Friday, October 31, 2014

Learning to run again

 After the third and hopefully final knee-flexing session with my doctor today, I was given the go-ahead to start running again, as well as encouragement to "ween" myself from dependency on a rigid brace while riding bikes. Lots of miles in the saddle and very few on foot have disrupted the balance, and I've noticed old overuse nags that I haven't felt in years — hints of patellar and Achilles tendonitis. I either have to reduce the cycling miles or slowly increase the foot miles. I'd planned on walking after the appointment, but after the encouraging assessment, decided to leave the trekking poles in the car and try a slow jog. Four miles on a flat gravel path at an average of 12 minutes per mile, and the knee felt surprisingly strong. I would probably be more excited about that, except for the rest of it felt discouragingly tough for a four-mile, 48-minute jog. It's going to be a long road back. It always is.

On Wednesday I rode in the Headlands with Leah. I'm actually feeling pretty strong on the bike right now — that came back fast. We enjoyed a mellow spin in the fading evening light, then went for Burmese food in the Richmond district. As we were enjoying our tea leaf salad, the streets outside erupted into mild chaos, with screaming, honking, loud bangs, even fireworks. Before this evening, I had no clue that the World Series was happening, or that the Giants were playing, but they apparently had just won and the usual mayhem and car fires were about to begin. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know about the World Series. I browse the New York Times site every morning, keep up with Bay Area media to an admittedly lesser extent, and have baseball fans as friends, and yet I missed this. It's evidence of how insular my world has become, and how I should probably pay more attention to what's going on locally besides extreme drought and eye-rolling political antics. I'm not against professional team sports; they simply aren't interesting to me, and it's gotten to the point of inattention where I've lost track of even major events like the Superbowl. But it is good to know when the streets of San Francisco might erupt into riots, just in case I'm out for a Headlands bike ride that evening. At least the trails were nice and empty.

In other news, my blog turns nine years old this week. Can you believe it? Nine! A cursory glance at the Blogger overview reveals that amounts to 1,796 posts, 21,874 comments, and 4,141,958 visits lo these many years. This is a small (yet obese) blog with a limited scope, but it continues to be a fun, relaxing project, and I enjoy having the record of nine years' worth of adventures. I am nearing completion of my book project that has involved poring over every post from year one of this blog, and that's been an interesting rehash as well. Many times I find myself thinking, "Was I ever so young?" ... which is a little embarrassing considering I'm still writing about virtually the same subjects on the same platform. But I value all of the connections this blog created over the years, the new friends and new ideas. I appreciate those who continue to check in even during the typical life lulls, like now.

On that note, I've also returned to my Iditarod 2014 race report and am considering starting to post that next week (contingent on continuing to make good progress on my book project.) I held off for so long because ... life ... and also because I had this conceptual idea that I wanted to spend more time hashing out, but it's proving to be difficult. A straight narrative might be the best way to go for now, just to make sure I get it all down before the memories start to fade. I can return to my original idea in future Iditarod adventures, which I plan to continue this coming March. So look for that. In the meantime, buy Tim's book! ;)

I am trying to put together a ~300-mile bikepacking loop around the Santa Cruz mountains, and was hoping to scout some trails on the northern part of the Peninsula this weekend. Beat scrutinized my route and announced it contained a large amount of hike-a-bike and some possibly illegal trails. So perhaps it's back to square one. If any readers know of good routes in Half Moon Bay, Montara, and Pacifica, I'd appreciate some direction for good touring (emphasis on touring) trails. Apparently I routed my tour through 30-percent-grade segments with names like "Cave Hike-A-Bike," "911 DH," and "XXX DH."

