Two miles of hot, dusty gravel road. One mile, at least but it felt like much more, not riding my bike, but forcing it up the hill beside me. We weren’t even five miles into our ride and I was experiencing a new “first”. I was not having fun. My cyclometer wasnt recording my mileage. I was carrying the Camelbak water pack; something I hate doing because it adds another five or six pounds to the already large amount of weight that is my body on the bike. Sweat poured off my body like water in my morning shower. Dust coated everything; my body, my sunglasses, my contacts, my bike tires. I wondered, feebly, what kind of effect this dust was having on my chain, crankset, and derailleur. I knew this meant work cleaning my bike later; a necessary inconvenience, but one I wasn’t in the mood for. A quick glance at my sketchy cyclometer says it’s 105 degrees. It’s really about 95, but it feels every bit of 105 today. “Why am I here?” I wondered to myself. ” This is not fun.”
I told my son I needed to stop and rest. By this, I did not mean get off my bike and haul it up The Hill Of Death. I was already doing that. I really meant I had to stop. Completely. Sit down. Take my helmet off. Breathe. Clearly something was wrong. I never, ever have to stop. Not on a ride. Not like this. And never, ever this early in. I was tired. I was depleted. I was mostly very, very hot. I can ride in rain and cold, if I have the right gear. I can ride at night, usually without much gear at all. The one condition that stops me still on my bike is the heat. I’m not talking about just a warm day that seems bad until the air from riding your bike cools you. I’m talking about that still, heavy, oppressive heat that makes even breathing hard. Regardless of the temperature on the thermometer, when this kind of heat hits, I simply lose all power. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m at the age where, most of the time, I’m experiencing my own personal summer anyway. So, when the weatherman says it’s 95, I’m experiencing 115 degree temps. I simply melt when this happens.
We rested for about 15 minutes then we muddled on to another location, where there was a rock I could sit on in the shade. This location was a hundred feet from the start of the Payette Trail around Applegate Lake. We practically crawled to the start of the trail, me spewing misgivings the entire way when, usually, I am the one encouraging everyone else onward. We ventured forth, deciding to tackle the singletrack trail for a little while, then turn back.
Immediately, I knew I was in trouble. I was riding my brakes almost entirely on the descent which characterizes the first half mile or so of this trail. My bike didn’t feel stable under me, but I think that was due to the fact that this was very rocky single track and I have become accustomed to the solid asphalt of the road. I was already tired and in no mood to exert the required effort that manhandling a mountain bike on a downhill requires. Further, I wasn’t exactly excited about packing my bike up that hill, especially after the hill I already climbed. I let my bike roll for a few more yards, then I called out to my son, who’d disappeared from view. A few moments later, he appeared below me, his bike and his youth handling this trail with far more success than I. I told him I wanted to go back and he, surprisingly, agreed with me. We turned our bikes around, rode back up as far as we could, trudged the rest of the way to the top, then rolled down the dusty road that we’d just walked up.
Later, while lounging in the sun at the swimming hole that we discovered at Applegate Lake, we were reflecting on this experience. Last year, at about this time, we made this very same ride. Sure, we had to walk up that initial road, but I don’t remember feeling quite so spent at the top of it. I also don’t remember feeling nearly this apprehensive when tackling the downhill. We have done this ride twice, with minimal mishaps. Last year at the end of the ride, I missed on a switchback, landed on my back wheel and tacoed the thing. This cost me two days of ride time while my bike was in the shop. Not something I was especially thrilled about, but neither was it a traumatizing event that left me scared to ever attempt this ride again. We speculated about the heat, the fact that we’ve become used to riding the road, the fact that on a day like today, the swimming hole looked far more inviting than the trail. There are any number of reasons for today’s ride fail. All of these factors could have contributed to the dread I suddenly felt heading down that hill. I don’t know. I suspect, more than anything, I am not in the same mental and physical place I was last year, and something deep within me knows this. Somewhere inside, I sensed I wasn’t up for the challenge of this trail. I was too tired. I would likely make mistakes that even I, as a rookie mountain biker, would know not to do. I was afraid of the consequences of such mistakes. I’d spent enough time in surgery this year. I wasn’t about to sign up for another visit. Maybe I’m still experiencing a wee bit of radiation fatigue. Admittedly, this week is far better than last, and last week was better than the one before. I’m feeling like I do have more energy every day and I am accomplishing more, though not nearly what I hoped and planned to accomplish by this time in the summer. More than the physical drain, I just mentally didn’t have the strength and the determination to make that ride today and I knew it. Deep in my psyche somewhere, I knew I couldn’t handle it. I’m not sure what that’s about or why. It could be I just like the smooth flying sensation of the road as opposed to the adrenaline-driven jarring ride of the singletrack. Maybe I’m just getting old.
