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.
One of the things I love about Southern Oregon is the mild winter weather. On one of these delightful weekends, the weather was warm, reaching the low 60’s at times. I took advantage of this wonderful winter climate and managed to log 63 miles on the Fun Wheels. We normally spend our time on the greenway, but yesterday, I wanted to try something different. We headed for the open road. On a bit of a whim, we decided to see if we could ride all the way to Jacksonville and back.
The day dawned bright and clear, but soon clouded over. A quick check on The Weather Channel’s app told me that rain was likely beginning at 3:00. We decided to get in gear and get a move on before the rain prevented us from heading out. Our anxiety was wasted; we experienced mild weather and got in a great ride. We even stopped along the way for lunch.
On another such weekend ride, we headed in another direction over some hilly terrain to another nearby town. It was a windy day and there were moments when we wished we’d just stayed on the greenway because it is so much easier than the hilly stuff we experienced that day.
Most of the time, though, we stay on the greenway, mostly because we don’t really have to think much and our biggest decision is how far we can go in the time have. I’m sure this will change as time goes on and as we become stronger riders, but for now this works for us.
Lately, I’ve noticed that every ride is different, even if the route is the exact same as the day before. Some days the ride is mostly effortless and I can ride forever. Even as we end the ride I feel as though I could go another 10 miles. On other days it is an effort to keep a 9 mph pace (slow for us) and it seems to take forever to settle into the right cadence. On other days, I never can find the right gear, though this happening is less and less. This Every-Ride-Is-Different phenomenon is exactly why I love cycling instead of heading to the gym. I like the gym. Don’t get me wrong. Strength training is important and I definitely need to do more of it. A trip to the gym always makes me feel a little like the hamster on its exercise wheel. When I’m on my bike, even a bad ride, makes me feel carefree and strong. Rolling out on two wheels helps me clear my head like nothing else does. I’m hoping my health and fitness last so I can enjoy My Life In Gear for a long, long time to come.
As much fun as the surgical party was, the time spent convalescing wasn’t nearly as smooth this time around. More pain, more fatigue, less weather that cooperated with me getting out on the bike, and more of the daily stuff of life that can just get in the way of feeling 100 percent. That being said, I’m sporting a pretty wicked looking 4-inch scar. I can, at least, still proudly announce that I do have all my original body parts. I’m certainly glad that it wasn’t worse than it was.
Two days ago, the weather relented, and I ventured forth on my first ride after this last surgery. My significant other, my son and I logged 17.04 miles in an hour and 26 minutes. Not too bad for a first day out. The SO kept asking how I was doing and telling me not to push too hard. After my typical sucking air for the first 10 minutes, I was fine. After the first 30 minutes, I was fully warmed up and having a great time. The weather was perfect. Of course, there are some who would not consider overcast and sprinkling weather as perfect, but I was ecstatic to be on two wheels again, with the wind in my face. The ground was mostly dry, large puffy clouds scudded across the sky, every now and then we were hit by a few sprinkling drops of rain, but nothing significant. Fruit trees are beginning to blossom and trees are beginning to leaf out around here. It was beautiful. I was disappointed only by the fact that we started out late and due to time constraints had to head back much earlier than I wanted.
It was good we headed back when we did, though, because my body was screaming at me for going out that far and that hard after two weeks of complete inactivity. I was pretty grateful for a few of the remaining pain meds that night.
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.
Over the years, I’ve been involved in a couple of car accidents and several cycling accidents. From the time I wrecked a friend’s car in high school because I wasn’t wearing corrective lenses because it was before I was diagnosed with needing them, to the several fender benders I’ve had in my own vehicles over the years to the bicycle accidents I’ve lived to tell about, each accident has its own story; its own specifics. While the circumstances surrounding each crash differ, there are some similarities with each incident. I think there are some lessons I can learn about each of these crashes in my life.
How does one look back on a year such as mine? Three years ago, I ventured out into one of the scariest places I think I’ve ever been. Post divorce, 40-something, straddled with debt that wasn’t all mine, looking forward to fewer years to earn back the losses than I had behind me. While many would say I look good for my age, the fact that they had to add the phrase “for my age” said it all. I was divorced, single with more children than most, struggling to avoid bankruptcy, and wondering how I was going to pay the bills and put food on the table. I was frightened. I was destitute. I was humiliated and ashamed. I was alone. To make things better, I blew an engine on one car, and dropped the rear differential out of another. I had no credit, no cash, no clue what an engine or a rear differential was, and nowhere to turn. I was terrified. I wondered, often, how and if I was going to survive. But wait, there’s more