Wind in my face never felt so sweet!
I've spent a lot of time walking outside recently. I've longed for the feeling of warm sunshine on my back and the sound of a gentle breeze rustling leaves. Since September, I've looked at my world in a different more deliberate way - a way I now experience through the slower pace of walking. While it has been a nice change of pace, I would not recommend the road I took to get here. Regular readers know that I've been documenting my discovery of the beauty I've found in simple things like backlit trees completely stripped of leaves, and wooden boardwalks and my walking stick with a Boston skyline backdrop as seen from lots of different locations.
Finally, after being freed from the restriction of my back brace just before Christmas, I started to take baby steps in Physical Therapy to regain some strength in my core. It's going to be a long road. I've lost a lot. I still can't sit upright in a chair for more than 10 minutes without needing to lean on something for support. But it will come. Patience.... grasshopper.
Despite all my recent walking, I've also lost a lot of my leg strength, although my time on the indoor trainer over the holiday does have me feeling confident that it will return in time.
After all one never forgets how to ride a bike!
Cycling is a fundamental part of me. The past few months have shown me that. I can function without a bike, but I am not whole without my bike. There is just something missing in my day.
My physical therapist has a plan and we are working hard these days so I can regain that leg and core strength, so I can get back to riding.
However the bigger hurdle, if you will, is to get past that mental block.
Remember the old adage about getting back on the horse. The longer you take, the harder it will be. It has now been over 4 months since that fateful day. The doctor told me I could bend and twist a few weeks ago. I immediately set up my indoor trainer so I could remind my legs how to go around in circles. It has been brutally cold and snowy here since then, and the severe weather came earlier than usual this winter. Despite my avowed hatred of exercising indoors, I wasn't enthusiastic about heading outside for a ride - for many reasons, not just the weather.
Then the January thaw came and melted all our snow and ice and warmed the air. There should be nothing to stop me from riding now!
But still, I didn't pump up the tires. Still, I didn't pull on tights and search for my gloves and hat and cleated shoes and GPS. Still, I ignored the emails from friends about group rides.
Then the Mt. Washington email arrived, the one that goes out to folks who have raced up the mountain more than 5 times, giving us early access to sign up before registration opens to the general public. Having done the Mt. Washington race 7 times before (not counting my four races at Newton's Revenge races), I am on this list.
General registration for the August event opens up the first of February, and typically fills instantly. For many years, we have signed up at the first opportunity and then sentenced ourselves to 8 months of stress to be fit enough to do well when racing in August. Vacations are planned around this event. It's all so complicated. We can't go on holiday in August. We consider whether a mountainous tour in early July will leave us fit but not worn out. Or maybe, we should just use our hill climb fitness to have an enjoyable and relaxed tour in September or October. For months before the race, we need to head out early on Wednesday mornings and again after work the same day, for the group hill-climb clinics held on the climbs to the Arlington water tower. We also plan trips to nearby mountains for hill repeats, but then complain they aren't long enough or steep enough. So we plan weekends out to the Berkshires and up to the Green and White Mountains. We take part in various other hill-climb races to really remind our bodies of race-effort. The calendar fills quickly with these events, and we hit a continuous cycle of a hard weekend, a day to unpack and do laundry, a hard midweek ride, a few other LSD rides during the week, then pack and head off again. Always with the Mt. W giant looming in the background. I must keep climbing. I must keep training, if I want to get a medal at Mt. W.
I always tell folks to enjoy each ride for itself, that I don't train, that I don't focus on one event, and while I'd really like for that to be true, Mt W looms...
Things conspired against me this past year leaving me in less than prime condition for the mountain when the time came, but I climbed it anyway. The siren of Mt. W just sings out to me. I cannot seem to silence her.
Well that siren's call came again yesterday in the form of the email with early registration information, and boy do I have a whopper of an excuse to ignore her, but still she haunted my dreams last night.
I haven't been on a bike outside in over 4 months. I wondered if I could even remember how to steer or shift or brake. Oh wait, one never forgets how to ride a bike. Yep, I'm certain I can do those things. But can I beat back the demon in my head that is screaming at me that I could have been paralyzed or I could have lost a leg or I could have died?
I know how important it is to get back on the horse as soon as possible, as it were. But so much time has passed now - making it much harder.
It's been a few weeks since I got clearance from the doctor to ride. The snow we got after Christmas is gone. And it's almost warm out - well not warm, but not polar-vortex-cold. In reality, it's just a bit above freezing. But it's all relative, right? It feels mild in comparison to last week!
