Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wind in My Face

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 relax.

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.

Not today.
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?

Baby steps!

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!


  1. Oh. My. Word, that was beautiful. Thank you dear Pamela for your openness and vulnerability. And, I am truly delighted to read your words and share your return to the bike, even in baby steps. Wishing you many happy, and safe, miles. Knowing you will once again climb Mt. W.........

  2. Congratulations on your return to the bike. I look forward to reading of your continued progress.

  3. Wonderful and good luck! I know after my car accident I thought I'd never ride again, but I did, as soon as I could though never the same as before:(....although part of that is psychological. It will take time, there will be pain, your injuries may change the way you ride, but nothing like sun and wind on the face.

  4. Comgratulations and hooray for getting back on your bike!

  5. I think Blogger ate my first comment. :(

    I am so glad to have read this. It has resilience and grace.
    Heal well, and know there are a lot of riders beside and behind you in spirit.
    (Eventually we'll have to up our game if we want to keep up!)

  6. Not sure I've ever commented before but I've been following your blog for a long time and just wanted to say, Pamela... reading this moved me very gradually to tears... so vulnerable and raw with pain, fear, and... courage and hope. Congratulations and good luck.

  7. It seems you have both siren's song and wise echo.
    I wish you success to find the path of resilience.

  8. I just want to say thanks to everyone for all the positive words and thoughts. I debated a bit about writing this, and then once written, whether to publish it. Capturing my feelings in words was absolutely therapeutic. The encouragement I've received both publicly and privately has been amazing and beyond helpful. Thank you all!

  9. Thank you so much for deciding to write and post this on your blog. I add my voice to those of the other commenters that this was a beautiful, tremendously helpful post.

  10. Congratulations on getting back out! I missed the first Strava update (this thing called work sometimes gets in the way) but was delighted to see the second. I admire your candor and hope that things continue to move forward, at whatever pace seems best.

  11. Yay! Yay! Yay! You rode your bike! This is great! You're going to be ok! :D

  12. Brought a smile to my face. Great to hear. Here's to many more steps.

  13. Oh dear RR, I didn't know about any of this until now! I send you warmest wishes for continuing full recovery and a happy healthy year.
    Love to you and the Rothar-in-Law from "Mom"
    PS I have signed up to do a century in early August followed in the same week by 188 miles in 2 days. Training starts any day now. If I can do it this, it will be a new lifetime personal best--at age 61! Your tenacious fortitude is my example!

    1. Hey "Mom", my words may come back to haunt you... any day now... when you start doing double centuries...

      Best of luck with the summer plans. So happy to see you back riding so much. We are planning to get out to PNW this year, so hopefully we can get together for a ride!

    2. My guest room is yours to command! Let me know! Here's what I hope [I mean: PLAN!] to be doing mid-August:

      http://obliteride.org/ my first century since 1993

      http://www.cascade.org/rsvp1 -- back-to-back century-plus and 4/5-of-a-century, for a new PB. These initials may stand for Personal Best but they also stand for YOU! Wishing you more joy of riding and gentle wind in your face!

  14. Hi Pamela,

    Have read your posts for many years on T&H. So happy to know that you're making good progress. Monica &I both sustained spinal fractures as a result of a tandem accident (some 20 years ago now). Monica's like yours was a T11 burst fracture without any retropulsed fragments or any residual paralysis. I'm a spine trauma Orthotist by training so I know the rehabilitation routine quite well. Your fears will abate with accumulating miles. Your strength will return, however, rebuild it slowly and really focus on core strengthening, because you'll need it to help compensate for the long term loss of spine segment mobility. We wish you well but caution you about setting goals that are not safe or advisable. My advice would be to put off any death march events this season. You have had enough set backs without purposefully setting goals that appear to a bit rigorous for 2014.

  15. This is good news, Pamela. I wish you more tailwinds on that long road to recovery.

  16. Very pleased to hear that you are still hanging in there Pamela. You WILL prevail! Your posting to T&H since 1998 were instrumental in introducing me and my wife to tandeming. You are one tough cookie!

    I would tend to agree with Mr. Mink regarding your return to the grueling mega events, but I know you are a far better judge than I.

    All the best toward your continued recovery. Nothing like a little breeze in the face :)

  17. Yippee! Your post made me tear up, grin, and want to holler! Kudos, and thanks.

  18. I don't think you have missed much by not riding outdoors over the past couple of weeks unless you enjoy things like having your tears freeze or the taiste of a very salty road. Just trying to make you feel a little better, thats all.

  19. Thank you for this beautiful post. I remember the joy and terror of that first true recovery ride, that first wind on my face post-crash. I wanted to write about it and couldn't. I am so glad you did.

    Take baby steps, and may you "Celebrate Recovery"* with every step.

    * Words on a banner I saw on my 2nd or third recovering ride. The Christian message didn't resonate for me, but the words did.

  20. Long time follower (and admirer), Pam. I'm so happy to have seen your recent rides on Strava. I've struggled with words to express encouragement, but I do want to comment on your comparison to "getting back on the horse" after a fall. I've ridden horses for 56 years, and I don't always find it best for people to immediately remount after a fall. Please don't be hard on yourself for needing time to recover physically and mentally. Hope to ride our tandem with you in 2014. (PedalPink on Strava, Jacqueline Campbell elsewhere).

  21. Pamela,

    I've done many long rides over the years. The details of most of them run together in my mind. But some stand out. One in particular is a ride I fondly refer to as the Dunkin' Donuts Ride. This particular ride was a century held one a cold February day in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

    My riding partner in Connecticut and I, not wanting lose all of our summer conditioning, had come up with the brilliant idea of doing at least one century a month through the winter. The only people we could find crazy enough to join us lived further north in New England. These hardy souls had already come south for the December or January ride so now it was our turn to head north for the monthly century.

    The morning of the ride came and the three ride participant looked out the window at the winter morning. All three of us decided that we should wait for the temperature get above 0F (-18C) before venturing out. At least the sun was out. It could have been snowing.

    An hour or so after sun up, the thermometer nudged above zero so we ventured out. My CT riding partner and I had brought out skinny tire road bikes, thinking we needed as much speed as we could muster to get this over with ASAP. Our northern companion had other plans. She rolled out on a knobby tired MTB decked out full rando style, fenders, panniers, lights, bells, etc, etc, etc.

    Off we went, only to stop at the first Dunkin' Donuts we found, maybe ten miles down the road, then the next one after that and the next one after that. I drank so much coffee and hot chocolate on that ride I looked forward eagerly to the next orange and pink DD sign if for nothing than the warm bathroom I knew I would find there.

    As the coffee breaks added up so did the miles. I think our northern companion was having some fitness issues due to her heavy bike. I'm glad I wasn't one that bike. I thought the ride was tough enough without tacking on 20 extra pounds on my bike, but our intrepid ride leader was a trooper and kept trucking along. Never far behind.

    Eventually the sun set and all three of us came rolling in to the finish not much later. The high for the day had never gotten above freezing, but we did it, our sub freezing century February century was in the bag.

    Pam, I don't know you as well as some of your loyal readers here do, but I do know that the grit and determination you showed on that cold February day, 20 some years ago, will serve you well in your recovery from your recent accident. I know you'll be back to what you love doing soon enough.

    Many happy headwinds and Tailwinds, Pamela!

    1. I do remember parts of that ride, mainly the waiting for the temperature to ride above 0F before we set off. Without riding companions, without the goal of doing a century a month, there is no way I would have set foot outside that day, and certainly not to do a century. Thanks for the reminder!