June 18, 2001
The Spandex Barrier


I'm standing in the fitting room at Mervyn's, on Saturday afternoon, with a pair of black Spandex bicycling shorts in my hand.

"Go on," I say to the woman in the mirror. "Let's see you wiggle your way into these, hotshot."

The woman in the mirror obediently begins to unbutton her Levi's ... but there is undisguised terror in her eyes.

This is pretty much the last thing in the universe I expected to be doing today. When David dropped me off in front of the department store, an hour earlier, my plan had been to shop for long floral-print skirts and warm-weather blouses ... my Summer 2001 *office uniform.*   The very last department in the WORLD I expected to find  myself wandering around in was "Ladies Active Wear" ... a department I have hitherto avoided as 'actively' as I avoid the *Fishing-Tackle-and-Sport-Knives Department* ... or the *Doughnut Department* ... or the *Small-Shrieking-Children-Demanding-Action-Figures-and-$145 Barbie-Cars* Department. 

And yet here I was, standing in the fitting room with a pair of teeny-tiny athletic shorts in my hand, feeling nervous and silly ...

... and vaguely disloyal to my own core beliefs.

I have long been of the opinion that people who wear Spandex are usually 1.) unbearably snooty and pretentious, 2.) freaks or 3.) unbearably snooty and pretentious freaks. Of course, it was easy to feel this way while *I* was strapped into the computer chair for 48 hours every weekend. In those days, I viewed anybody who broke a sweat in public with scorn and derision. People who did so in Spandex were doubly suspect. "If they're in such great shape," I'd snort, "they'd be perfectly comfortable camouflaging it in baggy red sweatpants like *I* do." And then I'd pour myself another bucket of Mountain Chablis.

(Or -- in more recent, sober years -- I would build myself another sandwich.)

Even after I finally hauled myself out of the computer chair and climbed onto that bike for the first time in twenty-seven years, I continue to harbor a noisy grudge against people in Spandex ... mainly because the cyclists who are most likely to zoom past me at a bazillion mph/force me off the bike trail/YELL at me in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge ("Watch it!") are invariably wearing something tight and shiny and ridiculously fluorescent. But after two months of more or less daily riding, I'm starting to *get* a lot of the stuff that previously seemed like a lot of stoopid unnecessary posturing to me: like special shoes, and wrap-around sunglasses, and shifting gears when you're going uphill ...

... and yes, like wearing Spandex.

Or, more accurately, like wearing the most comfortable clothes possible while you're bike riding. Up until now I've been riding mostly in seamless denim leggings and oversized T-shirts. This is a serviceable and comfortable  --  if not particularly flattering  --  riding outfit. Even so, I've noticed that the leggings tend to get a little sweaty during an Alameda heatwave: peeling them off after a twenty-mile spin around Bay Farm Island is a little bit like ecdysis.  Plus this outfit practically screams "NOVICE BIKE RIDER! NERVOUS AND UNSTEADY! PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ZOOM AROUND ME AT A BAZILLION MPH!!"

(Plus David pulled his own ancient black Spandex bicycle shorts out of a dresser drawer over the weekend. "I think I'm ready for these again," he announced. He emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, looking all studly and athletic and bulging in interesting places. I can't very well let him parade around in public like that alone, can I?)

I turn my back to the mirror as I wiggle into the riding shorts. I don't want to watch, frankly: I'm afraid it might turn out to be one of those horrifying visual experiences that leaves permanent emotional scars on the more fragile psyche. I expect the shorts to be painfully tight, a challenge to put on  --  like trying to squeeze a condom over a pot roast  --  but the truth is that they glide right on with barely any extraordinary amounts of pulling or tugging. The fabric feels unexpectedly slippery and cool and ... well ... nice, actually, against my skin. They're snug, but they're snug in a good way: it's sorta like being hugged all over by your pants.

I turn around and take a cautious look in the mirror. The verdict?

I look OK.

Not exactly svelte or buff or rippling with tough new musclature or anything. I'm not going to be appearing on the cover of "Bay Area Bicycle World" anytime soon. But I look OK. I look like a fortysomething woman who allowed herself to get a little sloppy, over the years, but who is trying to turn things around ... a woman who has recently seen the inside of a bicycle shop  ... a woman who is more likely to have a half-gallon of Healthy Choice Vanilla in her freezer, these days, than a bucket of Triple Chocolate Thunder.

I spin around in front of the mirror a couple of times. I do look OK.

Still, the sight of my adorable butt in tight shiny black fabric is a bit ... I dunno ... jolting. There is so very little left to the imagination in these shorts, ifyouknowwhutImean. And as much as I'm sure David would appreciate the *view* as he rides behind me, I'm not sure it would be quite as aesthetically pleasing for OTHER innocent bystanders on the bike trail. 

At least, not quite yet. Maybe another five or ten pounds down the weight-loss road.

There is also this niggling internal sense that I haven't actually earned Spandex yet. I've only been riding for two months. I've only just recently broken the twenty-miles-in-one-day barrier. It's sorta like being four hours' pregnant and rushing out to buy that "I'm Not Fat/I'm Pregnant" T-shirt.

Eventually I end up putting the black Spandex riding shorts back on the rack, and I head to the check-out counter with a pair of comfy fleece pedal-pushers, plus some baggy khaki shorts and a couple of T-shirts.

Baby steps. It's all about baby steps.

I know that eventually I'm going to end up in Spandex. It's beginning to feel as inevitable  --  and as non-life-threatening  --  as grandchildren someday, or menopause, or my eyesight getting worse instead of getting better, or having the pimply adolescent clerk at Albertsons refer to us as "Mr. and Mrs. Rafter" as he bags our groceries. That's not to say I want any of this to happen right away, mind you  --  except maybe for the "Mr. and Mrs. Rafter" thing  --  but at least I'm beginning to wrap my brain around the idea of this stuff without experiencing total emotional collapse.

And at least I've broken some interesting barriers this weekend. I saw myself in Spandex, for instance ... and I lived to tell the tale. Plus I ventured into the Ladies Active Wear Department for the first time in recent (or distant) memory, and I discovered that there is lots of stuff there that *I* am actually interested in and could wear and would be willing to spend perfectly good grocery money on.

Next up: The Swimsuit Department.

Stay tuned.

two years ago: boot camp

throw a rock