Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lead Me Beside Still Waters

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle,
I no longer despair for the future of the human race. - HG Wells

He leads me beside the still waters to revive my spirit. – Psalm 23

When I was a little kid, we all rode single speed bikes with coaster brakes. Only the real rich kids had so-called “three speed racers.” I can still remember my first ride on a two-wheeler when a neighborhood girl gave me a long boost by pushing on the steel rear fender of my hand-me-down balloon-tire bike. Like a fledgling on its first flight, I was launched down the street, too thrilled to be riding to worry about how I was going to stop. I probably wiped out in the grass at the side of the road. While I can’t remember exactly how I stopped, I still remember the feeling of triumph.

Now, about 45 years later, I can still recapture that feeling. On warm summer evenings, like tonight, I love to jump on my bike and cruise down to the lake. For an excursion like this, my ride of choice is my single-speed. This bike was my first decent road bike. It started life as a 1974 Dawes Galaxy 10-speed. Bike technology has advanced a lot since then, so it went into retirement about ten years ago, replaced for my faster, longer rides by a couple of more modern road bikes.

The Dawes has a respectable English heritage and a decent Reynolds steel frame. It’s also my oldest bike, and by virtue of our shared history, I still have a fondness for it. I wanted to save it and ride it. Inspired largely by the genius behind SheldonBrown.Com, I decided to convert it into a single speed. I stripped off all the parts, sanded and painted the frame and built it up as a bicycle with just one gear. With no shifting to think about and few moving parts to worry about, riding it is an exercise in youthful glee. There’s an elegant simplicity about a light, basic single-speed bike. Add clipless pedals to make the man-bike connection seamless, and a quick ride to the lake for a mid-summer swim is like a trip to the fountain of youth.

Lake Massapoag is our town lake and is about a mile from the house. Its outlet feeds Massapoag Brook which joins Beaver Brook flowing from Moose Hill to eventually empty into the Neponset River that flows to Boston Harbor. It has a rich history, including service as a source of water for Paul Revere’s copper mill and as a source of bog iron to make the first Colonial cannons for the Revolutionary War. Nowadays, it is valued as a recreation resource with boating, fishing and swimming.

I’ve never been much of a swimmer. Even though I grew up on the bays and harbors of Long Island Sound and loved playing on the beach and in the water, I never learned serious swimming. I took a swimming class as a freshman in college, so long ago that the men had their own gym and pool and were required to swim nude, but I didn’t have much aptitude for it. I tried again about a dozen years ago when I first participated in the annual triathlon at Lake Massapoag. Since then, swimming has been an annual challenge that I’ve accepted as a test of my adaptability and determination. Running and biking are relatively fun and easy for me, but the opening swim leg of the race has always been stressful.

This year is a little different. The triathlon will not be held and I may not do a different race as a replacement. This summer, any swimming I do may be for the pure joy of it. I can say that now, because I’ve been working at swimming long enough that when conditions are good, I can relax and enjoy the water flowing around my body. Even in the heat of July, the lake is cool and refreshing. After that first invigorating plunge, I like to start slowly, warming up and stretching the muscles. As I loosen up and become more fluid, I try to convince myself that I’m long and graceful, moving through the water with long powerful stokes. Self-deception is easy when I’m alone and the lake is calm.

I like the hypnotic sound of the bubbles as I exhale underwater. The mind wanders. Sometimes I think of William Hurt in “Altered States” when he would immerse himself in an isolation chamber and revert to a primitive creature, living by instinct and taking that which he needs to survive. At other times, I’m a fetus floating in the waters of life waiting to be born. Or, perhaps the cleansing waters are washing over me so I can begin life anew. Wherever my thoughts take me, the wind on the bicycle and the water in the lake lift my spirits and I feel young again.


At 11:06 PM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

Required to swim nude? Seems a little freaky to me.

I'm no athlete, but enjoy bike-riding. No endurance for running - envy those that have it because it is such a fabulous form of exercise.

Your dip in the lake sounds nice.


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