Here I Go Again

So here I am again for the 900 millionth time rebuilding muscles from being sick. Sometimes it’s from being injured or having surgery. It’s amazing. One thing I notice is that the older I get the more difficult it is to rebuild muscle. Still, it happens, and I’ve already learned that life demands patience and the faith that things will improve.

An added incentive for me is that my amazing 97 year old artist friend, adopted mom, and mentor collapsed on the floor of her little cottage and was taken to the hospital. She’s now in a home because her legs gave out. She has no muscles in her legs. She is from a generation — my mom’s generation — one in which women in sports or female athleticism was not considered a good thing. “Muscles on women? Heaven forfend!” The goal of rehab was to help her get back behind her walker by helping her develop muscles in her legs. The last I heard it’s not going well, and she’s confronting the horror we in this country of “rugged individualists” face of figuring out a way to pay for a residential nursing home/rehab center.

“Yikes, Martha, if you live that long, it could be you!”

It matters for so many reasons, not the least of which for me is that I might face a knee replacement down the road (or in my own yard). First, I don’t want to. Strong legs take the pressure off of our knees. As for the surgery, I just don’t want to. I’ve managed to evade that particular knife for almost 20 years. But who knows? I’ve also learned how strong legs help reduce rehab time so IF…

Yesterday the Bike to Nowhere took me on a beautiful ride through the Austrian Alps to some high glaciers. I was finally able to ride at a normal speed and to enjoy myself. Those are two very very important things. People are motivated do what they enjoy, and there’s more to a work out than muscle. For me none of this has ever been a “should,” as in “you should exercise.” It’s something I have always loved to do. My friend’s recent experience has just brought home how important it is. I don’t want to think about that, but it isn’t like I don’t know.

I’ve always thought that legs are incredibly beautiful. Maybe this is because my dad’s didn’t work right or maybe it’s because I have always gotten so much joy from what my legs could bring me — forest trails, mountain trails, desert trails, boulders and rocks (up and down), races, bike rides, ski trails and more. Great stuff, wonderful stuff. When my right hip went south I learned about the structure of the leg and hip and wow. It’s a thing of beauty and subtle engineering. I figure I owe my legs a little something at this point in my life after all the pleasure they’ve given me.

Featured photo: My dad and I setting up my first bicycle to be a stationary bike for him. I was 12,

My Airdyne


I’ve written many odes to my Schwinn Airdyne over the years. Today I was riding through the Austrian Alps toward a glacier I would love to see but never will. The road is wonderful. I’m grateful to Bike the World — whoever they are — for all the rides I’ve taken with their videos as I ride my stationary bike.

As most of the readers of my blog know, I have damaged knees, two of them. The worst one suffered an ACL tear that was not repaired with surgery because I had no insurance. Yeah. I live in THAT country. The injury happened in 1992. It was treated with a leg brace and crutches and after that I was told not to hike for another six weeks.


It was almost 4 months in total before I was allowed to hike again. I got a mountain bike in that interval because a leg that is immobilized soon loses muscle mass. I know a lot of people — particularly women of my generation — don’t think much about “muscle mass” but I’ve realized in my sunset years that nothing was more important to me back then than keeping on the trails with my dogs. In 1992, I was 40.

The leg healed and I continued to run on it until 2004 when my right hip went south with osteoarthritis. This stuff takes a toll. I had surgery — hip resurfacing — on that hip and was supposed to be able to run again afterward, but I couldn’t. The three years between the first sign of the damage and my surgery were harrowing in many ways. The physical pain became excruciating, and it was very hard to get on any trails in that kind of pain. By the time I’d rehabbed from the surgery, my running muscles were gone and a repaired joint is not the same as the original. Ever. It’s good, but different. I tried running and it was so awkward and strange like I had someone else’s body. I have run since, occasionally, but I also know that high-impact exercise wears out man-made joints — of which I now have two — more quickly than does low impact exercise and that surgery and rehab is no picnic. I don’t want to do it again if I don’t have to.

My rehab back then — 2007 — involved an Airdyne just like the one I have now. That and an old-school Nordic track ski machine.

Where was I going with this? OK, so for more than 15 years now my primary sport has been riding an Airdyne. Today I was riding and thought, “Why am I doing this? What’s the fucking point?” A little voice answered, “There’s no point, maybe, but think of how it might be without it?”

I don’t know how it might be without it. I do know how it IS.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends an upright stationary bike above all other kinds of exercise for people with knee arthritis — both osteo and rheumatoid. So where would I be without it?