Speaking of blog connections, I recently learned that a woman who I knew while I lived in Alaska has been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer that spread to her liver. She used to keep a blog called "Karen Travels" and lived in Anchorage for a few years. She is a single mother to a two-year-old son and she is younger than I am, facing an extremely difficult battle. She has been on my mind frequently this week, even before she sent me an e-mail asking if I wouldn't mind sharing her fundraising page. "I am hoping I have at least a few good years, I am not done adventuring, and I want to take him out on some adventures too!" she wrote. Karen hopefully will have more great adventures. Her fundraising page, "Karen Kicking Cancer," is at this link.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ridin' the range once more

As soon as I figured out that turning pedals no longer aggravates my knee during or after bike rides, this renewed sense of health opened the floodgate of suppressed cycling mania. Strava tells me I rode 172 miles with 22,150 feet of climbing this week. I realize that's not defensible given I'm trying to rehab an injury, not push its outer limits. But none of it seemed like much at the time. I did a little ride here, a routine ride there, and joined a friendly day trip on Sunday. Just like that, 18 hours on a bike. Where does the time go? 

 It's funny to contrast a big cycling week with my current walking efforts. Today I was carrying my trekking poles across the access bridge at Rancho when a man who was having professional photos taken with his wife and young son turned to me and said, "You going skiing?"

"Skiing?" I was confused.

"Yeah, skiing. What are those for?"

"Oh, these? These are walking sticks. For walking with a hurt knee. I use them so I don't lose my balance and fall."

"How far you walking?"

"Three miles. Maybe four."

"Damn!" he said. "Four miles on a hurt knee. You know there are mountain lions out there. Don't think you can outrun them."

"I know. I'm here a lot. I've never seen a mountain lion."

"Is that right? I like walking, getting started with walking. And you know what, someday I'm going to walk ten miles, and you will too!" He grinned and then the photographer waved to get his attention again. I didn't really have any idea what he was stream-of-consciousness rambling about, only that he seemed genuinely enthusiastic at this stranger's plan to walk four miles.

On my way up the hill, two runners who I recognized gave me a wave and a thumbs up. Another who I didn't recognize waved and said, "You do good for that knee." I felt like a fraud. I mean, occasional stumbles and tight sensations in my knee remind me that I need to pay attention to balance and ease my way very slowly back into running. So I continue to gimp along my usual running trails in an effort to work my way back to full mobility. This is the smart thing I'm doing. This was today.

This was yesterday —

 In the four years I've known him, Beat and I have only embarked on a select few long rides together (the long ride qualifier meaning six to eight hours, or more.) Back in Montana we'd make up hybrid bike-run adventures that sometimes involved him carrying my bike up a mountain. There was the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow in Utah, three times. Liehann and I dragged him along for at least one trip during our training block this past spring. These long ride opportunities are rare and cherished.

 Now that he has tough bike races on the agenda — not "just" the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow — he promises there will be a lot more saddle time in his future. He's even on the hunt for a useable saddle, which is not an simple acquisition for him. He's searching for something that's comfortable while not creating disconcerting numbness up front. Right now he's settled on a saddle that only achieves the latter. I consider it my superpower that I can sit on pretty much any saddle on not wear chamois and have no pain or chafing, at least for day-length rides. I am Iron Butt. But I can not sit on the saddle that Beat uses. It's a diabolical torture device. I flat-out refuse to use that saddle for any length of time, because there's no benefit in it for me. I really don't know how he puts up with it, but the saddle issue may partly explain why, up until now, he has mostly avoided long rides.

We planned an 80-mile loop of trails, fire roads, and some pavement connectors through Big Basin Redwoods and the surrounding drainages. Liehann was thrilled that we were finally embarking on a long ride again, and in celebration he went to Safeway and bought up half of their deli case. Among the items he pulled out of his backpack during our lunch stop were a massive brownie, a half-pound block of cheese, and a full 8-ounce container of chipolte mayonnaise. I'm so out of "long ride" mode that Beat and I didn't have anything in the house to bring on the ride. We had to make do with squished old Luna Bars that have been buried deep in backpacks for far too long, and Target brand fruit snacks. Liehann was sympathetic and shared one of his rolls and cheese. Beat also took advantage of his gallon-sized Ziploc bag full of sausages, exclaiming, "I can never eat like this when I'm running!" I can't really eat like that when I'm biking, either, so instead I ate an old package of separated almond butter that had the consistency and taste of wet cement.

