Posts Tagged ‘bicycling’

We all see the slogans about overcoming adversity. We all see the inspirational quotes on Pinterest and Facebook and every other social media interface about perseverance, commitment, pushing the envelope, achieving your goals, etc.  And for the most part every person subscribes to the 144 character life changing moment for, well just a moment. Unfortunately those moments are short lived because “it becomes too hard.”

No kidding it’s hard. It’s easy in the beginning but after a fairly short period of time it becomes too hard to continue. We make excuses left and right–some are valid but most are just that, excuses. We say time and time again “Tomorrow. I will start tomorrow.” And some times we do and some times we don’t.

It is all easier said than done. Whether it is making a commitment to weight loss, better diet, consistent exercise, practicing your musical instrument, learning a new skill…the list goes on. It is easier said than done. The majority will start and then fail. A small minority will stick with it for a longer period of time. They will achieve a moderate amount of success but will then stop pushing to newer heights because it started to get too hard. Then there are those few–the ones who say / think: “I can and will do this.” And ultimately they are successful.

I am confident that I am a member of each category. It all depends upon the topic. Most recently however I find I am somewhere between the group of folks who achieve moderate success and then cease growth and those who keep pushing to new limits when it comes to my physical, let’s call them ‘challenges.’

It’s not a secret to anyone what life has been like for me since the fall of 2009. That was when I acknowledged to myself that the knee pain I was experiencing was not going to go away on its own.  Six years ago I faced up to it…but let’s face facts, the pain had begun a number of years prior to this moment of acknowledgement.  Without beating a dead horse, it is safe to say that the amount of arthritis in both knees, both hips, shoulders and yes, elbows, has reached a certain level of critical mass. (And while I have addressed my knees and hips you can forget about my shoulders for a while…sucking up that pain for as long as possible or I’ll be out of a job!)

But this post is not about all of that, it is about what happens AFTER you finish the prescribed amount of PT. It is about what happens AFTER you wake up on a rainy morning and struggle to get through the day. It is about what happens AFTER you drive from NY to DE and have to extract yourself from your car.

There is every reason in the world to take things slow, not to over do things, keep it all to a bare minimum…there is every reason to do those things because you hurt. But I can’t do that. I can’t sit back and watch the rest of my life drain away. I can’t mark time through the next 20, 30 or possibly 40 years. …and perhaps it is better for me to say “I won’t.”

I suppose there are those folks out there who see a woman, who is on the other side of the half century mark, logging miles on a road cycle and think “Mid-life crisis.” And perhaps they are right except for one part–this is NOT mid-life for me. What are they saying now–60’s are the new 40’s? Well then that puts me back in my 30’s! But all humor aside, for me, it is about a conscious choice.

Sure I hurt. If the sun comes up in the morning you can guarantee that one to four different joints in my body hurts. Am I being rebuilt? Yes. I joke about it of course–I call them “The Boys,” the team of men who I see for whatever ailment is the most current. I joke about them “patching me up” all the time. The truth is, they do…and only occasionally do I get Lecture 101: “back off at the gym” or “stay off the hills for a few weeks” or “cut back on the coffee and NSAIDS” or the best of the best: “You need to find a way to decompress.” I am quite sure I exasperate them all but, heck, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t make them earn every last penny insurance reluctantly coughs up to them.

But this is also not the point of this post.

I, like everyone else with OA, struggle with pain. But it is the choice one makes each and every day that defines me, NOT the pain. So I get up and I go to work. Either before or after work I put on bike clothes, strap that bike to the back of the car, drive out to the flats along the canal and LET HER RIP! …and then I come home, strap the bag of ice on my knee, lie on the floor and prop the leg up on the side of the couch (while a basset hound licks the salt off my face). And the next day or two days later I go out and do it all over again–each time pushing the sprint times a bit more and feeling the burn in every square inch of my body. Sometimes I beat a personal record on one of the courses, sometimes I don’t. But each and every time I feel ALIVE.

No, it is not a mid-life crisis. No, it is not insane either. It is about choosing to push the envelope a bit more every day and not giving into the things that could hold you back. It is about getting out there and living–pushing beyond your limits. Some will understand. Some will scoff. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks…except me.

ImageEveryone has a “thing” – a hobby, an interest, a diversion – a “thing” that they turn to for personal enjoyment, and a change of pace from the daily grind. More often than not this “thing” is not always understood by one’s friends or family.  It is tolerated, it is accepted with a shrug, it is viewed as “odd but he/she seems to enjoy it so, whatever.” For some people their “thing” is a way to pass time, a way to take a break from the stress of their work and/or family lives.  For some it is something much more, something that brings them to a different place in this world–something that brings balance and peace.  For me, this “thing” is my bike.