I don’t know. In worse physical condition overall, certainly. The Arthritis Foundation gives it several thumbs up for reducing pain and maintaining mobility. So maybe my knees would hurt (which they very seldom do) and maybe they wouldn’t work even as well as they do.

So I will persist…

My Airdyne is like the one in the featured photo but mine has racing stripes. I love the irony.

Be True to Your Sport, Even if It’s Lame

At my recent doc visit where I learned that I get to stick needles in my fingers every day I also learned, “Your HDL is fantastic! Your LDL could be a little better, but it doesn’t matter because of your awesome HDL!”

I thought, “I owe it to my Airdyne.”

So now with the messed up foot I thought a couple of days ago, “How am I’m going to exercise?” Then my brain said, “Sweet Cheeks, your sport is riding the Bike to Nowhere. Walking the dogs is just the cherry on the sundae.”

“Good point, brain. It’s true.” At best I walk the dogs 2 leisurely miles every day but when I ride the Airdyne, I ride 10 miles in intervals and sprints.

It’s a lame sport. I’ll admit it freely. When it comes to sports, back in the day, I WAS competitive. I raced 400 meters and 400 meter hurdles. That’s won by an insane explosion of will, energy and thigh muscles. To win, you SPRINT. A lot of people can’t sprint 400 meters, but I figured because I was born and grew up at a high elevation I had a little biological advantage.

In later years my sport was skiing (downhill and Nordic), and then, when I moved away from snow, it was trail running — the closest thing to downhill skiing you can do on dry land without snow, or so it felt to me.

All this has taken a toll and I suppose that’s the price anyone pays for throwing themselves into some physical sport for most of their lives.

What I didn’t think of back then were the other benefits. During my trail running days, I began to get it. At 45, an age when my mom’s BP was already off the charts and she was on cholesterol meds, I was holding steady at 120/80. Genetics ultimately put me on those meds, too, but not until I was 60 and even then at a much lower dose than my mom was taking. Beyond the physical benefits of general fitness and (I wish) weight control (it could be worse) are the psychological benefits. Now I compete with myself to ramp up my performance to ride faster longer. Sometimes when I ride I imagine paintings which I then go and paint — or think about a little more. Often on a ride I have seen my way through a problem with a story or a friendship or gotten a great idea for an adventure with my friends. I listen to music and watch a bike riding video of the route of the Tour de France. It’s beautiful terrain and I have caught myself leaning into sharp curves when I’m “going” fast.

My Bike to Nowhere is from the 1970s. It’s copper colored with racing stripes — a little touch of irony that I love every time I get on it. It’s not a mountain bike (I loved that when I could actually lift my leg over a bike seat) or a steep winding trail or a ski slope but riding it made it possible for me to — without a lot of preparation — head out with my brand new X-country skis last winter and Langlauf with confidence the VERY FIRST TIME in nearly 20 years. That day was at LEAST as happy as any other of the extremely happy days in my life.

My dad and me in 1964 (I’m 12) setting up my first bike ❤ for him to use as a stationary bike so he could retain muscle mass and strength with his MS. You can see some blue paint. I wanted a red bicycle so my dad painted it before giving it to me for my sixth birthday. No training wheels. None of that little pedal-less faux bike kids get now. Things change — it wasn’t that they didn’t care about our safety. I think they had a different kind of confidence in our abilities.

The chart is from an app I use, “Map my Walk.” The red bars are Airdyne rides.

Slogging Along

Since my hip replacement roughly two months ago, I’ve made a lot of progress. I’m at the point with my Blessed Airdyne that I’m riding 10 miles in about 30 minutes, and I do intervals which is challenging and keeps it from being completely boring. Since the biggest problem I’m contending with now is a knee as bad as was my hip — and the non-surgical solution to that is weight loss (and I’m absolutely willing) — I did some research to find out what I have to do to make the Airdyne a weightloss tool. You know, besides, basically, ride it. 🙂 I have arthritic knees which makes a bike (stationary or otherwise) a perfect tool for rehab and fitness especially as I HATE the other good exercise, swimming. I even found a video of some buff guy working out (doing intervals) on a machine exactly like mine:

But when I researched how FAR I need to ride to lose weight, I got useless information. “Ride 60 to 90 minutes five days a week for weight loss.” This means NOTHING. A person can go 1 mph and that’s not going to work. The question is HOW FAR? (Or, alternatively, how fast for how long).

