If you use the Kern River bike path, you may have seen me. I’m the 68-year-old, never been an athlete, overweight guy who, weather permitting, cycles shirtless, usually between Highway 99 and Enos Lane.
And if you’re one of the 90 percent or so who acknowledge my greeting of a wave, head nod, smile, or “Hello,” or even initiate your own first as we pass, let it be known you have helped make the world a better place.
Just this morning when I was getting on the path near the Stockdale Highway bridge, the narrow sidewalk from the street was obstructed by a woman I thought was pushing a large stroller. As I pulled off onto the soggy grass to go around her, I heard a strong, crystal clear, happy “Hello” from a child seated not in a stroller, but in a walker-like wheelchair. I smiled and returned the child’s greeting feeling a bit sheepish about my initial grumbling. I continued my ride east toward Highway 99, getting and giving smiles, waves, and “hi's” along the way. Until near Truxtun Lake, a group of four riders, heads locked intently on the next cycle inches in front of them, whizzed by westbound at high speed. As they passed, the last rider broke his intent forward gaze to quickly look at me and admonish, “Put on a shirt!” He was gone in a flash, so there was no time to respond.
I ride shirtless for many reasons, but health is first. Due to surgery, my ability to absorb much vitamin D from food is gone. My chronic vitamin D deficiency is corrected with sun exposure. I also found I was far more comfortable riding in the heat and feeling the breeze against my skin. And, through the lens of time, it has helped me to accept me for who I am.
Every day out on the bike path, I see people of all kinds walking, running and cycling, all trying to improve themselves, physically and/or mentally. Many do so against great obstacles. The morbidly obese young man and the middle-aged woman with a walker doing their utmost to jog, the very elderly walking and the rest of us doing our best to just keep moving, hopefully for a better, happier life. All of these people are beautiful in their own right, and no one has the right to say otherwise. If what you see doesn’t meet your beauty standards, turn your head and hold your tongue, for your situation could change in an unfortunate instant.
Now, as to the shirt issue. I usually ride with a shirt, one of over 20 I earned running and finishing 10Ks and half marathons in 2015 and 2016, tied to my left handlebar grip, in case of emergency or wanting to go into a store along the bike path. I hope my admonisher can make the same claim regarding his fancy team cycling jersey. As to his call for me to “Put on a shirt,” my response is simple: no.
Mike Glinzak is a frequent bike rider on the Kern River bike path. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.