Monday, May 21, 2012


Let's see, where was I...? Oh, yes. Death.

Last week's column was a big question mark as to whether or not I would manage to stave off the Grim Reaper for yet another week. Well, rest assured, dear reader, that I am writing this from the comfy confines of my living room sofa... and while my idea of heaven might well be sitting on a couch talking about myself for eternity, I'm pretty certain this is NOT the afterlife. All signs point to the fact that I've survived last week's brushes with death.

It all started with the heart attack I nearly had when I happened to catch a profile view of myself last weekend in a full-length mirror. "Out-of-shape" I can handle. "Chubby" I can manage. "Chunky" I can live with. But I am no longer those adjectives. At age 41, I am now just plain FAT. I will not stand for this... mostly because standing hurts my feet and back nowadays.

I need to make changes in life. My love affair with Coke Classic needs to come to an end. I need to start consuming meals that don't automatically come with curly fries. I need to burn more calories than those expended when one shifts one's weight from the left buttock to the right.

And it's going to start with me dragging my trusty 10-speed out of the garage. It's time to hit the bike.

There are 3 primary reasons why bike riding is my favorite form of exercise in the whole world:

(1) Bike riding is MOBILE. Some people enjoy communing with nature. I prefer fleeing from it. Yes, the world is a magical place full of green grass and warm sunlight and sweet little chirping birds. But it's also full of weirdos and snakes and bees and mosquitos and a vast assortment of God's creatures that buzz, bite, slither, and sting -- and frankly, the quicker I can pedal away from that nonsense, the better.

(2) Bike riding is DANGEROUS. I grew up out in the country, where the only thing you had to fear on a bike was a rogue piece of gravel. Never in my life have I had the chance to ride a bike on city streets with city people and city cars and everyone trying to share the same strip of city blacktop. In town, there are rules of the road, and it's not just about obeying them but having faith that every other distracted, cell-phone wielding nimrod behind the wheel does the same. Why, then, is this a GOOD thing? Because there's nothing like injecting your life with a little fear to make you totally forget that you're exercising and that exercising sucks.

(3) Most importantly, you can do it SITTING DOWN. Look, I'm not trying to get buff or anything. Those gym-obsessed guys you see with bulging biceps look about as uncomfortable lugging around their muscles as I do lugging around my gut. No thanks. I'm just looking to burn some calories and shrink my midsection, not get Buns of Steel. I'm quite happy with the Buns of Marshmallow I'm currently graced with.

So with the optimism and pride that naturally accompanies a positive step, I set out the other day on my inaugural bike ride of the season. I know how shamefully out of shape I am, so I figured a quick ride from my house down to Schweibert Park and back would about do me in for Day 1. But the minute I got on that bike, I was transformed. I was no longer the fat guy. I was Mercury! Or Hermes! Or whichever one has the little wings on his tennis shoes! Suddenly I understood Christopher Cross when he sang "Ride Like the Wind." I was one with the bicycle. Man-machine.

I got to Schwiebert Park and decided to head along the bike path for a ways. And then another ways. Eventually, I looked around and couldn't believe I was in downtown Moline. The pounds had to be MELTING off. I decided I'd better take a rest and head back before it got too late. I sat down on a riverfront bench... and then reality hit.

My lungs were burning. My legs were shaking. My heart racing. I had overdone it. I could feel the muscles in my legs tightening up with every minute. I knew I had to head back.

Instantly it felt like I was pedaling through caramel. A flat tire? Nope -- flat muscles. I was hosed. This must be what it feels like for an athlete to hit the wall -- but why did my wall have to be a good five miles from home?

They say everything's a learning experience. At that moment, I learned why I was able to make it to downtown Moline without much of an effort. The whole way there, I had a steady breeze pushing me right along. Now I was staring at it in the face. Instead of Christopher Cross riding like the wind, now I was Bob Seger running against the wind. Or cycling against the wind. But I don't know if you could call what I was doing cycling. No, this was more like wobbling against the wind.

How slow was I progressing? Let's just say on the way back, I was passed multiple times -- by joggers.

Then I remembered my secret weapon. In my front pocket lurked my trusty iPod. I'm a music nerd, so music would lead me home to victory like the Chariots of Fire theme, right? I plugged in, popped in my earbuds, and hit play.

Now, something to know about my iPod. It has ZERO organization. When I hear a song I like, I transfer it to my iPod where it sits with 8500 other songs in a state of constant random shuffle. I have everything on it from punk to hip-hop to indie rock to hardcore techno. My iPod's job is to inspire me and pick the music that best suits my mood. Here are, I kid you not, the first four songs it chose that day: The Smiths, "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now," Radiohead, "Go To Sleep (Little Man Erased)," Jackson Browne, "Running On Empty," and The Beatles, "I'm So Tired."

Eventually, after chugging for miles to a soundtrack of non-stop gloom and doom, I made it home just before dark with legs barely capable of making it up my back stairs. I spent the rest of that night writing last week's column and trying super hard not to die. The next day, walking hurt. The day after THAT, just plain existing hurt. Eventually it subsided so I can go try to kill myself AGAIN this weekend. I'm not giving up, and I still plan on working off a good chunk of this gut this summer, but man -- if this is what healthy feels like, just wheel me over to the Twinkies and let me go in peace.


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