 The afternoon drifted away as we plunged into the enchanted forest of Gazos Creek, skidded wildly on chunk gravel that was newly laid over a steep logging road, fought a fierce north wind along the grassy hills of the coast, and returned to climb into the mountains again. On this entire route there is only one reliable water stop, at mile 50. I nearly went into panic when we arrived at the campground to a sign that said "Closed Due to Drought." This past summer I was burned a couple of times by trailside pumps that I expected to produce water, but were dry. I thought this campground source was a sure thing, so the sign came as a special disappointment with 30 miles left to ride and an empty water bladder. Happily, we coaxed the spigot to give up a few liters before it began to gurgle and sputter. With water bladders full once more, we rolled into the moist, chilled air and thick shade of Portola Redwoods forest — the kind of place where you can almost pretend that the entire state of California isn't shriveling up from lack of precipitation.

 Liehann and I promised Beat that the mile-60 climb out of Pescadero, with its slippery dead leaves and 15-percent grades, would be especially fun. The hour-long climb did not disappoint. Beat lamented the state of his backside, but he didn't complain. I was buzzed on endorphins and having an immense amount of quiet fun — quiet because I had my own physical issues and no relatable reason to be enjoying this punishing climb as much as I was. But I was. Two months is not a long period of time, but it is long enough to renew appreciation for the wonderful freedom of simple motion.

 We continued on trail to the top of Black Mountain as the sun slipped beneath the Pacific-outlined horizon. Beat was incredulous that we'd were spending more than nine hours wrapping up this bike ride. He said it felt harder and more tiring than a mountainous 50K. Even though my own legs were aching with lactic acid surges and nagging aches in now-undertrained joints, I disagreed. Two months can be a long time to spend away from a bike, but it's not enough to interrupt intrinsic flow, the uncomplicated joy of moving and breathing.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Learning to walk (and fly) again

It's been a relatively productive week ... a couple of articles finished, newspapers out, interviews conducted, a few thousand words added to the book project, a second week of tedious indoor strength-training and knee rehab exercises completed (next week starts balance. Eek.) And I started walking again. This feels like a big step in recovery. While I did go for a few walks in Utah two weeks ago, these walks are now goal-oriented and pain-free, with fewer tentative steps and unproductive knee-locking. They aren't the most exciting workouts. My id just wants to run, and knows it would be so easy to start. I'm just so close, with my shoes and my trekking poles on a real trail. It takes a big lasso from the super-ego to reel it in. I Strava'd my walks just for #proof (that I may need to show Beat) that I didn't cheat and jog a little, and then named my Strava activities after lyrics from the Foo Fighters' "Walk:"

Learning to walk again
I believe I've waited long enough
Where do I begin?

After all of the walking and push-ups and shoulder presses, I thought I deserved a treat for the week, so on Wednesday I decided to embark on my first mountain bike ride in two months. I was so excited. Not only would I finally put some wheels (well, non-skinny wheels) to dirt, but they'd be brand new wheels.

Last month, Beat purchased a new mountain bike, a Lenz Behemoth with an XO group, 1x11 drivetrain. It's a sweet bike. I admit to not being terribly supportive of him making this purcase. Beat has this thing with bikes. Some people might call it "light hoarding." Even though he is a runner, he strongly adheres to the n+1 formula of bike ownership. "It's more fun to buy bikes than it is to ride them," he tells me. I used to enthusiastically support this, but then bikes began to take over our small apartment, and the living room turned into a bike shop, and there was drivetrain grease smeared on the refrigerator. So I unloaded some of my bikes. Now I own two bikes, and Beat owns nine or fourteen. I continue to complain about overcrowding, and then quietly reap all the benefits by riding Beat's bikes on a regular basis, arguably more than he does.

And to be entirely honest, I was thrilled about my chance to finally take the Lenz out for a test drive. It was late afternoon, around 4 p.m., by the time I set out, and my sluggish legs balked at having to propel such a heavy beast after a month of pure rest and a couple of weeks on the uber-light Specialized S-Works Roubaix (which also belongs to Beat.) By the time I neared the top of Black Mountain, every part of my body was annoyed at all of this hard effort business, and I nearly turned around early, but then thought, "Nope, gotta test out the Lenz."

