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.