Jack, I have been biking for over sixty years. I have had all sorts of reasons for biking. My parents gave my first bike to me in Pennsauken, NJ. I wasn’t even a decade old when I got my two-wheeled, red Columbia bike. That bike was a coming of age bike. I thought that I had finally matured at 8 or 9 years of age.
Then my parents moved from flat Pennsauken, NJ to hilly Mt. Lebanon, PA a couple years later. I lived at the top of a steep hill of a new subdivision. The road at the bottom of the hill wasn’t paved yet. It just had 4-6 inch gravel where the concrete street would be in the coming years. One day in the hot summer, I went racing down the hill, lost control, and went airborne into the gravel. I came up the hill to my home where my parents put me into the bathtub, rinsed off the blood, and then poured a bottle of mecuricome, which was the standard antiseptic of the day, all over my chest and arms. That hurt far more than my fall 15-minutes before.
I biked throughout my junior and high school years as a mean stay in contact with my friends until I could drive. However, even with my driver’s license, the one car in my family wasn’t given to me except on occasional Saturday nights for dates. Fortunately, there were no accidents with either bike or the family car during those years.
When I got married, I had another bike, a brown Schwinn on which I trained my Irish setter, Ginger, to run alongside me on a leash. All that I needed to say was, "Ginger, do you want to….?" And Ginger would jump all over for joy. After a couple mile run, I would often ride to the local Dairy Queen. Ginger would get a Dairy Queen in a dish. Actually, I think that Ginger loved biking as much if not more than me.
At about that time, I was into fitness training. My mother had died in her early 50s and my dad in his late 60s. I knew of illness of my parents starting at the time of my first bike. I was determined to exercise and to do what I could to avoid a premature illnesses and/or death. I bought a Schwinn Airdyne; it was a gold-colored stationary bike with a big fan-wheel in the front. I road that bike for 40-years, and it needed very few repairs.
Your parents have it now. I would ride that bike at least 4-7 days a week for those 4 decades. I put nearly 90,000 miles on it…about 3.5 times around the earth at the equator. I am still alive thanks to the Schwinn, but I didn’t see much of the world on it. However, it gave me life so that I could travel the world and visit all the continents, go to school, teach a class overseas, and take groups on tours to faraway places.
My son obviously got into biking and ten years ago, we did RAGBRAI together, which a bike race of over 400-miles across the state of Iowa. At 57, I wanted to prove to myself, Scott, my wife, and the rest of my family that I wasn’t over the hill…yet. That year, we biked from 50-75-miles per day, but on one day, we did over 100-miles. We flew into the Des Moines airport with our bikes crated and wearing our clothes for the bike ride including our biking shoes. We uncrated our bikes, rode out of the airport, and started our trek across Iowa to the Mississippi River. Ironically, I still have my blue Trek bike and ride it each day.
Then in 2008, I had a prostatectomy, which was a snap with a complete recovery. However, several months after the prostate surgery, I fell off a ladder while painting our deck. After brain surgery, I recovered completely from that surgery except for some hearing difficulty. I have earring aides that mostly deal with my hearing problem. I have continued to ride and workout to remain healthy even 67.
I have skated close to death and discovered the value of living. In the past two years, I have gotten back into shape and have dealt with the reality that I won’t live forever. Yep, I have concluded that earth-shaking realization. I was born on January 20, 1943. However, on that very date of January 20, George Burns was also born…a handful of decades before me. I rode and exercised all my life to tie and then beat George whose last goal was to reach 100 years of age. He did and lived seven additional weeks. Therefore, I wanted to beat his endurance race. Whether I go down in the history books for accomplishing that task, I don’t know and time will tell. I have to exercise a great deal, eat well, and luck out for the next 32 ½ years to reach one of my goals.
However, having skated close to death with the fall off the ladder, I do realize that I won’t be here forever. Even living for 100 years and eight weeks isn’t living forever. My family knows and loves me. I have done what I could for them. Any of them know me very well, and we have shared much time together. I know that someday, I won’t be here. Nevertheless, they will have memories of our time together, jokes and funny things that I have said or done.
Then you came along. You are less than two months old and your grandmother and I have taken every opportunity to be with you. Those times are stored deep in your memory, but they won’t be able to be retrieved. You will laugh and play with us for the next handful of years, but you won’t recall any of it either. We have enjoyed our time with you, and we recall it daily. No, we recall it almost every hour. Nevertheless, you won’t be able to retrieve any of those memories for some time.
Everyday this hot summer, I put on my biking shoes, my helmet, gloves, and do 15.25-miles around the lake, which is actually, three loops around Doubletree Lake. When you celebrate your first birthday, I will have biked over 5,000 miles during that first year of your life. I figure that by the time you are 10, I will have circled the earth twice…this time not on a stationary bike but on my old blue Trek. That is why biking is still so important to me…so that we can talk, play games, and smile together. And all of which you will remember.