Age, emergency preparedness, and physical condition

30 May

I’m knocking on 50s door.  It isn’t far away, and at the same time, there is a 20 year old girl looking out going “How the hell did Mom’s face get in the mirror?”  I forget that I’m getting older, I look at my clothes and wonder how so much fabric shrinks down to fit ME when I put it on.  I remember overnight bags when I was 20.  I could put a week’s worth of clothes in it.  Now, an overnight bag holds a change of clothes.  Did the bags shrink?

I had my maiden trip on my new bicycle yesterday, after much fussing over what we were going to do about the bike purchase, which had assumed larger proportions than some car purchases I’ve made in the past.  It was traumatic.  First of all, the seat that came with the bike is not made for middle aged butts.  I swear, I actually have bruises, and sitting today isn’t comfortable yet.  I do have a gel seat of broader proportions to be installed, and I guess I’ll have to wait for voyage #2 until it is on the bike.  I can’t face that again, even for the single mile practice rides we are currently doing.

It was traumatic in other ways.  I have discovered my knees got old when I wasn’t looking.  I know it was inevitable, but damn…why now? Why not wait a few more decades?  They were not as flexible as they used to be, and required frequent stops (way more frequent than I had even envisioned in my worst nightmare) to stand on them and relieve the cramped feeling they were getting from riding.  After that single mile, they were actually wobbly.  Wobbly…and here I thought wobbly only went with the consumption of alcohol!

Now you are probably wondering what on earth this would have with emergency preparedness.  It has a LOT to do with it.  In the event of many kinds of disasters, it’s entirely possible that there is no option of using your car, forcing you to seek assistance either on foot or by bicycle, or simply sit and wait for someone to come to you.  The waiting for someone can take an awful long time, and there may be other reasons to vacate your previous location and seek a better one.

Road damage can occur from earthquakes, floods, debris, etc.  Often, a bicycle can be used because it is small and light, allowing the rider to detour around obstacles or lift the bike over them.  A surprising amount of “stuff” can be carried along with the rider too.  It requires less effort to cover more miles in less time with a bicycle than on foot, which also makes bikes attractive, and they require no fuel besides that of a rider pedaling.

For the middle aged and aging crowd, that’s attractive.  Less effort for traveling means that we just might make it.  But, if you live a typical suburban lifestyle, you might find that mere ten miles that once-upon-a-time you could cover easily before lunch as great a distance as climbing Mt. Everest.  That single mile of flat paved road yesterday told me that a serious bike ride was out of the question until I achieve a higher level of physical fitness.  There isn’t any discussion, there isn’t any negotiation.  My body would have refused at some point, no matter how often I stopped or how much water I drank.

We have all seen the advertisement campaigns telling us to get off of our butts and get moving, that physical fitness will extend our lives, that it’s GOOD for us!  Intellectually, we all know we don’t get enough exercise with our work & home routines.  Personally, I find exercise for the sake of exercise boring and impossible to stick to.  I know I won’t go walk laps at the park just to walk x number of miles 3 or 4 times a week, it isn’t going to happen, that is BORING!  However, it doesn’t bother me a bit to drive to the French Quarter, park the car, and proceed to walk all day, looking and talking and goofing off, because I have a goal (moving around the French Quarter is much easier on foot than in the car and parking is impossible normally.)  I can go camping and walk the trails…because there is a goal-to see what is out there.  To walk laps around the block?  I don’t think so.

I’ll admit I’m using laps around Lafreniere Park’s drive to start on the bicycle riding routine.  There are reasons for that too-the lower speed limit and more considerate drivers get me used to traffic in a low-impact way.  A lap around the park is a good initial step towards achieving minimal fitness level to think about expanding my horizons.  My goal is to achieve two laps around the drive there without wobbling knees, or roughly two miles.  At ten, I could ride two miles on a single speed 16″ wheel bicycle that weighed as much as some compact cars do now without breathing hard.  At thirty five, I could do it on my daughter’s ten speed without a problem beyond some stiffness from sitting in the hunched over position on her handlebars.  Now, a single mile had me taking breaks, and left me with wobbly knees.  Would it be any different in an emergency situation?  No, if anything, I would be under increased stress, further reducing my potential performance.

