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Pedal-to-paddle: Cross-training for Mind, Body and Heart

The Best Cross-Training
by Barbara L.

It’s a summer Monday afternoon, and I’ve got my eye on the clock as I move through my work and errands.  I don’t want to be late!

At 4:45, I strap my helmet on, clip into my bike pedals, and roll down the driveway.  I’ve got just enough time for the 12-mile ride to the waterfront for dragon boat practice.  It’s getting to be rush hour in our little city, but the traffic is mostly going in the other direction.  And as a kid who learned to ride a bike in Chicago, riding with cars whizzing by doesn’t faze me.  If anything, it gets my adrenaline flowing, and I ride faster.

Up and down hills, around the traffic rotary, across the pedestrian mall, and down the long slope toward the Community Sailing Center.  I arrive to find most of my teammates already there, starting to warmup.  I lock up my bike, switch my bike shoes to water sandals, and join in.


“Yeah, bucking furpees!” we call back and forth to each other.  And pushups.  Twists.  High knees. Jumping jacks.  Anything to get warmed up and ready to paddle.  I stretch my back, shoulders, hips.  I’m warm already!

We troop to the dock to our waiting dragon boat, and spend the next hour happily paddling – paddling hard – under the encouraging, challenging, and watchful eyes of our coaches.  Sometimes we work on distance paddling; sometimes starts and sprints.  Always, we work hard, egging each other on.  There’s plenty of joshing and laughing during the rest periods, but once we hear “paddles up” we’re all business.  Each practice is an opportunity to work on technique, on timing, on that ineffable swing that happens when we are all together in flawless harmony.  There are races to be won!

When we “Let it ride” for the last time and tie up at the dock, we’re all pooped.  We gather butt pads and water bottles and head back to the parking lot for post-practice stretches.  Once that’s done, I switch back into bike shoes, refill my water bottle, and start the twelve-mile ride home.

This ride is slower that the earlier trip.  For one thing, it’s more uphill.  For another, I’ve just finished a demanding paddle!  But the ride home is lovely too.  The traffic is much lighter; the sun is sinking low in the sky, peeking between buildings and trees as I peddle up the hills, around the rotary, back the way I came.  After an hour of paddling hard on the right side of the boat, it’s wonderful to relax into the symmetric spin of a bike, reconnecting legs and torso and arms in a smooth rhythm.

As I pull back into my driveway, not quite an hour after leaving the waterfront, I’m ready for a shower and some dinner.  And bed.  My body has the satisfied tired of a good, long workout that’s utilized every part of me.  My spirit’s refreshed, too, from the camaraderie of the paddle and the solitude of my ride home.

Bike-paddle-bike.  It’s my favorite cross-training – for my body, for my heart, for my head.  And I get to do it all summer long.