Black Mountain is a place I visit frequently, and yet it retains a unique presence — this kind of quiet tranquility, with the golden sunlight reflecting on the Pacific Ocean and coastal fog pouring over the lower ridges to the west. A Zen place. I never grow tired of it.

Boosted by Black Mountain love, I jumped back on the Lenz and proceeded to float down Stevens Creek Canyon in the fading evening light. It's a beautiful feeling to recapture after many weeks away— flowing down a familiar trail, leaning into curves, lightly launching off water bars, squinting out the rocks against the harsh glare of the setting sun. I cranked up the short, steep rises as best I could in the saddle, and coasted through a tunnel of trees, breathing chilled air and listening to the whir of tires and crackle of leaves. A truly beautiful experience.

When I came home and plugged my GPS data into Strava, I saw an interesting statistic — my fastest time ever for the "Stevens Canyon Super D" — an eight-mile dirt segment from the gate on Montebello Road to the gate on Stevens Canyon Road that is mostly descending on singletrack, but also includes about 1,000 feet of climbing. This fastest time included my Black Mountain lingering and selfie indulgence (I meant to take a better selfie that showed more of the bike, but couldn't find a good angle.) I enjoy using Strava — not for its comparisons to others, which I don't find all that inspiring or interesting — but for its years' worth of stored data of my own efforts that I can effortlessly compare to myself.

Back in August 2011 — August 11 to be precise — I crashed my mountain bike while descending Stevens Creek Canyon and sustained a large wound in my right elbow. Without trying to be too graphic, what happened is a thin rock stabbed into my elbow and spooned out a sizeable chunk of flesh, which was promptly replaced with a small handful of bacteria-ridden dirt and pebbles. This crash was a large, negative turning point in my mountain bike hobby — not because it was a major injury, which it wasn't, but because it was so intensely painful, for days and even weeks later, that it left a permanent gouge on my memory, and in turn my confidence. My mountain biking has been notably worse ever since. And Strava is there to prove it — eight of my "top ten" times in this segment of trail that I've ridden many dozens of times happened before August 11, 2011.

Until Wednesday:

And really, it's Beat's Lenz that should get all the credit. That bike floats like a hovercraft, over everything. It's truly amazing.

But in necessary confidence-rebuilding of this learning-to-walk-again stage, it helps to believe that maybe I'm finally recovering from the psychological trauma imparted by the elbow-mangling incident that long preceded my current injury.

A couple of other notes:

• Beat and I signed up for the Backyard Fat Pursuit, Jay Petervary's 200-kilometer snow bike race in Island Park, Idaho, in January. This event was not on my radar, but when I was feeling bummed out about not being chosen in the White Mountains 100 lottery, a couple of different friends urged me to consider it. These friends are planning to be there, and since Beat and I are missing out on Frog Hollow this year, it seemed reasonable to move our annual endurance bike party north. It will also be a fine opportunity to test out some gear for bike touring in Alaska in March. Have you ever considered riding a fat bike for 120 miles in the Rocky Mountains in the winter? You should come!

• I created a books page for my blog, with full descriptions of my books, links where they're for sale online, and links to reviews. If you're a reader of this blog, I urge you to check it out. Every book sale helps, and goes a long way in supporting this blog and — hopefully quite soon — more books. Link here.

• While I was Google mining links for the books page, I came across a book review for "Ghost Trails" that I appreciated from a blog called the Dusty Musette. It's not overly praising, but it's a review that made me think, "Wow, he gets it" — and it's always gratifying as a writer to realize a mutual connection with a reader, even for a book that I wrote six years ago.

• Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Pedaling through the flaws

 On Saturday Beat ran the Coyote Ridge 50K, one of our go-to autumn trail races. I'm still at least a couple of weeks away from tip-toeing back into running, but I do feel comfortable riding a road bike for six hours, so I headed up to the Headlands to tour along the coast for the duration of the race. I was both looking forward to my first long ride in two months, and dreading it. I keep hopping on my bike expecting to feel like I felt back in May, when miles and elevation gain came easy and I didn't return from rides with a foggy brain and stiff legs. I suppose a month-long break from most activity is ultimately a positive thing, but there's just no lying to myself about this rapid decline in endurance.

