart centenarian ever. At fifteen, death is something that happens in movies and certainly not to you. At fifty, you’re so close to death you can see its outline in the mirror.”

“You’re such a cynic. Riding makes you feel young, admit it.”

“Riding makes me feel great, except for during, before, and after the ride. But it doesn’t make me feel young. I can’t even remember what young feels like.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Young is a state of mind where there’s more possibility than not. Young is an upward trajectory. Young is when forty seems incomprehensibly old. Young is when your mind has more hopes than memories. Young is the stench of hormones and the soup of raw emotions mixed with curiosity, intensity, infinite energy, and lust. Young is never a nine o’clock bedtime, unless you’ve been up for the last thirty-six hours.”

“I’m so much fitter now since I took up cycling five years ago. I’ve already ridden seven thousand miles this year. My kids couldn’t keep up with me on a bet.”

“Your kids don’t need to keep up with you. They’re already miles ahead.”

“How do you figure?”

“You can get on your bike and pedal for hours. Your kids can walk into a bar and get looked at by young girls. They win.”

“I’ve talked to plenty of young girls in bars.”

“Were you buying?”

” … yeah … ”

“So which one is younger? The guy who rides all day with other old men and conquers high mountains and has to pay for conversation or the guy who walks into a bar and gets noticed by young women without having to buy?”

“The minute you stop trying, you’re dead. You gotta keep pushing yourself otherwise you stagnate and die. You gotta take the hard road, attack the mountain and avoid the flat path at all costs. You gotta push the envelope to bustin’, no matter how much it hurts, how tired you are, or how badly you want to quit. That’s how you stay young.”

“Not at all. The minute your heart stops beating, you’re dead, and this can easily happen when you get run over by a car while riding your bicycle. The best way to preserve life is not by riding a bike, it’s by staying indoors and watching TV while eating chips, drinking beer, and doing thirty minutes a day on the trainer.”

“But that’s not living!”

“Of course it is. Each person gets to decide how they want to spend their allotment of time. But no one gets to stay young, and no one gets out of here alive.”

“So why do you ride then, Mr. Grumpy Old Fart?”

“Do I have to have a reason?”

“C’mon. You love it. Admit it, Mr. Grumpy Cat Face.”

“I love it. But I don’t know why, and it sure isn’t keeping me young, judging from my hair loss and other objective indicia.”

“Ah, whatever.”

The road had now reached the intersection with Silver Spur, a steep, awful, punishing one-mile slab of pavement that invariably wrung your final breaths out of your lungs no matter how strong you felt. “I’m turning here. Join me? It’ll add a couple of miles and a touch of climbing, but will still put you back in Redondo.”

“No, thanks. That’s too hard a climb for just now.”

“Really? C’mon, dude. The minute you stop trying, you’re dead. You gotta keep pushing yourself otherwise you stagnate and die. You gotta take the hard road, attack the mountain and avoid the flat path at all costs. You gotta push the envelope to bustin’, no matter how much it hurts, how tired you are, or how badly you want to quit. That’s how you stay young.”

He scowled, but made no attempt to turn. “You’re forgetting something.”

“What’s that?”

“The only thing dumber than paying a coach to tell you how to ride is paying him to tell you how to ride and then not taking his advice.”

“Even if it makes you old?”

“Even if it makes you old.”

He had a point, which was, I think, that I’m lucky I don’t have a coach. I tackled the climb and got to the top exhausted and sore and, I’m afraid, just a little bit older than when I started.

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