On Being a Tortoise

I have become somewhat sloppy in some of my practices of mindful living this past month. Somehow, I got out of my habit of shopping only twice a week, and have been running in to town to pick up a few items almost every day. (We live twelve miles outside of town, in a tiny village with no shop.) This needs to stop, not just because it’s wasteful of gas and time, but because it’s just not how I want to live my life.

I shopped Monday this week, but Tuesday and Wednesday, except for picking up fresh corn and tomatoes, I didn’t (and that doesn’t involve going in to town). Instead, I went walking, good two-hour hikes both mornings through woods and fields. Today I need to go into town again; but I have a plan. I’m going to put my bike on its carrier, park at the store I buy the most at, and then bike to the other places I need to go. I have both a basket and panniers for my bike, and the university town has both bike lanes and an extensive network of off-road multi-use trails, making it easy to get around.

To be fair to myself, I haven’t just been being lazy by not using them. I didn’t have the core strength to ride my bike with the added weight, especially the panniers, which I find also affect the balance of the bike. Following major abdominal surgery thirteen months ago, I was forbidden to do anything except walk or swim for six months, to allow complete healing. (And I can’t swim.) That took me to January, and the middle of the coldest winter on record for many years here. I kept active, but mostly inside, and mall walking, painting woodwork, and using the treadmill or exercise bike wasn’t enough to strengthen the core. (A lot of the regular abdominal exercises are also contraindicated after the type of surgery I had, so I couldn’t just do crunches, either.)

But then spring finally arrived, and I started walking seriously again, and biking, My balance was bad for a while.  I kept at it, and finally this last ten days I have been walking without my Nordic poles; first for half an hour, then for an hour, and for the last two days for two hours each day, on hiking trails with all their ruts, roots, and rocks.  I think I can safely say I don’t need the poles any more, at least on fairly level ground.  This means my core is stronger.  A small but significant victory.

So I’ll put the basket and panniers on my bike, and park in town at the grocery store, and after shopping there plan a circular route that will take me to the specialty poultry store, and the library, and back to the car.  I could walk it, and carry the chicken and the books, but biking works different muscles and I like to do both. If it goes well, then this will be how I run errands in town, at least until snow makes it too dangerous.

There have been times in this past year when I have felt like a tortoise:  slow, ungainly, and dependent on an external support system.  But ‘slow and steady’ did the trick.  I didn’t rush anything; I built on small gains in small increments. Sometimes I did push myself too hard, thinking I was ready for a distance or a difficulty of terrain I wasn’t, but I backed off immediately once I realized I’d misjudged.  I didn’t let either pride or the desire for a quick fix to result in injury, which in turn could have meant more surgery.  (That was quite the incentive to not overdo it, by the way.)

My healthier body means I will drive less, which benefits the environment as well as our gas budget.  I can do my share of the heavier chores, which BD’s bad back will definitely like!  I’m less likely to use (more) health-care resources, more likely to stay creative, happy, and useful in the community, and I’ll be living my life in a manner closer to my ideal.


A later-in-the-day update….the plan worked.  I learned the following:  I have to make sure I have my balance completely right before I take a hand off the handlebars to signal a turn, or I wobble, especially after I had made my purchases and was carrying some weight.  I also learned that choosing to try this out on the hottest and most humid day of the entire summer wasn’t the best choice; normally I bike on rail trails and bike paths, and the additional heat radiating off the paved road surface was more than I had expected…and it was ten-thirty in the morning.  But I did it!

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