This year I signed on for 30 Days of Biking again to shake up my routine. Around the world, 7300 people made the pledge: to ride every day in the month of April – any distance, any destination.

I feel like I am getting the hang of biking every day just for the pure joy of doing it. And as I approach retirement next year, I am gaining appreciation of cycling as a healthy activity to keep on keeping on. Heading into National Bike Month, these are the takeaways that keep me going.

Riding every day is motivation to get creative and try something new.

My usual routine is riding to work a couple times a week and a cruise on the weekend, typically on some deeply grooved routes that I know well. The prospect of more of the same was not too inspiring. It became a game to see how many new places I could pedal to in 30 days.

The Ghost Riders supplied an adventure for Day 1. This friendly group that I met through my daughter and son-in-law normally takes off late at night to cruise the city. I joined them for an unusual afternoon trip – the Fool Moon Ride on April 1. After pedaling over the Eads Bridge, we rode to Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis where a series of five long ramps leads to a beautiful view of the Mississippi River and the Gateway Arch.

Gateway Geyser overlook of Eads Bridge

Gateway Geyser overlook of the Gateway Arch

On week two I ventured beyond my comfort zone with a city ride home from a conference at Union Station. The next week I discovered a levee trail less than five miles from my house that goes past a wetland area where there is a mating pair of eagles. I wasn’t fast enough to catch them on camera but I’ll keep trying. I rode to yoga class, the dentist, the chiropractor, the ice cream shop and the March for Science. Every new destination expanded my thinking about where you can go on a bike.

Bike at Union Station

Cycling is Preventive Medicine

As I teeter on the brink of 60, I value even more how cycling can help me stay healthy by doing something every day that I enjoy. The cardiovascular endurance and muscle strength gains make it easier to do other everyday things, like carrying the laundry up and down the stairs or raking up the gumballs. Cycling can even help prevent falls by improving balance and leg strength, according to two small but promising studies with older adults in Sydney Australia.

I met plenty of of “seasoned” adults on wheels through biking groups and events all over town. They are clearly enjoying the benefits. Oasis has a small but mighty biking group that meets for weekday rides on the trails and greenways in St. Louis. Its a social and intergenerational activity that keeps people connected, and that’s good for all of us.

Biking Group

You meet lots of fun, friendly people on a bike.

I met Tony on the aforementioned Fool Moon Ride. Tony rides with a payload of at least 80 pounds, including a cooler, a speaker, a giant American flag and flashing lights aplenty. He led quite the parade and the visibility in traffic was great. Our tour of East St. Louis and neighboring towns stretched into a night ride after all. Fortunately we were able to take the Metro back.

Janice and Tony from Fool Moon Ride in East St Louis

There are no weather problems, only gear problems

April showers tend to cool one’s enthusiasm for biking. On an unrelenting rainy Saturday, faced with the prospect of getting on the trainer to get in the day’s ride, I dug out my rain jacket and pants and did a run to the grocery store instead. It was just two miles round trip, but it was total fun and I got credit with the spousal unit for picking up dinner.

On Day 30 I pushed the gear further with a Trailnet 30-miler in a steady rain that had us riding through 4-5 inches of water at times. I wouldn’t do it again anytime soon, but it stretched my concept of rideable weather.

Janice Branham biking on Thirty Mile Trail

Biking helps me stay balanced in other ways

This year I have struggled more than usual with balancing work and life. Part of it has to do with completing some unfinished business before retiring next year. I get deep into a bunch of projects and let too many days go by with no exercise, not good. Getting into the mindset of riding every day has helped me get back on track.

True confessions: I missed one day when I was sick, that could easily have stretched into two or three more. The day after as I hunkered down making up for lost time at work, the 30-day drumbeat in my head said “STOP. Go for a ride!” A short little cruise exploring the neighborhoods around the office with the dogwoods and azaleas in bloom – and these characters – was my reward.

Geese Family

Biking = Happiness

At times in the past, biking for me has been all about training hard to get faster. For sure, racing and training with other people is exciting and fun and helps you get stronger and speedier. At the same time, there was a lot of static from my inner critic about not measuring up.

Lately I’m focused less on how fast and more on how often. I can just enjoy the physical effort, the mental break and the beautiful world. Getting out there puts a smile on my face.

On a ride down to the Gateway Arch with the Maryland Plaza Tuesday Night Riders, I met a woman who eloquently expressed what biking every day feels like – “Wheeee!”

Janice Branham with bike at Valley Park Levee Trail