Saturday, November 20, 2004

Benefit Ride

A bicyclist finds bicycling solutions to transportation problems. Cyclists also find bicycling solutions to other problems, like fund raising for charities and other beneficial causes.
There was supposed to be a 150-mile ride to benefit Attention Deficit Disorder, but everybody lost interest after five miles.

I hope you know I’m kidding.

Since bike riding is beneficial in so many ways, many rides could be considered benefit rides, helping more than just the rider to health or fitness or glory. In a way, Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France victories make that grand spectacle into a benefit ride for cancer research and treatment. He would have raced anyway, even if he hadn’t gotten sick. The race would have been its own great showcase of athletic performance with its own heroes and role models, but Lance’s brush with fatal illness added that other dimension. Perhaps no one will ever view the race the same way again, because Armstrong’s human struggle connects to so many lives that would never have been connected to that race.

Back in the real world most cyclists inhabit, the benefits are less spectacular, but no less meaningful. Perhaps cycling just helps one or both partners in a marriage to maintain their sanity. Perhaps it allows two people to exist with only one automobile for all or part of the year.

Last week my cellist had an evening gig in North Conway at Schouler Park. I had to work in Wolfeboro that day. How would I get to North Conway without a car so we could come back together after the performance? Ride the bike.

Only people who value a physical challenge will understand that the prospect of a 41-mile ride racing both sunset and the weather can be a pleasure. I admit it would not have been, had I dug deep and found nothing. But in that case my musical friend would simply have scooped up my exhausted body wherever I happened to have fallen by the roadside. Pride’s easy enough to swallow. I couldn’t lose.

The ride let me rekindle my acquaintance with Route 153, one of the best bike roads in the state. There are roads with less traffic, and probably roads as good, but 153 provides a great route up the eastern state line.

The road changes character as it passes through different towns. In Wakefield it crosses some steep hills. But I’ve ridden the full length of it once and portions of it many times and always had a good ride. Rude encounters with motorists have been few and mild. The speed limit is often around 40 miles per hour. Drivers don’t tend to really rip. The country character and pretty scenery may make people less aggressive.

Cycling gets its hooks into you. I got hooked in the mid 1970s, a particularly good time for it. Road bikes were near the height of their beautiful evolution as handmade works of usable art. They had not yet become the soulless, mass-produced tools of today. Buying a bike was the start of a long-term relationship. Nothing that technology has added has changed the basic reality of pedaling or the basic physical dynamics of the position.

You can still develop the relationship with the modern product, but it’s easier with some than with others. And maybe you just don’t have the temperament for it. If you like to ride, ride the way you like.

As it happened, I pulled into North Conway under drizzly skies, just after sunset. The benefit to the cellist was obvious in her welcoming smile from the stage. She would be happy to have company on the drive home and I was happy to have dragged my aging carcass out for another stomp over the countryside. The massed motorists in the North Conway jam were happy, though they did not know it, that I had removed one car from the mix. There were plenty of others to take my place, but one can only do so much.

After I stashed the bike in the cellist’s car and put on dry street shoes and a rain jacket, I bought some food from vendors whose proceeds benefitted local causes, and tossed some money in the donation bucket for the arts group sponsoring the concert.

Children played with beach balls and glow-in-the-dark throw toys on the rain-sodden baseball infield. The clouds jostled turbulently overhead, but no more downpours fell. A little puppy on a leash touched my ankle with a cool, wet nose. Music played and fireworks ended the show. It seemed like a beneficial evening for all concerned.

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