I have a framed photograph of my 35-year-old self covering the 1994 Winter Olympics. I am wearing a colorful Norwegian sweater. But what I always notice first is my chubby face. For the first time in my life, I was getting fat.
My doctor called me on it a few months later. "You need more exercise," he said bluntly. "Ride a bike. That's what I do."
I was never much of an athlete. I hiked as a Boy Scout. I marched with the Lafayette High School band. But after college and marriage, about the only exercise I got was chasing after my two young daughters.
So I bought a road bike, helmet and padded shorts, and started riding around my Atlanta neighborhood. The more I rode, the better I liked it.
I began riding on weekends with the father of one of my daughter's friends. Soon, I had the stamina and courage to accompany him on long rides. I was comforted that he was an emergency room doctor.
Within a year, I had ridden 2,000 miles. I was 35 pounds lighter, I felt great and friends kept telling me how much healthier I looked. Most of all, I was constantly looking forward to my next ride.
Since moving home to Lexington in 1998, I have continued to ride at least 2,000 miles a year. Now almost 53, I have yet to weigh as much as I did at 35, despite my love for barbecue and bourbon balls.
Men's Health magazine recently ranked Lexington as the nation's most sedentary city. That might or might not be true, but studies have shown that most Kentuckians don't get enough exercise. Doubt the studies? Look around you. Or look in the mirror.
Here is what I have learned from my fitness adventure: Exercise works only if you enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, you won't keep doing it. So find an activity you enjoy.
There is something magical for me about the biomechanical harmony of riding a bicycle. I love going places under my own power. It is a lot like hiking, except the scenery changes faster.
Climbing a big hill on a bicycle is challenging. The reward is the rush you get from flying down the other side. All you hear is wind and the whir of your back wheel's sprocket; it sounds like a fly reel when a big trout is pulling out the line.
Cycling is best when you ride with other people. You can have some wonderful conversations while pedaling along at 15 or 20 mph, once you learn to pause and resume talking with the noise of wind and traffic.
Several people I ride with in rural Central Kentucky have become close friends. We have shared a lot with one another. It only makes sense; we have had so many miles to talk.
But this might be what I like best about cycling: Each ride is like a mini-vacation in one of the world's most beautiful places.
I see nuances in the rural Bluegrass landscape on a bicycle that I never notice from a car. Were I not cycling, I would have had no reason to seek the dozens of lightly traveled country lanes I now know so well. I often ride past beautiful antebellum homes, abandoned distilleries, caves, creeks and waterfalls that most people around here don't even know exist.
Tuesday morning's ride was typical. A friend and I met soon after dawn on the edge of Lexington. The sun shone through plank farm fences, creating beautiful shadow patterns on the road. We sped by horses grazing in fields and saw a young colt being taken for a walk. Birds danced across meadows filled with wildflowers. Squirrels gathered walnuts around stone fences.
We stopped at Windy Corner Market for coffee and a country ham biscuit. I enjoyed those Kentucky Proud calories all the more because I knew they would be long gone by the time we finished our fast, 28-mile ride and parted for our weekday routines.
Cycling has made me healthier and happier. It isn't just exercise. It's fun.