 I brought the road bike specifically to avoid dirt routes, which in the Headlands are usually steep, impossible to climb without standing out of the saddle, and swept with loose gravel that can prompt jerky joint movements if not crashes. But soon after I left Muir Beach, I succumbed to temptation and veered onto Old Railroad Grade, a relatively mellow fire road up Mount Tam. The skinny tires and shiny carbon frame (because I just washed it) prompted a couple of comments from mountain bikers, both positive. Bolstered by this perceived road biking badassery, I turned onto Old Stage Road, which is rugged doubletrack with much more descending than I predicted.

 Clearly a terrible idea; the bike jolted and bucked over chunky rocks and skidded on gravel. Just to minimize risk, I considered hiking it out — but I'm still at a point in recovery that I trust my road-bike-handling skills just a little bit more than my ability to take steps without buckling my knee. Walking is the issue; I am still struggling with wobbliness. To Beat, I characterized the feeling as a rubber band that held two parts of my knee together, but then it was overstretched and won't snap back into place. Beat said that didn't sound quite right, but that's about the best way I can describe the sensation. There's definitely still support there; it's just not as tight as it used to be. So I can turn pedals all day, but weight-bearing movements feel unstable. I'm beginning to question how much of this sensation is injury, how much of this is diminished conditioning, and how much is stricken confidence that continues to feed distrust in my own motor skills. Either way, I think the answer right now is to embark on fewer fun bike rides and more boring walks with my trekking poles, until I gain some of that confidence back.

 I connected up with some fantastic paved roads — Ridgecrest Boulevard, Highway 1, and Bear Valley Road alongside Point Reyes National Seashore. I ate a banana and peach iced tea at the little shop in Inverness before turning around. Throughout the slowish ride, my legs ached and my thoughts cycled between subjects that have been heavy on my mind this week: the current state of journalism, which seems to be chasing ever-diminishing profits further into a pit of pandering and fear-mongering; and, mostly unrelated, this book project I've been working on. A couple of weeks ago I resolved that I was going to cast my reservations aside and finally finish a memoir I started back in 2011, about the 11 months I lived in Homer, Alaska. The reservations mostly fluctuate around the usual — "no one is going to read this" and "people might actually read this" — feelings that strike most people who attempt to write memoirs. But for what it's worth (and admittedly it's probably not much) I very much enjoy working in this medium. Especially when dealing with events that happened nine years ago — what remains in memory is (at least I tell myself) what matters, and it's interesting to return to my own stories as a different person, with a more objective lens. Maybe someday I will attempt to write young adult fiction, which everyone knows is where the money is in publishing. But I'd rather be among those who help formulate new ways to monetize investigative and long-form journalism — after advertisers realize that print ads only draw a fraction of the eyes they did even five years ago, and despite the reality that Web advertising is so specifically targeted that ten-second kitten videos will always draw more dollars than a well-researched piece in the New York Times, and despite the fact Web content is so ADHD that even we navel-gazing bloggers don't bother too much with "writing;" we just skim our own stuff like everyone else.

Oh, there I went off on a long, unrelated tangent again. And suddenly my bike ride is done! How about that? I was rather zoned out there for a while. I pulled back into Muir Beach and waited for Beat and Steve at the finish, watching runners coast in and feeling nostalgic for the days (they seem so long ago now) when I could run. I many ways I still don't think of myself as a runner — more of a "cyclist and hiker who runs." But I miss it fiercely. Cycling is wonderful and it will always be my "thing," but there's something special about the sensation of running along the smooth corridor the Coastal Trail while waves crash on the cliffs over Pirate's Cove. It's pure freedom. It's time to start the slow process of finding my way back.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The time it takes to heal

Every injured active person probably fantasizes about a magical moment of recovery, when they can release all of their pent-up energy into the activity they love, and have their body respond with pain-free, powerful bursts of unhindered motion. Funny how there's no way a clean line can exist between "injured" and "all fine, 100 percent, no fitness lost and no remnants of injury at all." And yet we still sit around anticipating the moment we can cross this imaginary line, and feel frustrated when instead we find ourselves mired in gray areas.

