I was going through my media storage the other day, and came across this shot from a trip to New Orleans a couple years ago. I never got around to putting this one out, so here it is finally. It must have been quite a sign when it worked, and this was definitely the more preserved side of the sign. Only a few neon tubes remain and the paint has long since faded, but from top to bottom it reads, “Union Foreign American Parts”. Sounds like an identity crisis, or they were just trying to appeal to everyone.
When I was about thirty years old, I thought I was in pretty good shape, as most thirty year-olds would. Then, one day, I got a dose of reality. I had an assignment to photograph a hiking trail further north. The trail started at an elevation around a mile high and finished close to 6000 feet. It was about as smooth and evenly graded trail that you could ask for. I had a backpack full of camera gear and a tripod, but nothing I wasn’t used to carrying. It didn’t matter, because this mountain had kicked my ass.
The following week, I was determined to get in better shape. There were two nearby mountains in the city that had trails to the top and were fairly close-by. I started with the easier of the two, and the first few times felt like an effort, but then got easier. Soon, I was reaching the summit and didn’t feel I needed to rest. I saw that some others were repeating the hike, so I started doing the same. One day, I did it three times, and got comments from almost everybody I had lapped. To me, this environment wasn’t real hiking, but it didn’t matter – I was building my endurance. Afterwards, I concentrated my efforts to the other mountain, which turned out to be far more demanding. This one even involved some upper body work, especially on the detour routes. It took many times before I could make the summit without stopping. After a few months, my endurance was vastly improved, and I started doing this hike twice. A few months later, I started throwing on a backpack filled with forty pounds of weights. People looked at me and asked, “Are you getting ready for a Grand Canyon hike?”
“No, just preparing for life.”
Somewhere along the way in those years, I also started doing something I hated in high school. Jogging. Much like my hiking routine, this started quite pathetically. The block I lived on was exactly one mile around according to my odometer. It felt like five. Eventually, I made it around the block without stopping. Then twice, then thrice. I ran in some 5k’s and a couple 10k’s. The running built up different muscles and endurance than the hiking. I never once set foot in a gym, but I was as close to being a professional athlete as anyone might get.
About a year later, I was asked to photograph a story on mountain biking in the mountains of eastern Arizona. There were two men who joined me there. One was a professional mountain bike racer. The other was his best friend, riding partner, and writer for the story. I had gone to a local bike shop and rented what was probably a $300 bike, they both had titanium framed bikes costing about ten times that much.
The elevation was about 9000′ above sea level. One morning we headed out for the trails, and for whatever reason, I was the lead bike. The trail started up a moderate hill, and after several minutes, I heard them talking, but all I heard was my name and the word fast. I really thought I was holding them back, so I stood up on the pedals, and proceeded a little faster. There was a loud collective moaning behind me. I stopped and turned around and repeated what I heard and thought. “No” they replied, “We were trying to figure out how someone who has never mountain biked, and riding a pos bike, could be making us work this hard to stay even!”
Shortly after that trip, I purchased a mountain a mountain bike, which I have not really used like it was intended. I like uphill rides, but would ride the brakes most of the way downhill. Even before YouTube existed with its plethora of bike ride fails, I knew this law of physics:
Speed + Gravity = Pain
I once had a dog that could run at forty mph. I knew taking him on a ‘walk’ was not what he needed, so a lot of my bike riding experience was taking him through the neighborhood. Fortunately, we had some open spaces and dirt paths, so the bike was perfect for this situation.
Fast forward a few decades to my situation a couple months ago. As I started physical therapy, they put me on a stationary bike. I couldn’t operate it as it was, so they had me pedaling from a chair at the back of the bike. It wasn’t until about week four that I was on the proper seat. Another couple weeks and I was back on the real thing. Yes, I still own that same bike.
About the photograph.
I now live in a neighborhood that is mostly flat. No dirt roads. No dog. Although most would prefer a street bike to a mountain bike, I look at it differently. The tread of my bike offers more resistance, providing a better workout. I deliberately lower the air pressure for even more resistance. I have discovered during this quarantine, that empty parking garages make great hills for a workout. On one early morning ride, I took a different route and came across this garage of a building that was closed. There were a couple cars in the bottom level, so I had a feeling I might attract some attention. Up near the top level, the sun was streaming in and created long shadows. I took this with my iPhone because I had a feeling I wouldn’t have the opportunity again. Sure enough, as I reached the bottom, security was there asking me to kindly leave. That’s ok, I know of several other garages where I can still ride. With stay-at-home restrictions probably coming to an end soon, my bike rides will likely become a little less adventurous.