Whatever it is, I am okay with it.
My son and I spent the rest of our day enjoying the water. That was much more fun.
I love cycling. Cycling is easier than walking. Walking or jogging or running (should I actually get to that speed) is slow, tedious, laborious, and painful. Cycling is easy. I just get on the bike and keep the pedals turning. Steady, continuous, effortless, fast. Well, until that roadie on the expensive Felt wearing the aerodynamic helmet and fancy kit zips by.
There’s not a day of the year that I don’t look forward to getting on my bike and taking her out for a spin. I don’t care where. I don’t really even care about the weather, as long as I have the right gear and as long as it isn’t icy. I might stay in if there is pouring rain…and standing water. Water does make the stripes on the road awfully slick. I’ve ridden in the mud, pouring rain, over fallen trees, on single track in the middle of December. While I’m not exactly a beast when it comes to singletrack or downhill, I’m certainly not anything close to a fair weather cyclist. My mantra, and the mantra of The SO (Significant Other) and My Son is, “Even a bad day on the bike is a pretty good day.”
But lately, I’m ill, and I know I’m ill because I just don’t wanna.
I just don’t wanna ride.
Actually, that isn’t entirely true. I do want to ride. I just don’t want to do what it takes to get in the saddle and I’m not up for anything more than collapsing after I roll up into the driveway at the end of the ride.
While I’m on bike, though, I’m golden.
All those 50-year-old aches and pains disappear. Any drama or stress I’m dealing with dissipates, because, seriously, I can ride 40+ miles in a day and want to go for more. Problems? Issues? Really? There aren’t many people my age, doing what I’m doing and even fewer women. Let’s talk about strength, endurance and ability to mentally persevere. Yeah, you go try to take that two mile hill without coming off your bike, Mr. Financial Pressure and see how you do. You go and try to keep pedaling at that rate Ms. Whatever Might Come Your Way. I can take you you on.
That’s the thing about cycling…at least…for me.
When I ride, it’s better than any drug, not that I was ever a druggie type. (Just watch your baby-sitter get wheeled out of your home on a stretcher because of an overdose and you’ll never be tempted to even experiment with any kind of narcotic. Trust me. And, no, I’m not making that last bit up. It was terrifying, and the best drug awareness education I could have received.) But I digress…
When I’m on two wheels, wind blowing past my face, feet clipped in, sun on my shoulders… I’ve become one with the bike. I am truly invincible.
On all counts, I’m stronger than most anything life dishes out, on and off the bike, specifically because of my efforts on the bike.
Exercise, according to my surgeon and my oncologist, will cut my risk of recurring cancer in half.
Even if that weren’t documented by research, I’d love cycling because of how strong I feel when I’m riding and how I can note my progress with each mile, each hill, each ride.
So, what’s up with the “I don’t wanna” mentality?
I’m guessing this is just a side effect of the radiation treatments. They warned me. They told me I would experience fatigue for a while after the treatments were done. I’m hoping that’s all it is. I mean, it isn’t that I don’t want to ride, but I just don’t seem to have the energy it takes to do all the prep and the after work. Thank God I have people in my life that do that for me or I’d never ride these days. I’d just sleep. (Which, I hear, is probably not a bad thing either.)
