The media message of the 1960's was, “You can’t be too rich or too thin.” These were the days of the anorexic fashion model, Twiggy and before Title IX created school sports opportunities for girls. As a teenager I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, but it should involve being thin, rich and preferably famous.
In the 1970's I read an article about a senior couple who vacationed by bicycling from San Francisco to Santa Monica. I wanted to do that but I got sidetracked when I got married at twenty-one, had a family, and began working as an elementary school teacher. Then in 1991 I read a book about a group of middle aged riders who bicycled across the US. I thought, “I could do this.”
I bought a bicycle and began training to ride across the US even though I didn’t have a month's long time window to consider such a trip. Instead I began randoneering, riding ultra-marathon distances against the clock. I’d lived in the San Fernando Valley for twenty years while complaining vehemently about the summer heat. Through cycling I fell in love with where I live. I learned how to take care of myself so I could ride in heat, rain, wind, even snow. I found a community of cycling friends. I experienced new environments as I rode my bicycle all over California.
Along the way, I discovered our national advocacy organization and became a lifetime member of the League of American Bicyclists. I read about their course, Effective Cycling, now Bicycle Ed 101. I was eager to take the course but it was never available within a reasonable proximity to my home. Finally my friends Nancy and Richard Wedeen invited me to a weekend course in Davis, CA. The purpose of the course was to train riders to be LCIs, League Certified Instructors. I jumped at the chance and passed the course. The crash avoidance techniques were challenging for me to learn, but they have helped improve my riding and build my confidence on our LA roads as well as roads in cities from Paris to New York City.
I have also been privileged to teach these techniques in Bicycle Education Classes, offered through the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. In addition I’ve had so much fun introducing cycling to my two young nieces ages five and eight as well as my four year old grandson.
I did attain some awesome cycling goals. The biggest was qualifying for and completing Paris Brest Paris. I rode 750 miles in 87 hours. The compulsive person in me loved every minute of that training, but after four years of grueling mileage, my body rebelled. I was getting sick too often, and I rode much of that grueling mileage in the dark to beat the clock. Now I wanted to SEE where I rode. To keep bicycling in my life I would “ride today, so I could continue riding tomorrow.”
I improved the quality of my life by commuting to work, which allowed me to arrive in high spirits after a cool morning commute. In winter I had to leave home in the dark, but a bike light took care of that issue.
There were times I cycled home in triple digit temperatures. I felt great when the young male teaching assistants on our campus exclaimed, “Don’t mess with Mrs. Torres, she is TOUGH, she rides in this heat.”
When we taught units involving protecting the environment the students recognized, “Mrs. Torres is the greenest, she rides her bike to work.”
My favorite memory was cycling home wearing my helmet and sunglasses and having the young neighbor say, “there’s a hot babe.” His brother, who recognized me was mortified and quickly jumped in with “That’s not a babe, that’s Mrs. Torres.” When he apologized to me I told him “please don’t worry about it,” as I secretly reveled in his brother’s “mistake.”
In addition to commuting to work, I continued to ride with my friends on the weekends. Every ride allows me to revel in the fact that I can visit a contrasting environment under my own power in just one day.
Getting back to “never too rich or too thin.” Cycling has not made me too thin, however it has allowed me to maintain a healthy weight and to appreciate my body for what I can do. I get to feel physically and emotionally powerful with every ride. Though I’m not rich in dollars, I feel like I’m on a vacation every time I ride my bike. As far as famous, when I arrived at work on my bicycle all the students in the school went out of their way to say, “Hi, Mrs. Torres.” or, “I saw you go by on your bike today.”
Oh yes, I did find a window to fulfill my dream of cycling coast to coast. I am looking forward to cycling to many more far flung destinations and with luck getting to share these destinations with up and coming cyclists, like our four year old grandson.