What do you want from life? That’s a question that those of us who have reached a certain age, i.e., retirement or semi-retirement, ask ourselves on an almost daily basis.
Yes indeed, you can still work part time, you can volunteer, you can travel, you can play, or you can do any number of sedentary or physical activities to keep your brain and body going. I’ve done all that stuff over the past several years in a quest to age in place, as some might call it.
This past summer, however, I wanted to do something a little more challenging as I approached my late 60s. So, I turned to the road – in this case road biking, which has been a passion of mine for more than two decades. Since semi-retiring some six years ago, I’ve built biking into my weekly regimen, riding at least three days a week.
I typically do so with a bunch of island buddies, known collectively as the Geezers of Fury. We ride to have fun and, as best we can, to beat the inevitable aging process, all the while cracking jokes and giving each other a ribbing or two along the way.
Our rides can last several hours and usually include a number stops, where conversations can ensue on subjects ranging from the latest biking gear to travel, sports, politics, books, food, and/or the latest new series on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
One day last summer, a biking pal asked me during one of several hill climbs whether I might be interested in taking part in a Cycle Oregon event in mid-September. I gave it some thought because this bike ride was no peddle in the park.
Cycle Oregon organizes rides all over the state of Oregon – many in rural areas and many of them week-long affairs. But due to the Pandemic, the biking association cancelled its week-long event in 2021 in favor of a series of weekend rides in Tygh Valley, just south of The Dalles in Oregon’s cattle and wheat growing country.
The reason I was apprehensive about taking on this particular ride was because of its physical and, dare I say, psychological challenges. First day: a 69-mile ride, with 6,000-plus feet of elevation gain. Whew! Are you kidding? I’ve done my share of hill climbing on Bainbridge Island and elsewhere, such as our own annual Chilly Hilly, and the occasional climb up Hurricane Ridge. But this was a slog, if there ever was one.
The second day was not so bad: just 46 miles and 2,000-plus foot of elevation gain. But first things first. I kept fixating on the big one. Do I have what it takes? Can I ride that far? Can I overcome that much elevation gain without collapsing? Will I finish?
After a long look in the mirror and some quick self-evaluation, I decided I needed to test my mettle and signed up. To succeed, I knew I had to do longer rides and take on lots of hills. I rode the Chilly Hilly course on Bainbridge numerous times, as well as the Olympic Discovery Trail. I did extra miles after our usual “Geezer” rides, plus some additional conditioning with long hikes and walks.
When it came time to leave for Cycle Oregon, two things happened. Due to some extenuating circumstances, my biking buddy, who had urged me to sign up for the ride, suddenly backed out, and, perhaps more ominously, there was quite a bit of rain in the forecast. I was actually thinking of pulling out myself, but we were planning to use the bike event as a jumping off point for a longer trip to Bend, Nor-Cal and Lake Tahoe, so I was, more or less, committed.
Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t chicken out. I met a bunch of new people – some friends of friends – and definitely tested my inner strength doing something that I’d never done before. The first day was indeed a bit of a heart stop, with rain and wind adding to the hills and valleys, but the neat little towns we passed through like Dufur, Friend and Tygh Valley, and the views of cattle grazing in the distance, beautiful forests and even a rainbow, made the pain a little easier to swallow.
More so, the second day’s ride through Maupin, and along the Deschutes River and spectacular White River Falls were like pictures from a postcard and made the wind in your face somewhat tolerable. Although I have to say, I don’t really like to ride in the wind. Never have, never will.
From there, I drove our Nissan NV200 conversion van and met my wife in Bend, where we spent time with friends before heading south to Northern California and Lake Tahoe. The lake, which Mark Twain dubbed the “fairest picture the whole earth affords,” is where my wife and I met more than 40 years ago.
While at Lake Tahoe, we met up with our daughter for a few days and did a number of beautiful hikes and bike rides around the lake, and, before and afterwards, hung out with some old friends. One couple we hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years! Contrary to news reports, we experienced very little smoke, and saw little, if any, fire damage from where we were perched on the North end of the Lake.
It was a great trip that started with a desire to get on my bike and push myself to the limit. It was worth it!
(For those of you who may not know, Lake Tahoe is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide and is located at 6,200 feet above sea level. It’s deepest chasm is more 1,400 feet. The name derives from a Washoe Indian Tribe descriptor that roughly translated means “lake of the sky”).