But, I’m still a little worried.
What if this fatigued feeling doesn’t go away? What if this is the new normal? What if? What then?
I think I would start by crying.
I can’t even think of it.
I muster up the energy for another ride.
After all, once I’m on the bike, I’m golden.
And when I’m on bike…really…nothing else matters…I’m still strong and healthy and that is everything.
Sometimes the decisions you make alter the direction of your life forever. We make decisions every day. Most of the time we do this without thinking and these decision don’t dramatically affect the course of our lives. At other times, the decisions are huge and they change everything: whether or not to marry, to stay in a marriage or relationship, to take or refuse a job, to move from one location to another. When we are younger, especially if we happen to be making decent money and we don’t have children, reversing the impact of any decision is much easier. As we age, we may gain seniority in jobs, making it more difficult to relocate because doing so means taking a significant pay cut and/or losing some job security. When children become part of the family, their security, well-being, and safety, among other things, must be considered.
I’ve always wanted to live in a city. Not just the suburbs, but right in the city where you walked to the corner grocery, picked up the Met from down the corner, and really had no need for a car except when you were leaving town. I made some decisions early in life which, I think, may make my dream of ever living in a city an impossibility. At least, it may be impossible until I’m too old to be able to negotiate a move and adjusting to a new lifestyle. Now that I have children and a decent job with a level of stability, the likelihood that I will ever relocate, to a city or anywhere, is next to none. In these circumstances, it is easy for the adventurous spirit to feel a bit stuck.
Sometimes, even when we make decisions that take us away from our dreams, we still make pretty good decisions though we might not realize this at the time. Sometimes, our dreams and goals change or we add other dreams and goals into the mix. We then realize how our earlier decisions, which seem to be taking us away from what we wanted actually brought us closer to where we really wanted to be anyway.
The cost of living in a city, almost any city these days, is much higher than living where I currently live. Moving would mean a job change, loss of income and job stability, all factors I’m not thrilled about encountering. Health care services available in my area are outstanding and, for the most part, it is exceptionally convenient to get around almost anywhere by bike which is something I’m committed to doing as much as possible for as long as I possibly can. It’s a far greener and less expensive mode of travel. Quite frankly, I’m also a bit unhappy with the costs of vehicles and gas. Riding my bike is my way of protesting all of this excess damage to our environment. Plus, each mile I ride makes me stronger. I’m getting in shape. I’m training for old age which isn’t for cowards. The bike helps me get around, and combines my workout with my travel and entertainment, thus saving me time. I could definitely still ride in a city and I’m no stranger to that. The convenience of cycling here, though I don’t live in a city per se, makes me feel just a little less stuck in life.
Way back in the day, I did live in a city and I did live near a city. This city experience was short-lived and I’ve never gotten the city bug out of my system. Choices I made took me away from that life. Results of those choices keep me away now. Sometimes it makes me sad to think that as I age the likelihood that I may never realize my dream of being immersed in city life. There are days, and quite a few of them, where I don’t feel the least bit despondent about this. Yesterday was one of those days.
Southern Oregon, in my opinion, has perfect weather all year round. Winters are mild and snow rarely ever falls on the valley floor so riding year round is not only possible for the fair weather rider it is enjoyable if you have the right gear. If you like snow, there’s entry to experience most years just about 40 minutes away.
It rains in the winter and spring, like most places in western Oregon, but just when we are all just about ready to be sick of the rain, the sun emerges and bathes us in golden 80-degree brilliance which is perfect cycling weather no matter what time of day.
Throughout the year, there are only a few “too hot” days and not that many “too cold” days. Most of the time it is Goldilocks weather around here: just right. For a noob cyclist healing up after radiation treatments, who is about to reach that fateful half century date on the calendar, and who is working on getting shape via bike there really is no better place to be. Sure, it’s not the big city, but I think I’m okay with that. The decisions I made back in the day which took me away from city life and the ones I’m making these days which keep me here are turning out just right.