After examining my knee and warning me about some ongoing inflammation, my doctor gave me the official okay to ride my bike. Surprising no one, I took this permission slip a little far over the weekend, logging close to a hundred hilly miles over three days on the road bike, which I justified because:

a. My orthopedic knee brace allows me to all but immobilize the joint, making the side-to-side movements that aggravate the ligament almost impossible (at the expense of nearly every other part of my leg.)

b. I'd have to do something majorly wrong to crash my bike while pedaling slowly on pavement, and if I did — especially if that crash involved a vehicle — I'd have worse problems than a bum knee.

c. Biking makes me happy. Happy!!!

d. Dr. Chiu said it was okay. (Okay, he actually didn't.)

e. Any sign of trouble, and I can call Beat and have him come pick me up. Eventually. When he returns from that awesome redwood forest trail run that I wasn't able to join, and probably won't for who knows how many more weeks or months because this knee that is okay at turning pedals still sucks at walking.

f. Hills are okay but flats are bad because I can't pedal a high cadence with my brace on, and put too much pressure on the joint when I try. So I better stick to hills.

g. I'm now nearly six weeks post-injury. That's the timeline for early returns to activity in most cases of ligament sprains/minor tears.

h. Happy!!!

The knee made it through the weekend without pain, but many muscles in each leg were significantly worse for the wear, with burning, throbbing, soreness, and other complaints that I haven't heard in a long time. On Sunday I joined Liehann and Trang, who were pedaling a tandem, as we coasted out of the mountains to the ocean and then turned around to climb back out. Temperatures were pushing close to 90 degrees in the sun, which feels especially brutal in mid-October, and declines in my fitness manifested quickly. Still, I was so thrilled just to be outside and riding my bike that I had to consciously hold back not to chase my friends on flat stretches of road, and fight the urge to relieve the searing acid pain in my legs by standing out of the saddle to chase them up hills (Right now I have to sit at all times, a riding style I'm not accustomed to, and one I've learned leads to an angry butt and quads.) I was slow, out of shape, in a decent amount of non-injury-related pain ... and I was so happy!!!

Today I had an appointment with an orthopedic massage therapist who both Beat and I like to visit when we need some realigning. He's very good. He said my whole leg was something of a mess, but worked out the tightness in my hips and demonstrated several physical therapy exercises I can do at home to strengthen the ligament-supporting tissues around my knee. This afternoon I pulled out my newly acquired yoga mat and did several sets of these exercises, along with some core work — the first day of a new strength-training regimen that I promised myself I'm going to stick with, this time.

Yes, this time I'm going to stick with tedious indoor exercises in the interest of building better balance and all-around strength. Actually, I'm quite excited about it. Of course, right now I still have that magical moment of recovery — the moment I can run again — as a still-unobtainable motivator on the horizon. That's really all I want — to move through the world, as often and for as long as I'm inclined, swift and graceful and free, without fall-induced injuries. Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Still Grand, even from a limited perspective

 My plan for Fall Grand Canyon 2014 was to drive around the big ditch with my mom, who serves as the support crewperson every year, and often doesn't have any company for this thankless task. I thought it was a great plan to spend some quality one-on-one time with my mom, and still catch some glimpses of this geographical marvel from the rim. Like my Lonely Highway Drive, these trips sounded like great choices until I strung them all together, and realized I was setting myself up for A LOT of car time in the span of six days. (2,773 miles. Google Maps says it's 45 hours worth!) All of this sitting in one position aggravated my knee substantially. I'd been working daily on my range of motion, and every time I stepped out of the car, it felt like I had been set back two weeks at least. I was able to get my flexibility back after short walks, mostly, but some soreness and stiffness persisted.

 My dad hiked across the canyon with his friends Raj and Chad. Raj is an Ironman triathlete and Chad has posted a bunch of fast marathons, and I'm working to coax them toward the dark side (trail running.) The fact I needed walking sticks and a brace to walk 300 feet to overlooks probably did not help my cause.

