A Powerful Tool for Optimism by Melissa Balmer

You wouldn't think to look at her that she's been my midlife partner in crime per se. My bike Gretchen is my main mode of transportation but she isn't very flashy or fast. She's a re-built Kent "Gran Concor," probably from the 1970's, with a few gears that don't like to change easily, even after being serviced recently.  But both light and light blue, she's revolutionized my ability to get around. Unlike my first bike again as an adult (a heavy vintage cruiser), I can carry her pretty easily up and down the two flights of stairs to my apartment and she handles the few small hills in my city with relative ease. I look forward to heading out on a bike ride now and with the addition of a cushy new seat by Linus, and a snappy wicker basket, we now hold our heads up proudly and comfortably as we pedal around town.   

I'm what you would call a casual but frequent rider. My full riding range is about eight to ten miles or so round trip, but to be honest four miles round trip is closer to my daily norm. That works really well for me here in Long Beach California, where I live quite close to downtown. I've learned through trial and error not to push my riding too much further than that or I'll deal with a serious and unpleasant fatigue backlash. So if I want to go further I can easily extend my reach by adding the train or the bus. 

I find frequent riding is more important than far for my health - both to keep my daily energy at a good place, but not wear myself out, and to best handle the onset of menopause. A day that I stay home and work on the computer all day is an evening when the hot flashes might possibly hit with a vengeance and sleep is far more challenging.

I ride Gretchen almost daily to meetings, for errands, and to get out and meet friends for fun or just to enjoy the day with my boyfriend. I have lived car free since 2007. When I added in the bike about four years ago it opened up a whole new world (oddly enough I began working on concepts and ideas for bike advocacy about a year before I myself felt comfortable enough to bike again).

So this isn't a blog just about the adventures Gretchen and I get up to, it's also about how the concept of living a bike friendly life has brought a remarkable creative, career and connectivitity renaissance into my life.

I think it was last spring that I came up with the tagline that the bike was a "tool for optimism." It has certainly been my tool for a pretty major creative and career renaissance. While my health continues to challenge  (which as many of us know can be a very isolating experience), the bike has been my invitation into a whole new powerfully positive world of connectivity, creativity and opportunity.   


A journey that continues to bloom and grow in fascinating ways almost daily. The past five years have been the  most interesting and meaningful I've ever experienced. I've had the opportunity to bring my writing, my passion for style and photography, my love of connecting people, and my sometimes rather crazy creative ideas to the table and they've been welcomed.

as I've collaborated with a most marvelous, talented group of dedicated, generous souls who want to make the world a better place by bike. Sooner or later I hope to connect you with all of them here via Pedal Love.

It's my hope that my story will inspire someone else who might be dealing with health and financial challenges to find in my story (and the other stories here at Pedal Love) a spark of inspiration for how a bike can help bring a sense of optimism to their own lives. When I first moved back to Long Beach ten years ago I was so poor, in so much pain, and so blue I contemplated ways of not being here anymore.

I wake up every morning with a headache and never know if it will grow from a basic tension headache into a migraine. If it does become a migraine the next question is will it escalate in pain level to the point that I have to go to bed?  

The migraines I experience are genetic, but unfortunately because I'm adopted and have no family medical records I was misdiagnosed for over twenty years with sinus headaches (I only met my members of my birth family in my mid 30's and found out about the family history with migraines only after I'd been diagnosed). Sadly it's the case for many migraine sufferers.

The one-two punch of migraines is that the medication that is powerful enough to stop them can also cause what are called "rebound" tension headaches and migraines if you take the pain medication too frequently (this includes all of the migraine drugs, ibuprofen and Excedrin among others). No one seems to know for sure what too frequently really is, it's probably a case by case basis, and it depends on the strength of the medication.   

We live in a world of tremendous change and flux. Types of education, skills and jobs that were considered "sure bets" for economic security for years and years are suddenly no longer the case.