We usually think of it as a bad thing; the end of a romance, a good book, a great concert, or fun vacation. Sometimes, even though they can be emotionally laden, endings can be positive. They can provide long awaited closure to the loose ends in life. They can be the end of stressful events, situations or unresolved dilemmas in life. Endings aren’t always a bad thing.
This has been a year of transitions or, more accurately, conclusions, for me. Endings. Finales. Mostly, life just goes on from one phase to the next, from one event, day or season to the next, without much fanfare. This year, I’ve noticed an unusual amount of endings to things that have been going on in my life, some of them for years. Things I’ve been working on cleaning up and moving off my plate are going away and, with them, the accompanying stress. I find it interesting that while 2012 has been an absolutely disappointing year, at least I can say that a great deal of the stressful chapters in my life are closing.
Since May of last year, I have been working on resolving the situation with my home which has become an overwhelming financial and physical burden for me. The tax break was nice, the hedge against inflation nice, the stress not so nice. Also, the fact that it gave me a negative net worth wasn’t exactly cheery either. I am pleased to note, that this chapter should be concluded by the end of July. That takes a huge amount of stress off my plate. I can’t say I’m disappointed. This signifies closure on one of the most unhappy and nightmarish periods of my life. For many reasons, I’m eager to say goodbye to this home and all it symbolizes.
My second oldest child is graduating from high school this year. We are in the midst of all the last minute preparations to close yet another chapter in our lives. For both of us it is an ending and a beginning of new things; new ways of being with each other as she adjusts to the demands and responsibilities of adulthood. While, she is not necessarily going far away to go to college, her role as a college student and theatre major will mean that she is, for the most part, not around. She will be making more of her own decisions and this reality ends my role in her life as it has been until now.
Another school year is winding down. This is always a bittersweet experience and this year it is even more so. It’s been a bumpy year. While it couldn’t be helped, I do wish it could have been different. I can’t change it now. 11 more days and this school year is a wrap.
For the last seven years, I’ve been driving around an older SUV. I believe the life of this vehicle is nearing an end. When I look at the cost of insurance for my 18-year-old who drives it now, combined with the cost of gas, I am certain that my days of driving any SUV around are nearly over. In fact, this brings me to recognize a fun new beginning in my life: that of transitioning from the car as my primary mode of transportation to the bicycle.
It took me almost the entire year to figure out a routine and how to make the 2.95 mile commute to work feasible, but for the last month, I’ve successfully commuted by bike to work, then to radiation treatments, then out for some riding time, then back home most days of the week. This has been wonderful for so many reasons. Obviously, the savings in gas costs is significant. It also means that I am able to get a 20+ mile ride done at least 5 days a week. I no longer have to worry about fitting a ride in after school or dinner or before it gets dark. I’m looking forward to the day when I can say goodbye to the old SUV for good, replace it with a more fuel efficient economy car then drive only when absolutely necessary. This chapter of car insurance hikes, exorbitant gas prices and spendy car repairs is one chapter I can’t turn the concluding page on fast enough.
The best news this week? Monday, I went in for my radiation treatment thinking I had 11 treatments left. I was informed that I have only five treatments left and, if I double up on one day, I will be finished with treatments on Friday. So now, at the time of this writing, I have only two treatments left. My short, little journey with cancer diagnosis and treatment is ending. I’m going to miss the techs, the bike commute across town, and the great routine I had worked out, but I can’t wait for my skin to heal, my energy to return and summer to finally and officially arrive.
Some goodbyes are just good.
This week reminded me of one of those That’s Good, That’s Bad” comedy skits from the variety show Hee Haw I used to watch as a child. The routine begins with one person asking the other how things are going. The person responds to the question with a statement about a disastrous event that just happened. The first person reacts with horror, “Oh no! That’s bad!” The other person then replies with “No, that’s good because…..”, and he states something good that came about because the bad thing happened. Then this first person says, “Oh, well, that’s good,” to which the person then mentions something bad that happened as the result of the good thing happening. This elicits the response, “Oh that’s bad!” and so the skit goes to its humorous conclusion.