 After we drove from the North Rim to the South Rim — a 200-mile drive to bridge a 24-mile hike — I decided to meander down the Bright Angel trail to greet my dad and friends. In my memory this trail was buttery smooth with gentle inclines, but in my current physical state it morphed to something perplexingly rocky and steep. I clickity-clacked down very slowly, making a visual note of every foot placement, and went down the rockier steps sideways. My mother was adamant that this hike was a bad idea and I admit it was a risk — any fall or fast motion against the aggravated tendon has the potential to re-injure or worsen the tear. Since I'm still fighting that feeling of instability, I can't really trust the leg to hold its own weight, so even simple walking carries this risk. Beat will be shaking his head vigorously as he reads this ... "long-term thinking!" he'll scold. But, gah, this slow walking just felt so good. On the way back up I was able to keep up with my dad by stiffening the whole leg and effectively not using the joint — climbing peg-legged, at the expense of my calf muscle. There was more soreness afterward, and I admit to some regret, but ultimately I don't believe these motions aggravated the healing process. Really, there has to be a point where I start the path back to mobility. That is never an easy or straightforward divide to bridge.

Before I headed home, my dad and I walked for an hour on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. I was happy that my knee felt strong for that entire outing (by strong, I mean, "not feeling like it might buckle underneath me at any moment.") I do believe the healing is going well — I have no more swelling, only infrequent and low-level pain, and a full range of motion. But I do worry about that stability issue. If ligaments are torn, the instability can persist long after they're technically healed, because the ligament isn't tight enough to support the knee. I suspect my left MCL was compromised last year, and that old injury was possibly aggravated in this year's knee-shredding, which also involved enough soft-tissue damage to cause bruising. Now I likely have a compromised LCL as well, and while I can pedal a bike without issue (although not much in the way of strength), any and all weight-bearing activities still feel iffy. I plan to discuss this with my doctor at an appointment this week, although he is likely to scold me as well because he recommended I do nothing for four weeks.

I realize this is a boring blog post. I keep going back to posts from last summer to try to get a better grasp on the symptoms and recovery of what I believed to be an MCL injury, but there's nothing useful. So I'm posting now just to have some record of the recovery process, boring walks and all.

But it certainly was a beautiful fall weekend in Utah and Arizona. I'm glad I went. 
Monday, October 06, 2014

Taking the lonely way home

 Injured is a strange, somewhat hollow place to be. It's not a crisis and it's not even sad, really, but it does feel like losing a form of expression — like a painter who's been temporarily stripped of her palette of colors. I've become accustomed to expressing myself with movements through the world — I leave footprints on the trail, therefore I am alive. When I'm limited in my movements, there's a quieting in my voice. I become less of a participant and more of an observer.

After I hurt my knee, my parents assumed that I wouldn't join them for the annual trip to the Grand Canyon. I assured them that Fall Grand Canyon meant more to me than just another rim-to-rim hike — it's always been about spending time with my family, in a setting that feels more intimate and natural than the typical craziness of the holidays. So I set out for Salt Lake City on Wednesday, after rejecting reasonably priced plane tickets in favor of the long drive. Even in my own mind I couldn't quite make up justification for this, except to admit a rather ridiculous response to my injury. Like a painter holding a crude chunk of charcoal, I was curious to see what I could draw with my car.

 The goal was "no freeways" and I started sketching in Stockton, since the Bay Area is effectively a maze of freeways, and it's a little too ridiculous to try to find a way around this. The sun came up over the parched Central Valley, and I thought about an article I recently read about California communities where taps had gone dry, entire towns running out of water. On this morning there was an eerie stillness to the air that enhanced the apocalyptic progression of my daydreams. I started to feel uneasy about it all so I turned on NPR, where the news was, of course, about the tricky politics of water rights.

 Highway 88 provided a winding escape into the Sierras, where traffic dissipated almost entirely and a sudden chill pierced the air. I kept the window rolled down anyway, until my skin was pocked with goosebumps and my ears and cheeks were numb, smiling at the mountains.

