Back in the saddle
There were a few rides at the four-week mark, right before I went to Europe. Three rides, actually. One was a commute, and two were short road rides on my mountain bike, because the front suspension helped protect my tender arm from the jarring pain of mildly bumpy pavement. During the second ride up Montebello Road, I lagged far behind Beat. When I finally wheezed my way to the top, where he had been waiting for more than five minutes, I announced that I was in the worst physical shape I had been in since the extended angry knee episode of 2007. Nothing felt right, everything felt hard, my arm hurt even though it seemed nearly healed, and frustrations about my abilities were mounting. I was teetering dangerously close to a fitness funk that threatened to anchor me to the couch in sheer protest of my useless body.
Then we left for Europe. The trip — one and a half crazy weeks in the Alps and one lazy week in Germany — proved the perfect medicine, the reset button I so badly needed. We returned Sunday night. Jet lag had me up at 3 a.m. Monday. I attempted to snooze, mostly unsuccessfully, until 7, then got up to face the day. At 8 a.m. it felt to me like 5 p.m., which is the time of day I like to exercise in my regular California routine. I wasn't focusing well on my work anyway, so I decided to head out for my first real ride in nearly seven weeks.
I pumped up my road bike tires, rifled through piles of gear to find my buried helmet and repair stuff, and set out into the refreshingly cool afternoon (because actually, it was still early in the morning.) It took a while to get my legs spinning, but after five miles I started to feel pretty good. Not just good — fantastic. I turned up Highway 9 and shifted into high gear for the 2,500-foot ascent. My quads burned and sweat streamed down my face as I marveled at the relative ease of the effort. (Climb a few mountains in the Alps and you will understand what I mean.) I crested the big climb and launched into the roller coaster of Skyline Drive. Suddenly coasting at 35 miles per hour, the wind pried an enormous smile from my lips. Tears welled up in my eyes, mostly from the speed, but also a little from joy — such simple, effortless joy. I had nearly forgotten what that felt like.
I thought back to a conversation I once had with a former climber who had a chronic shoulder injury and could no longer climb. He could run, ride bikes, ski, swim ... but he couldn't climb. And yet, he still identified as a climber and admitted that while he enjoyed running and skiing, they never quite filled the void left by climbing. As a non-climber, I wanted to assure him that trail running had as much potential for fun, fitness and scenery as rock climbing. But of course I was wrong, just as I'm wrong when I urge injured runner friends to ride bikes as an adequate replacement for their usual activities. It's not. I do believe most active outdoor people find their perfect medium, and these mediums are deeply individual. Like an artist who can paint beautiful landscapes with oils but only flat imitations with watercolors, we all have our one best vehicle. Mine, of course, is a bicycle. I love trail running and hiking, I have a natural ability for distance swimming, and I'm certain I'd still live a happy life even if I could never ride a bicycle again.
But there would always be an emptiness, a hole that would never be completely filled. And after 46 days, during a clear and cool Monday morning in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I savored the satisfying sensation of long-awaited fullness.
25 Hours of Frog Hollow. The 25-hour mountain bike race in Hurricane, Utah (which Beat and I raced together as a team last year) is an event I've been coveting but was reluctant to enter for a number of reasons. However, as it turns out, it's only a few days before my sister's wedding in Salt Lake City, making travel logistics easier, and not so close to our Nepal adventure that I can't recover — as long as I ride conservatively, and don't crash. So now I have a month to train for a 25-hour solo mountain bike race after more than six weeks off the bike, and a rigid goal not to injure myself. Even if I take it easy (and that's my plan), I am going to be inclined to gut out the full 25 hours and it's probably going to hurt. A lot. And yet, I'm so excited. I get to ride my bike. A lot! The binge after the fast.