This was my life this week.
First up, I returned to work (that was good). But the ex also decided that instead of bringing our daughter home according to our agreement, he was going to keep her. Without planning ahead and indefinitely. (For the record, his reasoning for doing this was not so off the wall, but the manner in which he did it was what created the stress. Stress is not what I need as I’m recovering from surgery and returning to work.) That was bad. This did, however, give the Significant Other, and I some time together without the kids around. That was a little unexpected treat. I was able to get the family paperwork and finances done, also good. But because of the Ex’s bully tactics, I decided to seek out the advice of my attorney. That event gets mixed reviews. I love talking with her, because beyond being a fascinating person, she is so very reasonable, and has a great deal of life wisdom. The downside: it cost money at a time of the month where things begin to get tight for us. (Sure wish the SO could find decent paying work!)
On the way down to another appointment I had this week, something terribly wrong happens to my car. I barely get it parked, call the SO to come have a look-see and head up to my appointment. The SO gets the hood opened but has no idea what is wrong. Of all his fantastic qualities, vehicle mechanic is not on the list. Miraculously, a mechanic walks by, takes a look, and diagnoses a blown water pump. That’s really bad! Fortunately, my mechanic was able to come get the car and get it to his shop. He was able to have the vehicle repaired in less than 24-hours and $466 later, I have my car back. He was able to allow me to pay over two months, which definitely eases the strain that an unexpected mechanical problem can place on the budget.
In the midst of all this, after going back and forth with the ex about what exactly our divorce document means and him changing things at will, I had no confirmation from him that this self-appointed parenting time he’s taken the liberty of giving himself will ever end. I finally received confirmation and a pickup time and location is decided. 12 hours later, I receive texts from him wanting to bring the daughter back early. A full 24-hours early. It’s crazy-making but I’m certainly not complaining that I get to have my daughter back for which, it now turns out, will be all of Spring Break.
As all the rest of this is happening, I’m plugging along at my first week back after surgery, too exhausted to work out each evening. It’s also raining, so I can’t ride. In the midst of it all, the SO gets the word that his teaching credential was finally granted (a process that took almost an entire year) and the very next day, he receives a job offer at a wonderfully classy dining establishment (read tips and discounts on great food, ca-ching!). He can substitute and work this job so he will have work all year long. Very, very good news. He’s been out of work for a very long time.
Yesterday was the last day of work before Spring break, I packed the family up and headed north to pick up the oldest to bring her home. We planned a special night at Chuck E. Cheese. It is, after all, the closest thing to Disneyland in state and probably safer too, since I’m not sure my stomach can handle the rides like they used to.
For those who are not familiar with Chuck E. Cheese, let me explain briefly this bizarre dining experience. Chuck E. Cheese is an arcade place where parents spend a small fortune for a bunch of gold-type coins imprinted with a rodent’s smiling face. These tokens are then used to play the arcade games which, in turn, earn the kids tickets. These tickets can then be traded for prizes at the Cheesy Store. The pizza is just pretend. I believe it is really cardboard masquerading as pizza.
For my oldest kids (21, 18, and 16), Chuck E. Cheese was an opportunity to revisit some of their quickly fading childhood. My youngest was ecstatic. The SO was the most amusing. As serious as he sometimes comes off as being, it was surprising to see him enter into the fun. At one point, I heard the girls calling my name and I look over to see him on a mechanical horse race game. It was crazy hilarious to see this guy, nearly 50, on an arcade horse ride game. I do have a video, but out of respect, I won’t post it.
Chuck E. Cheese, however, was not such a good plan for me. Looking back, scheduling an evening at Chuck E’s after teaching 4th graders who’ve checked out for Spring Break (that’s not bad, but it isn’t easy) and driving 3 hours (usually not so bad, but my body was in pain) was probably taking on a bit much just two weeks after surgery. By the time we arrived at Chuck E’s, I was feeling pretty ragged. By 9:00, I was in pain and exhausted. And we still had a 3 hour ride home. My kids’ enthusiastic gratitude helped ease the pain, but by the time we got home my body was screaming in protest at the discomfort of the crowded Durango seating. I was exhausted. Probably not the smartest thing to run myself into the ground like that.
