This past fall my sister Judy, my cousin Nancy and I spent some time at a destination spa in the Southwest. It was heavenly—a real break from the fast tempo of the Northeast. The spa specializes in mind-body-soul wellness, and the three of us slowed down enough to take advantage of the self-help programs intended to get our worlds in balance.
Judy had grown tired of me whining that I was gaining weight from all the bad road food, didn’t have time to work out—basically, coming up with every excuse in the book for not taking care of myself. So she booked me (and paid) for a session with the same exercise physiologist that she’d had an appointment with. He asked me a lot of questions, had me perform all kinds of fitness tests and produced a cardio program to get me down to my desired weight.
When we got home, Judy and I each bought the heart rate monitor he recommended so we could track our progress. A few days later, my sister called me in frustration, complaining, “No matter how hard I work, I can’t get to my target heart rate.” I found this quite discouraging because my sister is in way better shape than I am. She eats healthy food, works out all the time and plays tennis, softball and other sports. If she couldn’t do it, I figured I didn’t have a chance. I’d failed in my mind before I even stepped foot on a treadmill.
Then I thought about a conversation I had recently with a non-riding female acquaintance. I’d complained to her about my clothes no longer fitting, and she commented that I must get plenty of exercise riding my bike. I responded, “I don’t think so. I’m not doing anything physical.” She exclaimed, “But it’s such a big bike! It must take a lot of strength to ride it, especially when you have to make turns.” I remember saying, “Not really. I’m just sitting on my ass. The bike does all the work.”
On second thought, maybe there was something to her theory. It couldn’t hurt to try, so I strapped the thing around my ribcage, set the wrist monitor and hit the road. I had a destination—a part on my bike had broken and I’d ordered a new one, which had arrived at Tramontin Harley-Davidson, about 30 miles from my house. I figured a 60-mile round-trip ride would either prove or debunk the idea that I’m actually burning a lot of calories when I’m riding. If it worked, I liked the concept a whole lot better than walking on the treadmill, pumping the pedals on my stationary bike or running up hills to get my heart rate up.
The first thing I do is get a baseline, which displays around 80. I walk down the steps to the garage, and my heart rate goes up to 107. This looks encouraging. I run back up the steps to get some forgotten hair ties, and the number jumps up to 114. I go back down the stairs, open the garage door and the monitor is now at 127. This is odd because the door is automatic—all I have to do is push a button.
I unhook the Battery Tender, and the monitor registers 104 and then jumps to 129 as I fight with my luggage rack. I sit on the bike and now the readout says 135. Anticipation, maybe? It drops to 127 as I back out of the garage. I grab my jacket and helmet and close the garage door, which causes a drop to 112. Back up to 128 as I struggle to zip up my chaps. (Note to self: More cardio—I am panting as I’m finished with the snaps.)
I back up the bike more and ride to the top of the driveway where I wait to turn onto the road, with the monitor registering 134 and 141, respectively.
124—riding up my street
117—waiting for the guy in front of a long line of cars to turn left
110—riding up the entrance ramp onto the Interstate
I’m now in the mid-90s as I get into the groove. I increase my speed to 75 and the monitor goes to 101. I speed up to 80 to pass a few cars, bringing the display to 104. Now 115 appears as a big rig blows a tire and I avoid bits and pieces of rubber on the road.
My heart settles back to the mid-90s until I approach the exit when it climbs to 104. As I pull up to the dealership, my pulse quickens (to 117) and I gird my loins… Wait a minute—this is starting to sound like a porno novel. Let’s just say that I am preparing for battle for the moment the parts guy tells me that the part in question isn’t under warranty.
102—Paul in Parts tells me the part is covered under warranty and I calm down immediately
109—Paul then informs me that the labor is covered, too (the excitement must have caused the blip in heart rate)
100—I start shopping. This always relaxes me. I see a beautiful 110th anniversary hoodie
107—I see Nancy, the general manager, and we start chatting
100—I continue shopping
128—Don comes out from Service: “Your bike is ready!”
My heart rate on the return trip was pretty much the same as my trip out, except that there were no blowouts.
121—Stop at a gas station and fill ’er up
129—Pull into my garage
110—Shrug out of my chaps (this was a lot easier than getting them on)
117—Go back upstairs
84—Resting rate resumed
The nifty little monitor told me that I’d burned 726 calories in two hours and 42 minutes. That seemed great to me, because according to the physiologist’s report, I burn 1,276 calories per day when I’m at rest—just over 52 calories per hour. So if I do the math, I burned about 585 calories more than I would have if I were just sitting around watching TV. So far, so good. The bad news is that my average heart rate was 106, with the maximum reaching 142. Basically, that 142 is about what I would see at the end of my 10-minute warmup session before I begin the actual cardio workout. Not the result I was hoping for. Instead of hitting the road, I guess I’d better hit the gym.