I have no problem with people knowing how old I am (62). I’m actually quite content being a woman of “a certain age,” as the French like to say. After all, the longer you’ve lived, the more you’ve experienced and learned in life. As a result, us older folks tend to see things in more nuanced shades of gray, rather than as simply black or white. Nor do I mind how I look; I see my saggy neck (which I call my “gobble”) and crows-feet simply as facts of life, and I’m fond of my white hair.
But aging is a bitch with respect to the physical changes one experiences along with it, especially the fact that one tends to gain—and retain—weight much more easily once one reaches those pesky years past fifty.
Those of you familiar with either me or my Sally Solari mysteries are likely aware that I am a recreational cyclist, and I freely admit that the primary reason I ride my bike regularly is weight control. It’s a great impetus, knowing that if I ride fifty miles this week I can indulge in that pre-dinner cocktail and order steak-frites without putting on five pounds.
see how skinny I look?
In addition, exercising makes me feel good about myself. When I return home from a long ride, I experience a feeling of accomplishment, of a job well done, that gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. And simply getting outdoors in the fresh air and experiencing the local scenery is a terrific way to generally improve your mood.
I am truly fortunate in this regard, as Santa Cruz is without doubt one of the most beautiful areas in the world: On my favorite ride, I start by climbing a hill doted with live oaks and grazing cattle.
the hills of UCSC
Next I cruise through a redwood forest and then descend back down by way of a grassy meadow (being careful not to collide with the unwary deer). After a brief trip through town I’m on the levy alongside the river, which is often full of herons and coots. I pass by the Boardwalk, then head up to the road that hugs the coast, along which I have spectacular views back at the wharf and the Boardwalk, and across the bay to Monterey.
the Santa Cruz wharf and Boardwalk beyond
I finish by heading up the coast past Brussels sprout and spinach fields to Wilder Ranch, a quaint old dairy (now a state park museum) with whitewashed clapboard barns, antiquated farm equipment, clucking chickens, and draft horses which lift their shaggy heads and stare as I ride by.
It’s now spring, and for the last couple weeks I’ve been seeing a male red-winged blackbird in the exact same place during my rides. As the species is highly territorial, I’m assuming it’s the same bird, and I now look for him whenever I cruise by. He’s most always there: perched on a fence post, fluffing his wings and displaying his bright red shoulders, singing his little heart out. And yes, he is smaller than the other males in the area, who have now mostly ceased their singing and displaying.
the bike path to Wilder Ranch
In my imagination, this little bird is the only one of his fellow males to have not yet found a mate, and I envision him as lonely and forlorn, chirping to the females to please give him a chance. Nothing like a little early-morning anthropomorphizing to get the emotions going strong.
I see a wide variety of different kinds critters while on my rides, and I thought I’d finish this post by listing them for you—at least the ones I can think of right at this moment. (It’s more or less in the order of how excited or happy I get when I get a glimpse of one.)
Bobcats (rarely and always in the early morning—kinda scary, but quite thrilling!)
Coyotes (also thrilling, but much more common than the bobcats)
Cotton-tail bunnies (they always make me smile as they hop out of my way into the bushes)
Gray whales (generally in the spring)
Ferret (once—it was scurrying along the gutter; likely an escaped pet, but it startled me)
Red-winged blackbirds (love that flash of red as they wing by)
Monarch butterflies (on warm days in late fall and early winter, though their numbers have, alas, decreased of late)
Brown pelicans (I love their bomber formation and how they skim along the waves)
Banana slugs (at UCSC [of course!]; they only come out when it’s rainy or damp)
Red-tailed hawks, Falcons, and other raptors (sometimes circling overhead, but also perched on posts or trees close by)
Draft horses (sometimes kept at Wilder Ranch; also regular horses being ridden on the trail out to Wilder)
Dogs (numerous being walked along West Cliff Drive; I now recognize many of them)
Chickens (several colorful varieties—including a few roosters—at Wilder)
Goats and Sheep (sometimes kept at Wilder)
Cats (there’s a calico at Wilder that sits patiently in wait at gopher holes that I particularly like)
Deer (they’re actually an annoyance, since they’re so tame and are apt to bound right in front of me. I bark at them to make them get out of the road. But I do love when the speckled fawns appear in the spring)
Sea lions (lazing on the rocks off-shore, barking)
Cattle (grazing in UCSC meadows, and at Wilder Ranch)
Ground squirrels (very hazardous, because they dart out in front of cyclists rocketing down the steep UCSC bike path)
Bees (also hazardous)
Seagulls (don’t look up!)
Sparrows, crows, and other common urban birds
So I ask you: How could your mood not be improved by such a ride?
Readers: Do any of you bicycle, or do other forms of exercise, for mental or physical health?