Of resolutions and inspiration

It was one of those unexpected balmy days of late fall -- one of those days that feels like a gift which must be accepted -- I decided to give myself a day off and go for a long bike ride. I had chosen my favorite route, which winds along the city lakes bike path, on to the Midtown Greenway, north on the Kenilworth Trail and west on Cedar Lake Trail through St. Louis Park to the Depot Coffeehouse in Hopkins. Whenever I ride this route, I never fail to feel exuberant and grateful for this wonderful city, our park system, and our visionaries who put years of planning and fundraising into making these bikeways possible.

I was also exhilarated because it just felt so good to be outside and moving my body. I turned 40 last summer and am in the midst of juggling children's needs with everything else in life. This is a period when finding time for exercise is hard -- feeding family members and sleeping always seem to be more pressing concerns.

Now, my children are at an age where they can put on snow pants by themselves and are occupied by the Minneapolis public schools for hours at a time. I'm better rested and have more time available to myself. So, once again, as with each New Year, my resolution is to get more exercise. Turning 40 has made me realize that I do not have to -- in fact I can't -- view exercise as a luxury anymore.

Midway through my bike ride last fall, I took a break at the Depot and I noticed a pack of 20-25 Lycra-clad cyclists careening down the path from the west. Their cycling goggles reflected in the sun as they bent low over the bars of their racing bikes. I sighed, figuring that my respite was about to be interrupted by a testosterone-oozing college racing team. Little did I know that I was about to encounter inspiration on wheels.

As the cyclists dismounted, they were all laughing and talking in a way that I recognized. I took a closer look and to my surprise I realized that women, not men, surrounded me. "Cool," I thought, "a college women's team." Then I did a double take. Once I got beyond the Lycra and hard calf muscles I noticed their gray hair. Trying not to be too obvious, I stared at them and deduced that they were indeed "older" -- although with the shape they were in, it was a challenge to tell their ages. My curiosity got the best of me, and I approached one of the women and asked her about the group.

She explained that they constituted a group of 30 women who had gotten together every Tuesday for the past 25 years for either a long bike ride in the warm months or cross-country skiing in the winter. The average age of the group members is now 67 (that means that their average age was 42 when the group started). As many book clubs do, they rotate homes and hosts. They always meet for coffee at 9:00 a.m. at the home of the day's host. The leader explains the route to the group, and after coffee they hit the trail. When I saw them at the Depot, they had already biked 28 miles and were stopping to eat at the halfway mark. Now that's my kind of ladies' lunch!

In my fifth decade, I admit to letting my eyes wander to cosmetic surgery advertising supplements -- as if these procedures could make the march of time more meaningful. This group of biking grandmas provides a welcome relief to the Botox School of Aging. For the cost of one Botox treatment, I could buy a nice racing bike. The second treatment could get me a swift pair of cross-country skies. At the age of 70, instead sporting flawless features, I could be part of a gang of windblown, laughing women in the middle of a 60-mile bike ride.

I thought about asking if I could join them on a ride but figured there was no way I could keep up. However, this year, I can finally get more specific on my New Year's resolution. Those women have shown me what I want to be when I grow up.

Jocelyn Hale is a lifelong Minneapolitan who lives with her family in the Fulton neighborhood.