The local bike path is among my favorite places to be. Riding its length is invariably a positive experience. One of the attractions is the community feel of the route. Greeting other users of the trail – cyclists, walkers, runners, and others – is part of the fun. It could be anything from a hearty “Good morning” to a simple nod of the head, but the important thing is to express good will and camaraderie. We’re all in it together.
This week, I met a guy who doesn’t “get it.”
First, let me express my deep admiration for the older men and women who make regular use of the path. These folks are great, whether they’re riding or walking, in pairs or alone. They could be curled up in front of a TV watching two-dimensional refuse while their minds and bodies waste away. Instead they’re making the most of the moment, keeping active, holding back the dam of time. I should be so fortunate at that age.
I mention this because I’m about to lay an industrial strength harangue on one of their number. This guy is the exception.
I’m riding along and pass an older man on a bike. At the next road crossing, he catches up to me as we both stop before the busy intersection. I greet him with a friendly “How ya doin’?” before the signal changes to allow us to cross. I’m off with the light and he follows. That, I thought, was the end of that.
Maybe for me, but not for him.
After I finish the length of the path and reverse direction, I come upon the same guy coming toward me. As he passes me, he calls out, with no hint of humor in his voice: “Let’s see if you can ride that fast when you’re 80!”
What on earth is this guy thinking? What twisted frame of mind could have prompted such an uninvited utterance? Did he think it was a race? Did he think I was trying to impress him? Was he trying to impress me? What in blue or any other color of the spectrum blazes does this guy know about me? (It’s situations like this that make me wish I was a cussin’ man.)
Let me state my side of the equation. I’m out there primarily for exercise; the harder I pedal, the faster I go, the more exercise I get. It’s my therapy. I need the exercise. As a person with MS, my life and well being depend on it. I couldn’t care less who passes me or who I pass. If I did, I’d be seriously depressed because I get passed by most everyone, from serious cyclists to 9-year-olds wearing “mohawk” helmets. I’m not trying to win a prize. I’m trying to maintain my quality of life.
This clown, on the other hand, must harbor one or more of the following warped convictions:
- He’s threatened by people who bear him no ill will… or even nominal regard.
- The only way he can maintain his own tenuous self-esteem is to put down those around him. (In which case, I pity his children, if he has them.)
- He’s petrified of his age.
- He’s incredibly insecure and worthy of pity.
I confess that, after his mindless exclamation, I did indeed bear ill will toward. It was either Christian charity or discretion (probably the latter – I often fall short in the former) that prevented me from running him down, giving him a dope slap, and presenting him with the following facts:
- Buddy, your legs are a good six inches longer than mine, so your stroke is longer.
- You appear to be a healthy 80 (if indeed you are 80) whereas I have MS, which has effectively aged my body to the point where I often feel 80.
- You aren’t that much older than me.
Comparing the whole picture in that manner would throw some frigid water on his pathetic sense of inadequacy. Then I’d talk to the guy about the future:
When I’m 80, there’s a small but real chance I’ll be in a wheelchair. Will that make you feel better? And, by the way, when I’m 80, you’ll be dead. So I’ll still be passing you.
Look, this is all tongue in cheek. I don’t wish the guy dead any more than I wish myself chair-bound. At the moment, I’m only upright by the grace of God. And by that same grace, I hope to be riding my bike at 80. If I am, my speed and the speed of those around me will be the least of my concerns.
I just pray I don’t turn into That Guy.