A long long time ago when I was a kid I had like a baby science book. In that book was an illustration of two chairs, both nailed to the floor, each with a feather on the seat. In picture one, a guy (in a toga, no one knows why) struggled to lift the chair off the floor. Sweat sprayed from his face and body (ah, that explains the toga; it helped show how hard he was endeavoring to lift the chair). The other toga-clad lad had lifted the feather from the seat of the chair. THAT was the physics definition of work. He had succeeded in lifting the feather and transporting it somewhere. That stuck in my mind.  The first guy struggled; the second guy worked, so when I googled “How far should I ride my bike for weightloss” in other words how many miles (real or virtual) do I need to move this feather if I hope to lose weight. I got,

As you get comfortable spending more time in the saddle, schedule longer rides during the week. If you do three cycling workouts each week, complete one short ride (30 minutes), make one ride a moderate duration (45 minutes), and set a goal to ride one longtour (60 to 120 minutes) each week

I kept googling questions involving “how far” for both stationary and actual bicycles and kept getting the same answers. No mention of “distance.”

Therefore, to lose body fat, you want to burn as many calories as possible during your stationary bike workouts. Increasing your workouts from 30 to 60 minutes is ideal. According to Harvard Health, a 155 pound person will burn about 520 calories per hour of bicycling at a moderate pace. The stationary bike is not the most effective cardio activity to burn calories, so longer workouts are more ideal.

Added to that absurdity is the phrase “more ideal.” Ideal is the, uh, ideal. There’s nothing above it.

So… long long ago I remember learning an equation that 1 mile walking is roughly equal to two miles riding a bike AT ANY SPEED. Because what matters is how far you take the damned feather.

Soon I’ll be taking the real bike out of the garage and riding it. It’s pretty boring to ride a stationary bike all the time. My dog walks aren’t going to be very far for a while, and I really really really want to put off knee surgery as long as I can.

The other slog is the Schneebelis. I spent part of the morning describing their log cabins and gardens. I have to say this about my upbringing. I grew up out here in the last frontier (other than space)  and log cabins are still common sights everywhere I’ve lived (except downtown Denver and San Diego). All I have to do if I want to see a log cabin is saddle up Bear or Dusty and head across the golf course, so there is a dirth of excitement in this writing about log cabins and pioneer kitchen gardens, but I’m doing it. It must be done and after it’s done it will be edited (yay!) so perhaps readers will not have to slog as I am through the historical remnants of Schneebelian life.

Oh, the cabin in the photo up top was built by one of my ancestors, a guy named Jacob Leber. He was from the mountain area near Lucerne. It was built in York County, PA but moved in the 1980s. He built it over a stream which was apparently a common thing to do. All I can say is the streams back east must be a lot more predictable than the streams out here.

Slogging is OK. I just requires patience and faith. Also the understanding that maybe it won’t work, but at least you don’t have to live without having given it a shot. I’ve gotten pretty skillful at slogging by now.

As for the word of the day? Forgive me but I have no clue what to do with clew in any of its meanings. At least now I know it for if someday I need it.

Resquiescat in Pace, Airdyne :( NEXT!

It’s a pretty amazing morning out here in the real west. Clouds are rushing by; the one currently overhead is scattering snowflakes. A storm is coming in, and the wind is blowing pretty hard, but not always from the same direction. The snowflakes are doing more dancing in the air than landing on the ground. They are the kind my grandma described as “Mother nature is shaking out her featherbed.” For the most part, the sky is blue, but where it’s not, it’s silver. It’s beautiful. ❤

In other news, the blessed Bike to Nowhere broke yesterday. I knew it was headed that way and now it’s arrived. For me that’s semi-catastrophic. My Airdyne is the tool that has kept pain from a bad hip at bay; it’s kept me strong and ambulatory; I credit it with my being able to walk 2 miles with dogs and cane and enjoy the experience. I need it. I have to replace it.

Naturally, I began my search on Amazon. I saw HUNDREDS of exercise bikes and evaluated several different types. I saw that, for me, there’s no compromise. I don’t care about it having a “small footprint” or being “virtually silent” or “folding away to give you space” or “numerous computer read outs — pulse, heart-rate, distance, time, calories burned, Tarot Card reading, weather forecast.” I turned my attention exclusively to Airdynes. I learned a lot about the new iteration of the Airdyne (and about the bike I already own) essentially that it breaks, repairs are iffy and short-lived. A lot of the parts are plastic. People who’d owned it for a while gave it bad reviews; people who just bought it were in love with it. It’s served me well for 3 1/2 years of consistent use. That’s OK, but nowhere comparable to the original Airdyne.

“Back in the day, things were built to last.” 

Schwinn came out with this “bike” in the late 70’s and it was a simple, steel, chain-driven exercise bike with a huge front wheel that is a fan — the same principle of Airdynes today, in fact that’s what puts the “air” in Airdyne. The faster you ride, the more resistance you encounter — you go “up hill.” As your conditioning and strength improve, your workout responds by giving you an appropriate physical challenge. It’s brilliant.

