Leslie Karst / Post

Cycle-logical Health

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

Dolphins (year-round)

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)

pelicans

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?

29 thoughts on “Cycle-logical Health

  1. Your bike path sounds amazing! Where else can you see whales and bobcats during the same journey? I haven’t biked in years, but I would be really tempted if I could enjoy the sights you do. It’s just not the same riding on city streets.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. This is a sore subject! I definitely need regular exercise, but as I travel for work regularly and this published-author thing has blown up my schedule, I’m finding it hard to find daily time. Have you developed a schedule you can manage, or do you ride whenever you have time?

    Liked by 4 people

    • I do have a schedule, Connie, and am VERY strict about it, because if not, it goes out the window. I ride either Sat. or Sun. morning (depending of whether we have house-guests, etc.) and on Wed.morning as well–about 20-25 miles each time.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Wow! What a beautiful area. Thanks for the introspective post, Leslie. I sometimes feel cheesy throwing around terms like “self care.” Exercise is a great example of an activity that doesn’t sound appealing while reading or lounging watching Netflix, but the second I’m out doing it, I feel like a million dollars. FYI I’m more of a jogger than a cyclist–too clumsy for a bike!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I cycled a lot as a teenager and in my twenties, then stopped, but got back into it after “the change,” when I got super depressed from the hormone imbalance. Amazing how it helped immediately, by bouncing those hormone levels back up to normal!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. These photos are gorgeous! I LOVE the Central Coast. Santa Cruz is still part of that, right?

    I love bicycling but on a cruiser on flat terrain. Beyond that, I’m out of my league. We live in the hills, so I never get to bike unless we go out to the beach trail, which we haven’t done in a couple of years. I really want to do that again. When I daydream about possibly moving someday, in retirement, I always see a flat place where I tootle on a bike to a local store, then glide home. We’ll see where that fantasy goes… if anywhere.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. My bike sits forgotten in my garage. I’d have to do some work to it before I could ride on it. But I do run. Just around my neighborhood, so I don’t get to see nearly as much cool stuff as you do.

    And I miss the redwoods. Seriously miss them.

    Liked by 4 people

      • Yes, if there is something to see. But there isn’t really anything to see around me since I run in the city.

        Well, and sometimes I am trying to not to notice what is going on around me as I don’t want to see how slowly I am running. 🙂

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  6. What great photos, Leslie. Sounds like an awesome trip. I always enjoyed the bike trips my best friend and I took in high school. Not quite such an array of wildlife, but we had a great time (all hills and I’m sure it’d kill me today).

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Hi People – I’m Tom Burns, author of the Natalie McMasters mysteries. I just found your blog and will continue to visit.And Leslie, your post made me envious. I have been an avid cyclist, but unfortunately, I’ve had to quit riding because of arthritis in my knees (I’m 66). I used to run the cycling merit badge for my boy scout troop. I hate not riding, because the bike paths in the Raleigh area have expanded exponentially in the last few years – it’s easy to get a half century and never be on the same road with a motor vehicle.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Tom! *Lisa waves* So glad you’ve joined us, and welcome to Chicks! When I was young, my parents had a matching pair of those (now vintage) fold-up Raleigh bikes. I hated riding them, because they always folded up on me. I don’t imagine those were ever popular in your Raleigh, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Leslie, I somehow found this while going through my morning. I am happy to see you writing and biking, and wish your father’s transition to go as well as it can.
    I am jealous of your Santa Cruz bike rides as I still dream about riding on the coast!
    I am still in Sebastopol, son Billy graduates next Sunday with highest award given in English Lit at Cal, Michael studying sociology and wanting to transfer to Santa Cruz.
    Maybe we will cross paths someday, and I wish you all the Best!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. What a wonderful, beautiful, magical course! I wish I could see all of those things every day from a bike. Thank you for sharing.

    When I was growing up, my parents were avid bikers so we went on many rides. One time we were in between towns and racing a storm–we were pedaling as fast as we could, but we couldn’t open our mouths to talk because there were so many bugs hitting us in the face and we didn’t want them in our teeth. (Weird what you remember…we saw millions of beautiful things on all of our rides, but that’s the one memory that stands out today, ha.)

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Leslie, your beautiful post brought back memories of my bike rides down to and along the beach as a kid. As a college student in the hilly Berkshires, most of my rides with my super-jock roommates involved a Reeses sundae at Friendly’s for me at the end (so much for the weight control). If the frost heaves ever finally go away for the spring here in NH, maybe I’ll polish up the ol’ cycle and pump up the tires. It’s only 26 miles to the nearest Friendly’s from here, and they still have the sundaes.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Love this! How fortunate you have such wonderful surroundings to bike through. I try to run outside during the summer, but there isn’t a scenic place close by, so I have to make do with the track at the school or the gravel road near our place (and share it with pickups and tractors). In the winter the treadmill has to do. I run for both mental and physical health, and to “read” audiobooks. Seems to be the only way I can whittle down that “To Be Read” list with any regularity 😀

    Like

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