My legs are pumping up and down, my hands gripping the rubber handlebars of a borrowed bike. I am pedaling down a narrow path that turns from pavement to wooden planks as I turn the corner, following my sister. Pine trees frame our path, and the marshy spots beneath the wooden platform hold clear pockets of water. We ride down the trail, which has returned to pavement. Long grasses brush against our bare legs.
I lean into another corner and round the bend into a wide-open meadow. I sit up, balancing my fingertips against the handlebars so I can look out at the snow-dappled mountains and the pastures on either side of the path. Black cows are grazing to my left. Up ahead, horses are standing at rest in the shade of one tree, flicking away flies with their tails. A handful of my cousins ride in front of me, standing over their pedals. I am moving and this place is beautiful and I am aware of it all. I’m not even ashamed of the smile breaking across my face.
Same day, afternoon. I made one nonchalant comment on that earlier bike ride, and my sisters and cousins immediately made the drive into town to buy a slack line. I have never slacklined. It looks easy, which is how I know it’s not going to be. I’m right. The cable is only three feet above the ground, but it might as well be a tightrope stretched across a canyon. My three boy cousins are on this trip, and the slackline was their idea. They are 15, 19, and 21, and their bodies are long and sinewy, all muscle. They walk the slackline like those flailing inflatable creatures at a car wash, their arms loose and windmilling, smiles on their faces. Forward movement.
I climb up, wobble one step, and immediately have to bail. I have muscles, I have balance, but not for this activity.
Evening. My sisters are working on a jigsaw puzzle in the living room. My grandparents are on the back deck, watching the cows in the pasture. I hop back on the bike and ride to the closest rec center. In the yoga studio, I do pushups, slow and steady. I squat deeply, looking at my form in the mirror. I feel the sweat trickle underneath my shirt, my breath quickening, the dull burn building in my fatigued muscles. This is hard. This feels good. I am not 19 any longer, and I can’t practice backflips into the pool or ride my bike the fastest, but I can move, and it helps ease my mind and strengthen my body. This is where I am now.
Dinner. We’re all crowded around the table, cousins and aunts and grandparents. I eat one and a half hamburgers, wrapped in lettuce, topped with tomatoes and pickles and mustard and ketchup. I eat slices of watermelon like they’re potato chips. My cousins are as competitive in their eating as they are in their playing, and they’re subconsciously spurring me on to reach for another spoonful, one last bite. Another advantage of playing hard: you need more fuel.
I go down to the basement, to the room my cousins are sharing for the weekend. They have a pull-up bar hanging over the door frame. They have paralettes made of PVC pipe on the floor. My parents and I watch as the boys hoist themselves up over their hands, gripping the pipe in a handstand that seems too easy. My dad can’t help himself, and he takes his turn on the bars, exhaling loudly and never really making it to a vertical position. I am my father’s daughter and I take my turn after I complete half of a pull-up in the doorway. I can’t even get my arms straight.
I am exhausted. All I have done this weekend is exercise, and it is good, but I can’t reap the benefits of exercise until I rest.