Life can throw you some curves, however. In January 2005 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because my fantastic docs caught the disease in the early stages, I got by with surgery and a dose of radiation five days per week for six weeks. Radiation takes its toll on your energy level, and sleeping late on Saturdays felt like Heaven. Sundays were designated urban bike riding days. A routine ride covered anywhere from 10 to 20 miles, however, riding drop bars proved to be uncomfortable for me, prompting a switch to flat bars.
My recuperation also included short and eventually long walks around our neighborhood, but exploring the urban areas around our home by bike was what we enjoyed the most. Then a funny thing happened. Almost without knowing it we became aware of all sorts of “stuff” on the streets, in gutters, on sidewalks and along designated bike paths. We started to accumulate treasures such as loose change, hand tools, sunglasses, “cheater” glasses (with rhinestones around the rims, no less), metal spoons, knives, and forks, a new baby blanket with tire tread marks on it, and an occasional bar glass or paper bill. An exceptional find was two purses discarded in a drainage ditch (containing driver’s licenses, credit cards, and car keys). We called in the local cops on this find and learned that the purses had been stolen from a bar. Another exceptional find was five tickets to a well-known theme park, which we rescued from the brink of a city gutter drain. We gave the tickets to a single mom with four kids. Coincidentally, the day we handed the family the tickets was the mom’s birthday. How cool was that!
Almost accidentally we came across a book by Jeff Ferrell, entitled “Empire of Scrounge,” which further piqued our interest in scrounging. This pastime has become a unique part of our lives and helps us keep up with our fitness routines—urban bike riding and walking—with an eye open for treasure. Scrounging has also turned into a competition between my husband and me. At the end of our rides/walks we assess our bounty; my husband tends to find more coins, but I hold the record for discarded cutlery.
Since we began to ride or walk daily after work, we decided that we should give ourselves a title: Urban Trekkers in Search of Random Treasure. We also decided to build what we considered to be the ultimate urban bike. We purchased some older steel cyclocross frames, flat handlebars, and installed single chainring cranksets. To make it much easier to climb steep hills, we opted for 10 speed cassettes and long cage rear deraileurs. This combination really works for us.
Recycling is also a part of our lifestyle, extending to the goods we find along the streets and roads. Examples: a like-new tennis skirt found in a parking lot (you really wonder about that one!), 15 articles of gently-worn children’s clothing stuffed into the trash bin at the local car wash (laundered and given to one of the local children’s homes), t-shirts, work-out clothing, several pairs of slightly worn flip-flops, and aprons all washed and taken to homeless shelters. Shirts not up to shelter standards are laundered and stuffed into our “rag bag” in the garage, where we can use them for bike repairs and house cleaning.
Although you might not think it, the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters add up over time. Tucked away in a cupboard inside our home are 3-quart jars brimming with loose change scrounged from the roadside. These fruits of our labors are not totally philanthropic; at least once per year we treat ourselves to a biking vacation. One of our favorite destinations is in New Mexico where we visit our favorite non-smoking casino. Almost without exception, what we have gained through scrounging, the slots taketh away. Such is life.
Bicycling will always be a factor in our staying active and healthy, whether it is our now favorite urban riding, mountain biking or an occasional club road ride or tour. Our cycling wardrobes have changed dramatically. We no longer wear spandex shorts and colorful roadie jerseys with graphics and such. Our urban riding and walking wardrobe now consists of high visibility polyester t-shirts and baggy bike shorts or knickers with lots of pockets for treasures.
And the best news to date—I’ve just had my 5th annual check-up and I am still cancer free. Urban scroungers ride on!