My father used to tell me “It’s hell to get old”. I’m beginning to understand and move that comment from the joke category in my brain to the section reserved for current events. My friend Gordon recently made this picture of me at one of our Sunday morning print meetings and I see my father. And I’m saying to myself “It’s hell to get old”.
Standing at the kitchen sink last night with a handful of Methotrexate I realized something had changed. Almost overnight I’ve traveled from oblivious through denial and on into acceptance that I’ve become an aging rider and with it all the rights and responsibilities attendant to a change in physical ability.
A week ago I was standing in a hospital gown with my back to a wall while two rheumatologists at Johns Hopkins Medical Center recorded measurements of joint flexibility, pain and range of motion, and finally confirming the diagnosis of my family doctor -- “You have psoriatic arthritis Mr. Williams.”
Aging is a natural, nearly invisible process until it isn’t. And one day a light is turned on and you realize some new limitation has formed, some new element to be managed. And it reaches out to every detail and aspect of living and informs a new life. It branded me an aging rider.
Men live in denial though. I can't speak for women.
Two months ago I was deep in it, telling myself that my arthritis would have no effect on my riding. Sitting astride the Vespa was easy and I could ride all day but stopping was another story. The joints in my toes were on fire and walking was a problem. Pushing the scooter onto the centerstand was a challenge. And walking to make a photograph along this winding gravel road in Rothrock State Forest was near torture.
But I ignored it and pushed onwards in the rain.
I see pictures when I ride and especially ones where the scooter plays a role. Standing some distance away from the Vespa, thinking about this shot, I was regretting wandering so far from the seated comfort of my ride. Not yet thinking of myself as an aging rider I rode on.
Fear of aging generates denial. It takes time to acknowledge the fear and more time to understand what the march of time means. Personal dishonesty in this area can lead to bad decisions. An acquaintance comes to mind -- a fellow in his early 70’s who purchased his first motorcycle two years ago -- a Harley Davidson Ultra Glide. He had never ridden before but was persuaded by a friend that he would love riding.
Whenever I run into him I ask if he still has the Harley. His face lights up and he responds with a bright “Sure do!”. What I’m careful not to ask is if he rides it (which I’m sure he doesn’t) Not long after his purchase he discovered that riding a big motorcycle is not an innate skill and after a few scary moments on the road he parked it in the garage for good.
Denial is a wonderful thing and is helpful in making irrational decisions. I’m not saying a 70 year old can’t ride but I might suggest a different path to the road for a first time rider of any age. The accumulation of years (and wisdom) will quickly raise its case in these kinds of situations.
Back on the road I continued to ride and find opportunities for more pictures. Picking my way through the rocks on sore feet finally illuminated my limitations. I was going to have to change the way I think about my capabilities.
The Death Equation.
I like to think that I’m not the only one doing death mathmatics in their head -- calculating the difference in years between your current age and the age of your father or grandfather when they died. I can’t remember when I started doing this but it’s definitely related to aging and a growing awareness of the finite number of days at my disposal. I should add that it’s not depressing or obsessive but a result of an awareness and acceptance of my mortality. And fueled by my latest medical adventure.
Right now the only thing keeping me from riding to work is the fact that the Vespa is in for service. I postponed the work until a time I can meet with the technician to photograph him for a blog post. But soon the scooter will be parked again outside my office like it is in this picture expect the sportbikes will cease to appear as winter descends.
In the meantime Junior continues to keep me busy though our walks have diminished in favor of drives to the part where I can stand in one place and heave the ball across the field for him. He’s a potent reminder of the mobility that I have lost for now. He’s always in motion. I’m always.... not.
The change is something new to manage. Like rain or snow or darkness. As I assess routes and weather I now have to assess my physical state. Reading the current issue of the BMW Owners News I’m impressed by the number of aged riders piling up tens of thousands of miles every year. During murky thoughts it helps remind me that the passing of years doesn’t have to relegate me to the rocking chair, or worse, a trike. Actually, I’ve never ridden a trike. Experience has shown me that I really need to try something before judging it harshly.
A shiver of excitement swept over me as I stood in the road with the Leica. Despite any current physical ailments the road still rolled on ahead. There are more rides to make and things to see. And I'll view these rides through a new filter...
...as an aging rider.