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!


  1. With the new strength pouring in I find it appropriate to invite you to next years Freedom Challenge !!!

    1. Thanks! We'll see how much FOMO sets in before it's too late. ;-)

  2. I've read your blog for YEARS and am so stoked you're doing JayP's race! That's my neck of the woods. If you need any help with logistics or lodging or anything please shoot me an email:

  3. Hahaha my husband subscribes to the n+1 theory too. I have two bikes. I don't even know how many he has. I just know there is a fat bike in my living room that doesn't appear to be leaving.

    1. I was just teasing Beat with this post. He does ride all of his bikes and he knows what he likes ... which is why he needs so many specific features. I secretly dream of a "one bike does all" kind of bike (which would basically be my Moots YBB with fat tires, which is a bike Beat also already owns.) Of course, I enjoy the variety as much as anyone else.

  4. Title of this post caught my eye.. Haha liked it.. Indeed a nice writing. I enjoyed your writing . Thanks for bringing smile on my face. God bless :)


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