Out of desperation, in the peak of my pre - winter doldrums, I put on my nicest Grateful Dead shirt, a pair of polka-dot Bermuda shorts and my purple Converse high top, Chuck Taylor sneakers and headed out to the local health club. I typically can’t stand the tedium of exercise, calisthenics, weight work or even stretching, especially in those high profile, chrome-plated, mirror-lined, meat-market health clubs but I had early season cabin fever and I was going crazy. As a rule, I generally never actually “work” out but find myself “playing” out five or six times a week. This way I can stay in reasonable shape without even realizing it. At my age it’s just a battle to stay healthy, getting in shape is just a bonus. An Irish woman once wondered why I was wasting my limited life heartbeats cycling around her little green country when God gives you only so many beats. I have recently taken heed to her concept of the finite body. There is only so much your knees, back, and shoulders can give to you. Therefore, in an effort to conserve and preserve my limited body, I play. Alpine skiing is my winter anaerobic interval training, back-country skiing is my aerobics class, swimming is my fat burner, basketball and frisbee carry me through the spring shoulder season, while biking and backpacking sustain me through the summer and fall. After the leaves fade and the deserts freeze there is a month or two before skiing starts, a time for resting, reflection and healing. Enough was enough by mid-November with my resting couch potato routine, so after reviewing the bleak possibilities of my wind trainer, jogging in the dark or “Must-See-TV”, I headed out into the cold night, in search of socio-aerobic stimulation. At least it could be a great learning experience.
When I got to the gym I realized it wasn’t a gym at all. It felt more like a shopping mall. Stepping inside, it looked like a cross between the Mission Control Monitor Room and the Rocky Horror Hall of Mirrors. There wasn’t a single punching bag, basketball hoop or spittoon. There was a little frilly welcome desk and a juice bar at the front, but the rest of the place was dumbbells and torture machines of every shape and size. There were several rows of people running and riding and stroking and skiing, all in front of several giant televisions with no sound on. Everyone had headphones on and were dialed into their own little world. Nobody would even look at me, let alone talk to the goofy new guy in the tie-dye. I sat down to warm up on an erotic reclining bike machine and changed the channel on one of the TVs to my favorite cable show,“Molson’s Hockey Night in Canada”. No sooner had I started riding when a commotion in the back caused me to pause. A smallish woman was yelling at me, the way people with headphones yell, to turn the station back to the “Cosby” rerun. I begged her pardon and tried switching it back and inadvertently turned the television off and could not figure how to turn it back on. She huffed off to the front desk to tell the muscle-headed guy what I had done. As I slunk off towards the bar- bells I could see what had made the woman so ornery. Her leotard was all curled up and stuffed in the crack of her butt. That kind of outfit might make me irascible too.
At the barbells there were these huge guys in muscle shirts and little shorts, wearing gloves and what looked like the World Wrestling Title Belt around their waists. There were women there too with huge muscles and bad dispositions, lifting weights and making faces at themselves in the mirrors. I slid past and lounged around on the sit-up machine for awhile, trying to catch some sleep while hanging upside down. I recognized some local aggro-biker type dudes milling around a separate room, looking like expectant fathers in lycra. After some gentle prodding I found out they were waiting for the “Spin Class” to start and asked them if I could join. Sure why not, I thought, it would be great spinning with some hardcore bikers, pumping big flywheels, listening to pounding rock music and yucking it up with the coach and class. Maybe even stoke up a fatty during one of the breaks. It’s only exercise, I thought.
The aerobics class ahead of us had finished and while the class full of glistening and glowing women filed out I noticed that the large empty room smelled like a cross between a wrestling room and the perfume bar at Bloomingdales. Our class strutted in, sucking some kind of power gel while they positioned their bikes in a semi-circle around a stage. I figured that I might be out of my league when all the bikers started to take the standard pedals and toe clips off the existing bikes and install their own clip-less pedals that fit their own shoes. “Dudes, you forgot your helmets” I told them with a smile, but they looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. I realized then that I was the only one in the room with body hair. We got on the bikes and started spinning while the instructor put on some motivating, heavy-metal music and a headset microphone that made him look like Janet Jackson on a moped. During the warm-up I started goofing around with some of my neighbors who, apparently, were deaf, manic depressant or just in no mood to talk to me. “That’s cool, I’ll get into my own space” I thought as I increased my resistance and picked up the pace. I can be an aggro-biker dude too, when I want.
The instructor caught my attention and indicated that I may want to raise my seat for more power and range of motion. I like a slightly lower seat for balance on a mountain bike but since we weren’t on the Slick Rock Trail I probably looked like Pee Wee Herman with my knees in my face. So I stopped pedaling to get off to make the adjustment. That’s when I learned that there were no gears connecting me to the 35 pound flywheel and there was no mechanical option to coast or stop pedaling. “That’s why it’s called spinning” is what I thought as I was launched over the handle bars, luckily slipping out of my toe-clips in time to land on my feet like a dismounting Olga Korbut, telling the others “I meant to do that”. If I had turfed it, I would have been the only person in biking history to get road rash from a rug.
From that point on I was on my own, no one would even acknowledge my spastic presence. We warmed up, sprinted intervals, climbed hills, rode off the seat, on the seat, on and off the seat, recovered, repeated and rested. It was a great workout, with everyone adjusting their resistance secretly, according to their own ability and needs, but somehow letting everyone know how hard they were working with grunts and moans. I thought that they should broadcast each persons resistance on a big screen so these guys could really compete, chest thump and bang pee pees. I hung in there for 45 minutes and asked the fellow next to me if they spin for the entire hour. “Hour and a half” is all he said. “I’m a dead man”, I thought as I lightened up my resistance in an effort to catch my breath and to finish alive. My body was a faucet of sweat, dripping down my face, chest and butt, filling my eyes, shoes and belly button with pools of protoplasm. The rug around me was a smelly mess and I was afraid that the bike might rust up and seize before I did. My water bottle was empty and I envied the smug guys that brought camelbacks, sipping greedily from their little hoses. My back ached, knees throbbed and my hands and winkie had fallen asleep so long ago that I was confident that the loud music, or anything else for that matter, could ever wake them. The clock on the wall went into a low, slow gear and the music pounded a crescendo rhythm completely out of phase to my body’s decrescendo rhythm. While the others were coasting smoothly down an imaginary hill on fine-tuned racing bikes, I was pushing my make believe tricycle into a headwind on a cobblestone path.
When the class finally and mercifully ended, we got off to stretch and I couldn’t get my leg on the handlebar or my nose to my knee like the instructor easily demonstrated. I just faked it with my old Yoga Sun Salutation that kept me from puking or running from the room in shame. Among the others there was this post-trauma, shared-experience euphoria and some actual conversation, albeit whispered and stilted. The instructor came by and unconvincingly said “nice job” to me. Another rider asked how I liked it and all I could mumble was “Not bad”. As I humbly headed out to the TVs, the mirrors and the butt floss, I was surprised to hear several halfhearted “later” from my comrades and even more surprised at my own response, “I’ll see ‘ya next week”.