The old bike is very sturdy. If it breaks it can be repaired just like a bike. It even has a (non-computerized) tachometer to tell you how far and how fast you are going. I had one in CA but didn’t move it here with me. I regret that almot daily, but I had no more space in my “U-boxes”.

What’s so great about the Airdyne? Ah… An article, “Schwinn Airdyne History” (yeah, it exists, I just found it) explains:

The Airdyne also engaged a person’s upper body in the exercise with attached moving grip arms. The results: The rider was able to sit comfortably on a large padded seat, using large comfortable pedals against a steady resistance that engaged the arms and upper body and legs in a total cardio workout previously only available on higher-priced commercial gym equipment. (citation)

I looked at dozens of stationary bikes online last night.  I even, nearly, bought an old Nordic Track ski machine. It was mental chaos and minor desperation.

Finally, I went on Craigslist for Colorado Springs and I found an old one in good shape for $200. The only challenge will be getting it home — but I think it will fit in the back of my Focus hatchback if I take off the arm pieces. If not? Plan B. I think there is usually a plan B.



Original Airdyne, the Very One I Hope to Bring Home Next Week


It’s made me think of how we were “back then” (1978) and how we are now. The Airdyne still gives the same workout whether it’s the new iteration or the old. The differences are in appearance, how quiet it is (though the old Airdyne is not especially noisy), the computer features — stuff like that. In some ways our technology has improved our tools — I’d far rather use my MacBook Pro than the “Trash 80” my ex showed me so long ago, but honestly, except for research and the Internet, for what I do, I was pretty happy with an Apple IIe and over the moon with the Mac Classic. For that matter, it was often an adventure going to the library at my university and discovering answers.

Still, there’s a limit to how much time-travel I want to undertake. I’m not ready to go “off grid” except, maybe, intellectually…


I’m Not Ready to Go THIS Far Back in Time


Meanwhile, winter has arrived. The sky has gone gray. Snow is falling and I have a dental appointment at 2. My first concrete step toward hip surgery.

My True Calling

It’s always a question. You’re a little kid and people say, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This is a drastically irresponsible. What does a kid know about being grown up? I think I even said, “I don’t know,” a time or two. I don’t know if I ever had an answer to that question. And why should anyone “be” something? Maybe the kid just wants to go skiing…

A friend of mine has been having a hard time at his job. I told him to write down a list of stuff he liked about his job and stuff he didn’t like. He thought I meant pros and cons. I didn’t mean pros and cons at all. A “pro” can be something we don’t even like but we have the idea it’s beneficial to us in some way — like he had a private office which sounds good and he called it a “pro” but he didn’t like it. It took me a long time to figure out the difference myself, and it was impossible for me to illuminate it for him.

The thing is, now I know.

The happiest I have ever been in  my entire life was on skis. I was not a very good skier and not very clear about my skiing goals or direction other than down the hill, or across the mountain, depending, but I loved it.

So now I’m 65 and arthritic and stuff. I have to use a famous ski technique just to get down a hill; I side-step. I can’t blame skiing for my arthritis because the knee I hurt skiing isn’t that bad, and the leg it bends is still mostly straight. It’s the OTHER one. So every other day, I ride an Airdyne, a total-body-workout kind of stationary bike made by Schwinn. It drastically improved my ability to walk so I keep at it. Recently, I discovered beautiful videos of bike rides in Europe that I have been watching while I ride. They’r nice, but kind of tranquil, now somewhat boring. I imagine my “skill level” on the Airdyne has surpassed them.

Sunday I put in a DVD I bought a long time ago in a set of “Classic Ski Films.” It’s “The Last of the Ski Bums,” made in 1969. I’d seen it once and loved it. In it the main character and his pals bum around the Alps and ski. The storyline is cute and funny, the skiing is beautiful, the mountains more beautiful, the underlying philosophy is harmonious with mine. As I watched the first half I realized that I would really like to be a ski bum.

“It’s kind of late, Martha,” I said. “All that’s left for you is ‘stationary bike bum.’ I think you’re doing that pretty well, in spite of the inherent stability of your lifestyle.”

“Yeah, but maybe next time?”

“You mean your next life?”

“Yeah, my next life. Riding the Airdyne is great for developing quads, glutes and even calf muscles.”

Now I’m training for my next life in which I will be a ski-bum, maybe even a pro skier for a while so someone else pays me to travel. I’m already training, and maybe the head-start will help. I hope I remember the intrinsic futility of striving for success on my next pass and can jump right into my new life of chasing powder around the world.