Sunday, October 21, 2007

The difference between exercise and cycling

Date: Oct. 20
Mileage: 32.1
October mileage: 451.1
Temperature upon departure: 34
Rainfall: 0.57" (yesterday and today)

Back in 2005, beneath the warm blue skies of Idaho Falls, I was a complete gym rat. A little hard to believe, right? I received a free membership to the Apple Fitness through my employer. My tight-knit group of copy editor co-workers talked me into attending exercise classes with them. Pretty soon, I was at Body Pump every Wednesday and Friday, followed by a rigid ritual of cardio. Tuesdays and Thursdays held spin classes; Tiffany and I would set up on the stationary cycles in the back and mash away our work-related stress in a cloud of techno-pumping, fitness guru-screaming, black-light-enhanced white noise. It was my routine. I cherished it. My bicycle - the Ibex touring bike that I still ride today - sat stashed in a corner of my apartment while the farm roads of Idaho Falls stretched out for hundreds of scenic miles, all unridden and unloved.

It was a strange sort of hiccup in my development as a cyclist, my "year of fitness." I had muscle definition in my arms and knees that didn't buckle under the slightest addition of weight. I had friends who swapped tips about protein powders, a vague sense of what I could "bench" and a spin class instructor who hopped off her own bike just to scream in each person's face. And yet, somehow, I thought I was happy.

I think about that year sometimes, when I am holed up in my Juneau gym, clutching 15-pound barbells as Court TV and 50 Cent fight for dominance of the already overbearing volume in the room. I am back where I started, trying to reclaim the ideal of overall fitness, trying to coax every part of my body to its top working condition. I always become lost in the repetition and do way more reps than I planned. A woman nearby talks to her friend about the necessity of a 1,000-calorie-a-day diet ... "I used to run for an hour, two hours a day, but I realized you have to cut back your food. Nothing else works." Men grunt and groan in the back room. The cardio machine users stare off into space. The scene is so reminiscent of the Apple Fitness that I can't help but wonder if I am where I was, traveling quickly, going nowhere.

So I close my eyes and think of the less distant past, moments that slipped by just yesterday. Geoff and I rode our mountain bikes across the icy veneer of puddles on the Dredge Lake trail, skirting some and shattering others in a geyser of cold water. Black ice on rocks and roots acted as an unbeatable wheel-repellent. I approached every obstacle slowly and deliberately, sweating only from fear and focused only on my safety. Those seven miles ate up nearly an hour of stressful, if not strenuous work. "Obviously, trail riding was not the way to go today," said Geoff, who was aiming for a long day and a good workout. We squished over carpets of spongy leaves as frost shimmered on the stems they left bare, so white they seemed skeletal. We passed an open view of the glacier just as the sun slipped behind a mountain of clouds. I watched its orange glow retreat over the electric blue crevasses, and then everything was gray. It was a simple moment, but I can never repeat it, no matter how many reps I do, or how big my arm muscles become, or how much protein I injest, or how well my knees work.

I once strived for perfect fitness. Now I am a cyclist. Both renew the body, but only one renews the soul.


  1. This is just to let you know that phrases like "unridden and unloved" and "wheel-repellent" will not be forgotten. That was fun.

  2. Being a spin instructer in the cold months, I am amazed at how many hard core spinners never throw a leg over a real bike.

    Thats sad.

  3. I like to say I ride in spite of, not for, fitness.

  4. I cycle off-road and also go to the gym quite a bit, but I have a rule: if I have a choice between riding outside and going to the gym, outside always wins. Always. You're absolutely right: there's exercise and then there's cycling.

  5. My gym membership is the thing sitting crying & unused. Funny thing is, when I was a regular gym rat, I never achieved the level of fitness I am at now. You can't simulate having to put you bike on your shoulder and climb the fence when you get caught illegally on the wrong side of the fence on the Indian Rez at the gym.

  6. I am a metal recycler; aka a Scrapper. I bring exercise and regular bikes to the scrap yard where they are crushed and shredded. I get exercise while I do this and make money at the same time. I also feed China's insatiable hunger for metal I am holier than thou who merely pedal. "Self-improvement is masturbation". -Tyler Durden.

  7. Bicycling is so far beyond the gym it isn't even funny. I miss mountain biking the Chugiak mountains outside Anchorage.

  8. That last little bit sums it up soooo perfectly. Ahhhhhhh. :-)

  9. Just got into biking and I love many years waiting and now I am finally doing it. I know that TN may not be as pretty as Alaska but man is it gorgeous here when I ride. I am planning to bring my bike with me to Nepal when I visit there in a few months..should be fun.


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