That’s right, my bike.  A rather simplistic piece of low tech machinery that requires one to work in order for it to work.  For years I’ve tried to find someTHING that provides me with an hour or two of “being” each day. When I was in high school and for a portion of college it was my bike. And then many life events occurred and the bike gathered dust.  I tried golf–I still play but it doesn’t have the same draw that my bike did.  I enjoy reading, hiking, and love to just sit on the beach but still–something is always missing.

When I was a kid I lived on my bike.  I built my first real road bike too. My parents didn’t understand but let me be–I like to think they were happy I found something I liked to do.  Even as my mother lay in a nursing home not long before her passing she was happy that she was only a mile from my home and one day said, “When it gets warmer you can ride your bike here.” On some level she still knew how much I loved to ride.

Riding was freeing for me. The wind in my face, the silence of a quiet country road, the sun breaking through the branches of trees and casting such colors against and through the leaves with so many degrees of shadows on the road beneath my tires–just me, machine and the wonder of the world around me.

The first few miles are always the toughest–just getting warmed up.  An easy spin in a high gear to warm the leg muscles; stretching of arms, back and neck as you get comfortable over the bars. In no time at all you are loose and spinning smoothly – you and the bike are one and you settle into a cadence that equals the beats of your heart.  Soon it’s time to rev it up.  You gear down and push/lift.  You work to use the whole 360 degrees of the crankset and your speed increases–you start to eat up the road! You gear down again and simultaneously gear up to the big chainring.  Cadence slows while speed increases.  It’s time to cruise while you crank!  You can feel your quads and hamstrings working–you can feel the tendons and smaller muscles around your knees and ankles working, you can feel all of it from the arches of your feet up and through your glutes.  Your hands and wrists must stay loose, so must your arms, shoulders and back.  You cannot tense up–you must “go with it.” Eventually your endorphins wake up and kick in–you breathe deeper, fuller than ever and exhale more completely, and all with ease.  You are not overexerting yourself–you’ve entered “the zone.”

There is something about “the zone” for me.  It is a place where nothing else matters.  It is a place where I feel more aware of everything. There is a sense of peace in “the zone.” “The zone” doesn’t last though. Soon the legs start to get heavy, as does one’s neck and shoulders. Eventually you’re a mile or so from the end of your ride and you need to cool down.  You put everything into a nice high gear, ease up on the speed and spin with ease and little resistance. You arrive at the end of your “journey” and unclip from your pedals. It is the taste of salt around your mouth that reminds you that you are alive. You feel good.

Three years ago I dusted off the old road bike.  It had been 30 years and one surgery on my right knee since I last road with any regularity. I had to find a bike specialist who could build me new wheels that would 1) fit my equipment and 2) be able to use with current tires.  You see, what I built 30 years ago was once considered “state of the art,” but was now considered “a classic.”  27″ sewup tires…a thing of the past!  …for the first time in my life I truly felt old.

The new wheels (literally) were ok, but not great. The bike road hard and heavy. The aerodynamics of it were “off,” so much so that going down a hill faster than 15 mph made the bike shimmy and waiver under me.  So much time and love went into building that machine…but I knew if I was ever going to find that sense of peace again it would have to be on something different.

I always wanted a Bianchi.  Not sure why but I remember that I always wanted one.  So research began and I found a small bike shop outside of D.C. that carried them.  Lowering my standards I bought one “off the shelf.” Adjustments were made, handlebar stem was changed, a full fitting was done, and I put down the plastic card and loaded her up INSIDE the car for the drive home. (One does not strap a $3k bike to a bike rack on the day you buy it when you have to drive home 2 hours from D.C. to Delaware on Route 95!)

Four rides and approximately 75 miles later on this new carbon framed wonder and my other knee goes. I actually felt the pull of the meniscus as it tore (or more specifically, shredded)…and my new partner got placed in the garage under a tarp for 8 months.  Finally cleared to ride again after surgery on my left knee…but 3 months later it is clear, the same knee was finally “done.” The bike went back in the garage under the tarp.  In many ways my spirit was broken: a waste of money; find something less physically taxing to do; sell it; that part of your life was over years ago and you just didn’t want to accept it.  This was where I was 13.5 months ago.

To be able to rediscover that place I loved so many years ago is a personal victory.  If someone told me I would be logging the amount of miles I am right now at this time last year I would never have believed them.  Most likely I would have just cried while I was trying to bend my knee to 90 degrees, all the while thinking “I can only hope so.”

It’s time for me to get out there…it won’t last forever…the right knee clearly is wanting “attention” again…but I know one thing for sure: even if there’s another set back, or two or three or whatever, somehow, someway I’ll always find my way back to that place where I find the most peace.

So when you see a status update showing distance traveled and time expended take a moment and think about what makes YOU happy. And then GO DO IT.