It has been a summer of mixed emotions. Until the end of May it was shaping up to be one of the best in years, certainly for weather. Then the hammer came down. Two close family deaths in one month. Last week saw Luke’s, the second memorial, take place. As with Morgan’s memorial a week earlier, people came along in droves. The sadness is difficult to express. I’m still numb from the shock and that is influencing everything I do. But it isn’t just the doing that’s affected as much as the motivation to do things that I find the hardest. It hasn’t stopped me from getting organised or from going out, but everything is like wading through treacle, taking far more effort than usual and leaving me far more fatigued.
Allied to the terrible events in Hatherleigh where two young men lost their lives in a car crash, it seems once more that death is around every corner, laughing and sniggering at us pathetic human beings who are so affected by its presence. Life can be brutal. I look back to my youth and ponder all those close calls driving, climbing, flying, motorcycling, as well as life generally. I wonder how I got so lucky as to have survived? Of course, there is no answer. Life is random. Here today and gone tomorrow. And that is all we know. The clock ticks and at some point, it will stop for each and every one of us.
That is why we shouldn’t wait. Why we should do those things that we feel are important. Whatever you believe, whatever you do, you will weaken with age and deteriorate. We don’t know how or when but if you open your eyes and mind, you can feel it happening. Perhaps the secret of aging gracefully and happily is to just keep doing the things you love as best you are able. When a new barrier appears, you’ll find a way around it as best you can. Keeping on doing, in my opinion, should be the aim of every one of us. Never say never and always keep exploring life and its associated adventures.
That’s my plan anyway. The thing my parents never understood seems simple to me. They thought that young people have adventures and then grow out of them, settling down to less eventful lives. Why would you do that? Everybody I know who has led an interesting and active life wants to keep having those experiences, regardless of whether they have children or not. Adventurous minds don’t, in my experience, become less adventurous with age. They simply adjust to the new limits that age brings with it and keep on enjoying exploring the world.
This refusal to act old is part of the lives of everybody I know. We aren’t pretending that age won’t get us in the end. We are simply refusing to stop enjoying the things we do until our aging limbs and minds cannot cope with them any longer.
We are also lucky that we live at a time where technology can help us achieve things into old age. A great example of this is electric assist for cyclists. Far from being some form of cheating, it is introducing people to cycling that may never have done it otherwise and allowing those of us who love touring to keep going for many more years.
I met a chap this week who isn’t a fitness fanatic. He has lost five stone through cycling a pedal assist bike and gets out every day because it doesn’t exhaust him. I think that is amazing and I’m all for it. Recent research in Norway suggests that people riding electric assist bikes are getting a great deal of aerobic exercise, something that is contrary to popular opinion. Best of all, the people I meet on e-bikes seem to experience a great sense of freedom from being able to cycle without worrying about big hills, of which there are plenty in Devon and Cornwall.
A lady in Hatherleigh who recently purchased a pedal-assist trike told me she was now up to 30km rides and hardly ever uses her car. Hers is the old-fashioned type of trike, one with a basket on the back. She whizzes up the big hill through Hatherleigh as if it isn’t there, something I wish I could do. As battery technology improves and motors get lighter, I can only see these technologies becoming used by a much wider audience.
As we age, all forms of physical activity get tougher. None of us can know what illnesses or diseases might befall us later, but staying flexible and physically fit is something that we can all achieve in the meantime. Cycling can be a great aid here, especially when coupled with regular yoga or pilates sessions. You cannot stop the tide but perhaps you can slow it down a little. After all, we are the lucky ones. We have lived long enough to get to be old folk.
But it doesn’t end there. A friend of mine adapted a recumbent trike for his father, after his father suffered a stroke. It gave his dad, a previously active man, a new lease of life and the freedom to still get out and enjoy the world. Since then, Tom has built up a successful business called Freetrike, which sees him adapting all manner of trikes and bikes to enable people to keep on, or begin, cycling. You can try, buy, hire or test ride with Tom, who sells and services a wide and representative range of trikes and bikes.
For me, the need to get out and ride has never felt greater. To be in the countryside and watch the changing seasons propels my mind into a more positive state from wherever it starts out. It is taking some will power just to leave home at present, but I have been there in the past and at that point I ended up taking up cycling again. The rest is history, as they say.
Successive governments, in my opinion, are so wrong. They maintain that only a small percentage of people cycle, so it isn’t worth massive investment. Faced with an obesity crisis and an ageing population, how could they be more wrong. Building separated cycle routes allows people to enjoy cycling without worry about traffic. Encouraging regular exercise not only improves short and long-term physical condition but mental health also. When I cycled to work each day, it was a tonic. By the time I returned home, I had all but forgotten the stresses of the day.
On top of those great benefits, our streets could become friendlier, not governed by motor vehicles. Future generations of children could then play outside, cycle to school and the shops and enjoy a much higher quality of life than they have relying on mum or dad to take them to places by car. Michele’s daughter Laura has purchased a cargo bike that will carry all her children. She lives in London and sees no reason why this shouldn’t be a safe and enjoyable way to get about until the children are big enough to ride safely themselves. Of course, she will choose her routes carefully, but she wants her kids to grow up active. What a refreshing attitude.
For me and others who have long term health issues, knowing the difference between when to go out and when to stay home has taken me a decade to refine and learn. Sometimes I feel better when out and sometimes I feel worse. It’s a bit of a lottery, but deep down I can feel the difference between indifference and out and out tiredness. Depression tends to leave me indifferent initially. I’m often flat as a pancake emotionally. As it progresses, I get more and more tired. How far, fast and where to ride are another set of questions. I generally know whether I want to ride a hilly or gentle route from the outset. This knowledge comes from experience of getting it both right and wrong.
If we had reliable, safe, cycle ways, it would be much easier to ride regularly, especially for children and also as we age, when confidence often recedes. When you aren’t bombarded with worry about cars and other road users than can seem incredibly aggressive, cycling becomes a relaxing and enjoyable way to travel. Pottering around without a care in the world is so much better to feeling you could become the pinball in a pinball machine at any moment. Imagine, no need for flashing lights and high vis. Cleaner air and more vegetation in our cities. Streets where children play, happily acting out their fantasies about the world as they see it. Utopia? I don’t think so, and neither does an ever-growing band of cyclists.
I wonder if you can?
Until next time……………………….