This morning, I planned to attend a ride with the local Velo Club. It would have been my first ride with a group larger than three. I’d been looking forward to it all week. As my head hit the pillow last night at nearly 1:00 a.m., I decided not to set my alarm and take my chances with waking up in time for the ride. Upon waking this morning, I felt energized…for about three minutes. I gave it my best shot. I actually got up, got in my gear, checked the weather, then checked email. Due to the “iffy” weather they cancelled the ride. Personally, under normal circumstances, I would have ridden in this kind of weather anyway, because I try to ride whenever I can except in pouring rain or when it is so cold there might be ice on the ground. Today, I took the excuse offered by the wimpy weather, the cancelled ride, and decided to try listening to my energy level by making today an easy, lazy day.
That was such a good decision, I might just try it again tomorrow.
I’m a great one for setting goals and New Year’s Resolutions are no exception. Back in the day, I’d write them down making sure they were measurable and achievable. Most of the time, back in the day, I was able to realize all these goals I so dutifully recorded. Things sure have changed. Oh, I still set goals, alright, but with each passing year, the goals seem more difficult to achieve. I’m lucky if I can set one priority a year and make it happen.
In 2010, I made it my goal to purchase my bike. I achieved that goal.
In 2011, it was my goal to put a thousand miles on my bike. I didn’t meet this goal until February of 2012, but I got close. That was good enough.
This year, my priority, is losing 50 pounds by my 50th birthday, which is in June. My mantra has been “50 Less By 50.”
Well, it was my priority, until, the first week of January.
Sometimes life has a way of circumventing the most noble objectives.
In brief, my life was clicking along just great. In December, I was called back to have further images taken after a routine mammogram revealed some areas of concern. On January 6, I found myself lying prone while I endured what I now know is a stereo-tactic needle biopsy. On Valentine’s Day, I was in the hospital for a wire-isolated lumpectomy, the results of which revealed ductile carcinoma in situ, or DCIS…cancer. At the time of writing, I’m awaiting an additional surgery which will likely be followed up with radiation.
No free boob job.
I’m not contagious.
My overriding emotion these days?
This is really messing with my 50 Less By 50 plan.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. My overriding emotion is gratitude. You see, cancer, in particular breast cancer, is not the death sentence it used to be. Even so, cancer, really is no laughing matter. I know this. I know people who’ve suffered and died from some form of cancer. I have immediate family members who have suffered through cancer. It is not a pretty nor is it humorous and were it not myself involved, I’d definitely refrain from the gallows humor. I’ll go off on how early detection is critical, and how women should absolutely make sure they keep up on their exams at a later time, but right now I’d just like to take a moment to be grateful.
Cancer caught me by surprise, and as any potentially life-threatening disease will do, it has forced me to re-prioritize my life. Yes, I still have my 50 Less By 50 Plan as a priority, but somehow it just isn’t the most important thing these days. In the last three months, I’ve learned a great deal about breast cancer and some of the approaches we now have available to treat and cure it. That I live in a day and age when I can benefit from so much research and the medical advancements made just in my lifetime, doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the many, many things I am grateful for.
As I take the next step in this interesting journey through 2012, each day I find myself revising my New Year’s Resolutions. 50 Less By 50 is still a priority, in fact, even more so since exercise and healthy eating reduce one’s risks. But, if I don’t quite make it by my birthday, or if I just need to allow myself some time to rest, I’m going to give myself permission to do it.
Two days after my surgery, I was on my bike. Of course, it was inside on a trainer. I made it two miles, in just under 10 minutes before I just couldn’t go any further. Two days before my surgery, I’d completed a ride that logged me almost 40 miles for the week. Yeah. This thing is really messing with my workout plans and my riding goals.
I just have to let that be alright for now.
I am going to make it.