It totally illustrates that physical fitness isn’t about being healthier.  It’s about being prepared.  My lack of physical fitness not only endangers myself, but it endangers my family, as they are not going to leave me behind, even if it would be in their best interests to do so.  They would not consider leaving me behind as a viable option, even if it was a survival situation for themselves.  That’s true for most families in most situations.  They’ll rationalize through it all, and the ultimate problem will still boil down to my inability to keep up and their refusal to leave me behind. Can I continue in this state without attempting to remedy the situation? No, I have no real reason for my crappy condition other than sheer laziness and age not being taken into account.  I was used to anytime I placed demands on my body, it was able to step up and perform.  Finally, after decades of abuse, it has reached the limits and cannot do that anymore.  Now I am being forced to choose whether to continue my spiral of deterioration or stop it and achieve a basic level of fitness that at least allows me a small margin of safety.

Why did I choose the bicycle though?  I could have chosen walking or swimming too.  Swimming requires a pool, and since I don’t have one, that requires me signing up with a fitness club that does.  Monthly fees can quickly add up for a couple.  I needed something low budget.  Walking, while its a very viable choice, had already proven that I would not stick with it when I became bored.  The area I live in is not conducive to walking, which required that I plan ahead, drive somewhere, walk and return to the vehicle.  It was also boring.  I quit doing it.

Bikes somehow are connected with my childhood and the whole idea of fun.  I’m not riding bike for exercise and fitness, I’m riding it for FUN.  I have to achieve a basic skill level of fitness to start having the fun, so if I manage to stick with it for a month or two, I’ll achieve that and can start on the FUN part.  Bikes are also green, and we all know that’s a huge catch word these days too.  Bikes allow me to cover more ground faster than walking, which in terms of sight seeing, allows me to see more in the same amount of time.  That appeals to my in-a-hurry and efficient side.  Then, there’s the investment of buying the bikes.  That money was a form of commitment, I have a thrifty nature, and I can’t afford to WASTE money.  In addition, bikes are “low impact” which becomes more of a concern with aging joints.  My feet don’t hurt, and even though the movement is unfamiliar to my knees and they get wobbly, they don’t hurt.  My hips don’t hurt either…just my butt does!  So a bike delivers a fair amount of bang without the pang, you might say.

The general fitness achieved from riding a bicycle will carry over to walking as well.  In an emergency, if I am accustomed to riding bicycle regularly and covering a reasonable distance doing it, I will have achieved greater fitness.  That will allow my potential endurance for walking to also be greatly enhanced.

In addition, with the use of an indoor exercise bicycle, I could add additional workouts to days with bad weather or busy schedules, and if I’m progressively more motivated to achieving my increased fitness via a bike, that might just make the indoor bicycle more appealing as well.

So look around your home.  If you had to leave on foot or bicycle to get to higher ground and safety, how far would you have to go?  A mile? 10? 20? 30?  I know in my case, I would have a very long trip, requiring me to cross some bridges as New Orleans is surrounded by water.  It would not be an ideal choice, especially since our major threats (storms) occur in the summer primarily, when it’s nice and hot.  Bridges don’t offer much in the line of shade either.  But even within the city, we do have some “high points” of man made nature-overpasses.  I would still need to navigate on the ground over miles of roads.  I need to achieve a minimum mark of 12 miles in the city, and to leave the city, about 40.  That is an awful lot of circles around Lafreniere Park…

But, remember, we aren’t doing it to ‘get in shape.’  We are doing it to keep our families from refusing to leave us behind because we’re incapable of continuing to try to escape a threat.  We are doing it for their safety, not ours.  We are doing it to have fun too.  Those are the best reasons to get out, get going, and get moving.

One Response to “Age, emergency preparedness, and physical condition”

  1. Food Insurance September 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    I had to laugh when I saw the “mom’s face in the mirror” comment. It’s so true. I was just thinking “how did she get in the camera?”

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