So I thought I'd start with baby steps.
I'd go ride on the bike path in Lexington. It's clear of snow and ice, but still cold enough not to be crowded with walkers or roller-bladers. And most importantly there are no cars! My bike with the truly cushy tires is at Ride Studio Cafe. It's been on display for a few months. I could just drive over there and then take it out for a spin on the bike path.
I start to gather clothes. It's been months since I've ridden outside. And even longer since I went riding in these temperatures. What should I even wear? Do I remember? I eventually find my tights and jacket and gloves and winter boots. Where's my GPS? And my toolkit? My routine has not been my routine for many months.
I load up the car and head to Lexington. I park and walk into Ride Studio Cafe wearing bike clothes for the first time since August. I get a look from Patria. Did you ride? Are you going to ride? Outside?
I ask if we can take the Christmas lights off my Honey All Roads, which is still decorated in the front of the shop, looking sharp but still sad, because it really longs to be ridden again.
Roger puts pedals back on my sweet Honey and pumps up the 650bX42 tires to 40 pounds, ensuring a cushy ride. Mike runs through the gears and checks the brakes.
Ariela asks if I want coffee. I say that I will wait until I return - as a reward, incentive, to celebrate. Roger gives me a hand with the door as I head out across the street to access the bike path.
I turn on my GPS, and the location comes up in Durham... the last place I rode. In fact the location staring back at me is exactly where I was hit by that truck. I look away, hoping the unit will acquire satellites quickly and show me a map of here, not there! I hadn't thought I would be affected so much seeing that map!
I've been back to NC to see my dad a few times since being hit. I stay with my cousin. He tells me the broken bike is still safely stored away in the basement. I do not go down to look at it. I do not drive out to the scene. I'm just not ready. And now here is that spot marked on my GPS.
Finally, I get reception and a map of Lexington appears.
I hit start.
Mike has left the bike in an easy gear. I hop on and spin along. I am balancing on my own bike! I am riding... on the bike path! No cars to worry about! I try to relax. After a mile, I finally reach down to shift gears.
Yes, the fixie pixie is riding with gears. I click through a few and find a comfortable one. I reach a road crossing. I stop. I put both feet down and stand over the bike. There are no cars. I eventually cross. I ride along in solitude. I am thinking about how to ride a bike, how to balance, how to shift, how to stop, and how to turn. I could not do this first ride with company, because I need to think about how to ride a bike.
But then magically, I notice the wind in my face, and the trees devoid of leaves along the side of the path. I feel the sun on my back. I think about coffee. I think about some bill I forgot to pay. I shift. I turn. Now I am not having to think about the mechanics of riding a bike. It is natural again.
You never forget how to ride a bike!
I reach the end of the path in Bedford. I think for a second about taking the road, but I am not ready. I turn around. I am riding at 12 mph and there is wind in my face. Now 12 mph may be slow by cycling standards, but it is four times faster than walking for me, and the wind in my face is coming 4 times faster than when I walk. And it is glorious. Oh my, I am actually thrilled to feel a headwind! Imagine that?
I reach Lexington and decide to continue on the path toward Arlington. My lower back starts to make itself known. That's not normal. Wow, I've only gone 6 miles.
Well... baby steps!
I feel every frost heave on the path, despite those big cushy tires. I stop and let some air out of the tires to make for an even plusher ride. I started with 40 psi. Now I'm down to about 30.
As I get close to Arlington, I think about that Mt. W letter again. Just beyond the path sits my frenemy, the Arlington Water Tower. In the spring and summer, I come here often to climb to the tower, going up and down from all directions on as many different roads as I can. I make a game of it.
And not for a long time.
But I can at least hear the siren of the water tower calling me again. And I can hear the siren of Mt. W.
I stop to stretch my lower back. It's pretty sore now. 10 miles. I think about last years fleche at 275 miles and how nothing hurt during that ride. And I remember the joy I felt at the top of Mt. W last year, when I got a medal. I wonder, will I ever get back to that level?
Fear Rothar met me at the studio after the ride. We had a celebratory coffee. He then loaded my sweet Honey bike into the car for the drive home. It's time to take her home. It's time to ride!
I came home and looked at that Mt. Washington email. I then printed it out to put in the file I keep on my injury. Mt. W will go on without me this year. Our summer will be very different.
But I'm not giving up...
The wind in my face is too sweet of a feeling! The siren's song is strong!