A couple of weeks ago I was referred to as a “jock.” The label-applied to me-cracks me up, but I am also secretly happy with it. It’s funny because I think “jock” and I think of the football gods that swaggered through the hallways of my high school so many years ago. That’s just so not me. I lack the grace, the coolness, and certainly the fitness for that kind of jock label. The reason I’m secretly happy to be referred to as a jock is because that on my 30th birthday I was morbidly obese. I weighed nearly 300 pounds. Now, six years later, to be referred to as a jock, even if it was a derogatory reference, actually made my day.
The night I went to bed on my 30th birthday, I decided that by the time I was 40, I would be at my ideal weight and would be healthy. Every year since, I’ve made incremental changes to my diet and my exercise habits. The idea was and is to build out a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, not a diet. Over the years I’ve changed my high-fat, highly processed diet into one that relies more on whole foods, fruits, and vegetables. I’ve slowly lost about 80 pounds. And I have about another 20 or so to go.
The cornerstone of my plan has been the rekindling of my relationship with the bicycle. Growing up, I loved to ride my bike. I rode to school; I rode to my friends’ houses. All my friends rode BMX bikes. We hit the jumps at Manito Park; we hung out at the “Pit” in Cannon’s Addition; we loved to jump the huge mound at the water fountain at Cannon Hill Park. On rare occasions we’d get out to the Valley and ride the BMX track by the river. Riding bikes was the essential tool to our freedom and an important piece of our identity.
As I grew older, I took on a paper route to buy my first 10-speed from a neighbor: a used Nishiki. It took me 9 months to buy that bike and when I did, I quit the paper route and started exploring. I was in the 7th grade when I did the Hangman Loop for the first time. It took me all day. I also explored Peaceful Valley and the roads that spawn off of Government Way. Riding dirt roads far from home made me feel like a real explorer.
In high school, I bought my first mountain bike. A friend introduced me to the trails that went along the river by People’s Park and popped out at SFCC and then back down the wonderful descent to the river, where access is blocked today. In college, just about every day after classes I would ride from my apartment in Brown’s Addition out to Riverside State Park on the trails along the river.
After college, I slowly stopped riding. At some point, my mountain bike got ripped off and I never had the money or much will to get another.
A year or so later, I ended up getting a job where I sat at a computer all day. The job paid well and for the first time I could afford to eat out daily for lunch. I continued to eat as I had when I was very active: burgers, fries, tarter sauce. My work also provided as much free soda pop as I could drink.
In the space of three years I gained about 80 pounds. It was on my 30th birthday that I looked in the mirror for the first time and didn’t recognize the guy looking back at me. When I made the pact to get healthy, riding a bike was a crucial part of that equation. Like most suburbanites, I had a mountain bike that wasn’t getting much use. I decided that I’d use that bike and I’d start commuting to work.
Over the next year, I commuted by bike from my home in the deep suburbs to the suburb of Redmond, Washington. The trip required 10 miles of bus ride and another 10 miles on a paved bike path. The first couple of weeks were really hard. I was so out of shape and so heavy, that riding the 10 miles took me nearly two hours. I persisted and slowly watched my speed increase. As it did, my weight fell off at alarming rates. In the space of two months, I had lost nearly 30 pounds. As I rode more and ate better, I felt much better, and I enjoyed riding more and more. On the weekends, I explored to the end of rural suburbia and into the wilderness of the Cascades. I enjoyed finding new dirt roads to explore.
Fast forward 5 years or so, and I’m back in Spokane, riding all over the place, finding new dirt roads, being referred to as a jock, and looking to knock off the last 20 pounds this year. I rarely drive, preferring to ride my bike on my daily errands.
Rediscovering the bicycle as an adult has truly revolutionized my life. Aside from weight loss and improved fitness, traveling by bike has allowed me to develop genuine relationships with the environment, the seasons, and my community. I am no longer a spectator of the streets and communities that I pass through; I am part of them.
Further, cycling provides valuable time for quality thinking and reflection in a way that I never experienced when stuck in a car. Cycling daily through our commuting and through traffic provides a unique perspective. This perspective reinforces the undeniable fact that we have made some huge mistakes in our society regarding our land use and our unsustainable reliance on limited supplies of fossil fuels. But by cycling for transportation, I can make a real difference in the stress I place upon the interlocked systems of economy and ecology.
In the end though it’s about fun: when I coast down a long hill, I still feel the freedom and pure fun that drew me to my bike as a child and I wonder why I ever left it.
Spring is coming. My advice to any non-cyclist adult is to find a bike, get it tuned up, and just ride it. Ride it everyday. It will change your life if you let it.
John Speare grew up in Spokane and rides his bike everywhere. He wants you to ride your bike too. Help build the plan. Citizen input is essential for a great plan. Get involved: www.bikespokane.net.