 Before the 2009 Tour Divide I used to travel with a view mainly fixed forward, but now when I drive I find myself looking up, most of the time. This shift in perspective was dramatic enough that I noticed —suddenly my immediate space took on astonishing depth as the familiar foreground of storefronts and road signs faded against a dramatic background of forested slopes and jagged peaks. I'd nearly forgotten there was any point in my life when I didn't let my eyes drift upward and visualize running and climbing along the ridges that outline the sky.

 A screaming descent down the eastern slope of Sierras, followed by a short diversion through civilization via Carson City, brought me to U.S. 50 — the Loneliest Road in America.

 Ever since I traveled this way last autumn, I've wanted to ride a bike across Nevada via the Lonely Highway. With an average of only one town every hundred miles, desolate basins, a steady progression of steep passes, and not even trickles of streams from which to siphon drinking water ... it would be a difficult but beautiful tour.

 I spent an hour pondering all of the places I'd like to ride my bike when I'm strong enough to ride a bike again. Then I spent another, more anxious hour pondering how I'd cope if I couldn't ride a bike ever again. Life is, after all, unpredictable, and such abilities can be lost permanently and without warning. Even minor injuries coax contemplation on the root of passion — if passion could continue without one's chosen medium, or if it would just wither away, like cracked paint on a forgotten canvas.

 I think about buying a motorcycle and using that instead. I think I would love piloting a motorcycle, and I'd cover so much ground. But as my mind continues to wander, and I imagine crashing my motorcycle and not surviving, I don't even really care that I'm dead. I don't want to live in that world. It's not a happy thought and not even a complete one — of course I believe there's more to life than bicycling. There's more to it every day that I visit a friend or work on a book project or order the 2014 reissue of my favorite Modest Mouse album, "This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About." There's more to it right here, right now, amid the frozen-in-time quirkiness of Austin, Nevada. It's just that these are the kinds of thoughts that escape the filter when I'm driving the Lonely Highway.

 I listened to an NPR segment featuring an interview with Ann Druyan, who helped produce the gold record that was launched into space on Voyager in 1977. The record is the ultimate mix tape, a montage of Earth sounds, languages, music, and analog images, currently hurtling through space as a lonely but enduring record of life on this world. Druyan described the love story surrounding the creation of the record, how she became engaged to the executive director in the process, and they were married two days before she laid down to meditate and record the impulses of her brain and nervous system for eternal preservation on this record. Her husband died years ago, and it's going to be another forty thousand years before Voyager passes another planetary system. The odds that this tiny craft is ever found and decoded by some distant being in the far future are astronomical, beyond contemplation. Still, Druyan marveled at the notion that these sounds of her body in love will endure on this uranium-plated record for billions of years, long after the sun swallows Earth. As she described this, tears were rolling down my cheek, and I didn't even really know why I was crying, but it was a beautiful notion.

 Shadows grew long again. I stopped at the pullout of a dirt road to walk for a bit. I had to strap on a skin-blistering hinged brace and prop myself up with walking sticks — the joint still has that weird feeling of instability that makes me reluctant to put all of my weight on it without support. So I clickity-clacked along the flat surface and let my eyes gaze up at the distant ranges, scaling dusty slopes and sheer cliffs in my imagination.

 I crossed into Utah on U.S. Highway 6, which I remember well from a road trip when I was a junior in high school, and my friend Adam planned an intrepid Friday night adventure to the "West Desert." We swung around mountain range after mountain range until it seemed like we had reached the western edge of the world, and the sagebrush-dotted plain of the Great Basin stretched out like outer space in front of us. Rich took out a cigarette and blew hazy puffs into the air as four of us sat on the hood, watching the sun set, and my blood was coursing with so much wonder that I thought my heart might explode.

Even after thirteen and a half hours, with another day's light fading and the cold cup of coffee from Ely nearly drained, I wasn't quite ready for my trip to be over. My sister called shortly after I turned onto a small road hugging the western shoreline of Utah Lake. She told me she was coming over in a half hour, so I punched on the gas, grinning as I wheeled around the tight curves of another empty road. The lights of Provo sparkled across the indigo void of the lake, and civilization still seemed a long way away, but I knew I'd be there, soon. All things — injuries, long drives, uranium-plated gold records — must reach their conclusion, eventually.