Ruth is 92 years old. Her husband and two of her sons are dead. She lives in a cottage her family built in the 1930s -- if not earlier -- on the shore of Lake Wentworth. She stacks her own firewood and shovels her own roof. All the way through her 70s, if you saw her from behind, walking down the sidewalk in her tennis dress, you'd take a minute to admire the view.
Great laugh seeing young strangers in town speed up a bit to pass her and see her face. She does not pretend to be young, beyond an excusable use of hair coloring. Wrinkles to the contrary, she has somehow managed to make that work.
At 92 she shows the miles now. She's fought off Lyme disease, cancer, and been treated for rabies after an animal bite. I joke that other people say, "oh no, I got an illness!" Illness says, "Oh no! I got Ruth!"
She's not one of those annoying sunshine-pumpers who are just so dang positive about everything that you need a nice salty shot of tequila after being around them. She just doesn't want to quit. She gets out and about. And, until some more medical challenges got in the way, she rode her bike nearly every day.
When she tried to resume riding, she discovered she could no longer lift her leg high enough to get over the dropped bar of her 1995 Univega step-through hybrid. She had had her bike rack modified several times as she had more and more difficulty lifting the bike onto it to drive to safe venues for an older rider, but now she couldn't get on the bike, even though she could still get the bike on the car.
She started getting depressed. She grumbled about her physical infirmities. We were used to hearing about her various mishaps, but now she talked of little else.
We hunted around for quite a while to find a new, deep step-through model that weighed no more than her old bike. Then we did, so she was ready to go again.
But she wasn't. The position on casual bikes these days is way more upright than on her old bike. We had to figure out one problem after another. Each time we though we had it nailed, she came back again looking sad.
With every setback she seemed more discouraged. She talked about how old she is and how many friends she's outlived and all the things that are wrong with her, not in a raspy, carping way, but in a weary litany of hopelessness.
We changed the stem to get the bars lower and closer to her. We cut the
seat post so she could get the seat lower until she got used to things.
Then the seat itself had such a wide and sudden flare that it shoved her
forward of the pedals. I switched her old seat over to the new bike. And we had to modify her car rack some more to fit the new frame.
I forget the last rabbit I pulled out of the hat, but she came back from that test ride with a tentative smile. Twice more she went out to test further adjustments, each time returning with a bigger smile and more of the old Ruthie vigor.
The bicycle is a machine for rejuvenation. The change in her as she realized she could ride again was astonishing, even as it confirmed my belief. Old Bill, cancer stricken and knowing he was dying, had said, "whatever else happens that day, you get on the machine." No one knows how long Ruth will last. All we know is that the time has been made brighter by getting back on her bike.