Despite that it might appear otherwise in these pages, I’m not a fan of exercise. Primarily, I’m lazy, and I often have to fight the impulse to merely sit on the sofa and do nothing all day. The reason I don’t – besides that it would make me a very poor example of a human being – is because I like being outdoors in the fresh air. This is why I like walking and cycling, activities that get you somewhere, especially where a vehicle can’t.
I detest gyms and exercise for the sake of exercise is something I can do without. I don’t mind getting hot and sweaty if it’s because I’m walking up a hill to see the view from the top, but otherwise, no thanks. It’s the same on a bike, although anything that involves hills usually sees me walking and pushing anyway so it’s a moot point; if I’m cycling on flat or undulating territory, I enjoy it.
My main problem is getting started, especially getting on the bike. Neil often has to chivvy me out of the door, that edge of wariness in his voice that tells me he’s ready for a sharp and possibly sweary non-favourable response. On a cold morning, when I have to calculate what layers to wear so I won’t get frostbite within the first few minutes of riding, but won’t get so hot once I get going that I spontaneously combust, I really would be happy to sit down with a book instead. Once I’m out there I’m fine, even in the wet, or at least I get a feeling of self-satisfaction that I’m doing it. Getting away from houses is my reason for being on a bike – in Wellington my main route is alongside the sea (where it’s flat – did I mention I don’t like hills?)
My other problem is I tend to give up easily (and that’s not just confined to exercise, to be honest). As soon as my legs start to feel that they are working they go on strike. Kind of like, ‘woah, we said we’d walk/cycle, we didn’t sign up for anything that hurts’. Yes, I know I’m supposed to ignore them and push through it, but I simply can’t be bothered. I have no stamina and no willpower. Tell me again why I resisted when Neil suggested I get an e-bike?
My friend Jenny is an example of someone who doesn’t give up, and she puts me to shame in the exercise category. Last year she broke her leg on the skifield, the same one I haven’t skied in close on a decade because, frankly, it’s bloody hard work and there are a lot of people on it who are out to get me. One did last time I skied and I had a bruise the size of a dinner plate on my arse for weeks. Which is basically my whole arse as it’s not that big. Or wasn’t a few years ago.
I digress; back to Jenny. Less than a year after a nasty break she is back on skis, on snow that really isn’t that great, lots of rocks and ice (just a normal day on a New Zealand north island skifield). Part of her rehabilitation effort involved riding her bike, the same one on which she slayed me when we rode the Timber Trail last April. Ohakune’s streets are mainly flat, only one hill to tell of, which happens to be at the bottom of our road. I call it the Mur de Miro. It’s not long but, as hills go, it’s fairly frisky, and seems to keep coming at you even when you think you’ve been on it for long enough already. At the top there’s a little kick, just to make you earn that summit.
Jenny rides it as part of a circuit and sails her way up it four times. I can manage three before I’m calling the air ambulance to airlift me home, and each time I get to the top my lungs threaten to explode and I have to check behind me to see where I left my legs. My bike weighs about a quarter of hers.
I’ve never been fit. In school I enjoyed cross country running because it got me out of school and across stiles; in school I was the one who couldn’t pull myself up the rope with my arms. I claim extenuating circumstances; I weigh more than I appear to. I know this because no one, from medical professionals to the young woman who put the bindings on my skis, ever believes me until I get on the scales, then expresses wonder and checks that the equipment isn’t broken. I’ve never played a sport and, after breaking my collar bone falling off one in my early twenties, didn’t get on a bike for nearly two decades. Jenny could teach me a few lessons about willpower.
I will only ever be a reluctant exerciser and a casual cyclist, and I’ll never be a gym-bunny. On a day like today, the middle of winter, the grass white with morning frost but the sun through the window making me throw off my jumper, I’ll chuck on those layers and get my legs moving. But rain is forecast for the rest of the week and I have a lot of (re)work to do so don’t expect to see me taking on the Mur de Miro after today. Give Jenny a wave when you pass her.