Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Days at home

I was loping through tall grass on a fading forest road when it occurred to me what I miss most about cycling. I'd been pondering this since I walked past my mountain bike with its sad deflated tires that haven't been touched since January, yelled at my fingers while fumbling with the laces of my running shoes, and stepped outside into wind-blast of grass pollen and heat to go for a run that I felt strangely not enthused about, at all. I say strangely because nine days passed after my surgery before I felt stable and pain-free enough to venture back to trails, and I thought I'd be more excited about it.

I've been feeling down this week. It's not just about my hand, although I'd be lying if I didn't admit that pain and lack of instant-fix (which nobody expected) weren't a large percentage of my sour mood. There was also, of course, the latest batch of world news, mass shootings and this debacle of an election year. There was the onset of spring allergy season (my second of the year thanks to moving from California to Colorado.) There was some concerning news about Cady, the sweet cat who lived with me for 11 years and now resides with a friend in California. An acquaintance died. This woman and I were close in age and shared similar passions, so her candid writing about her battle with cancer over the past twenty months always struck a chord. Her illness had progressed to the point where the news might bring the platitude, "At least she's no longer suffering." But she remained grateful every day. She was never unrealistic, but she was also never resigned. She was grateful when she could hike; and when she could no longer do that, she was grateful when she could take her young son to the park; and when she could no longer do that, she was grateful when she could get out of bed; and when she could no longer do that, she was grateful she could still draw; and when she could no longer do that, she sent out a final goodbye. She was gone just over a week later.

So I was a bit sad and I was stuck at home, unable to drive to town with my bad hand, and canceling an interview and a meet-up with a friend because of this. I do love the place where I live, and enjoyed some beautiful sunsets and humorous interactions with birds, rabbits, and deer. I'd take my laptop outside, but the allergy fog would drive me indoors before too long. The heat ramped up to nearly ninety degrees. I ventured back into running slowly — 4, 5, 6 miles on the dirt road, extremely careful because tripping and falling would have been a disaster.

I did get a lot done with my Iditarod book project, which I'm happy about. The first draft is nearly finished. I just have one more chapter and a few details to add, and then it will be time to sort through it and determine whether it makes any sense. Thematically the storyline is quite similar to "Be Brave, Be Strong" — about failure, kindness, and overcoming self-doubt. I'm thinking about combining the story with a full-color photo book, because designing such a book would be a lot of fun — even if not so lucrative. After this I need to find less esoteric subjects to write about. Maybe. I'm not sure it's that important.

A follow-up with the surgeon brought a lecture about not using my hand enough. Although the nerve still has a long way to go toward healing, I can improve my strength and dexterity with hand exercises. Great. There will surely be more pain and mistakes down the road (I already broke the screen on my phone because I dropped it), but maybe someday soon I will stop screaming at my shoelaces.

The surgeon basically gave me the go-ahead to live my normal life, so I celebrated today by exploring a new trail near my house, Twin Sisters Peak (a small rocky outcropping in Boulder County, not to be confused with the popular summit in Rocky Mountain National Park.) The heat index was high but there was a nice breeze, and despite allergies I begin to feel more peppy after slogging out the first mile. By accident I veered off the main trail onto a disused forest road. After realizing this, I decided to keep following it all the same. Suddenly caught up in the prospect of new discoveries, I realized that this is what I miss most about riding my bike — exploration. There's a large scope beyond this small radius where I've run and hiked since moving to Boulder two months ago. Wheels give such an empowering sense of freedom, when it's possible to cover dozens of miles in a few hours. Sure, there's still tons of new space to explore on foot — including the mysteries of my own back yard. But I can't help but look out toward the snow-capped Continental Divide, and want to go there right now.

The old forest road largely petered out, but I did run into some no-trespassing signs, so I turned around. I hadn't planned to climb all the way to the peak, fearing a scramble, but upon return from my "adventure," I changed my mind. Tentatively placing my stiff, weak fingers around holds — but refusing to put any weight on them — I managed to gain the summit. Atop that rocky outcropping were incredible views of every space I've explored so far, and so many more I haven't. I may be down sometimes, but I'm still grateful. Every day.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. A lot of interesting granite knobs in that in-between country, remnants of an ancient mountain pediment.....

  3. Sorry for the loss of your friend, Jill.

    Let us know when that full-color book is out. That would be amazing. I'd bet there is a market for your story and photos.

  4. I was out there last week and managed to find some new trails to explore. No matter how hard the climb, the end result is always worth it. That looks like the same unbelievable sunset we experienced in RMNP last Thursday!

  5. We almost crossed paths. I was riding my bike on that abandoned forest road at almost exactly the same time as you were running on it! I bet we'll run into each other before too long. It is a tremendous view from those peaks!!!

  6. Hey Jill...while you are recovering, you ARE following the Tour Divide I assume? LOTS of entries this year...a FANTASTICLY HUGE field! Mike Hall is SMOKIN' the route thus far...over 1400 miles in a week! (He's shooting for 13 days, and so far he's ahead of last years 14 day pace). This is one race I LOVE to follow...(you turned me onto it WAY back when...loved it when you left phoned-in audio messages for us...too bad they don't do that anymore). After reading your book, I'm totally in AWE of ANYBODY who does this in ANY amount of days. But to be doing consistent 200 miles a day on a loaded bike? That is agony on a scale I can't they get back on their bike the next day is beyond me...mental GIANTS all!

  7. Jill, your photos are so beautiful, I'd love a photo book. I hope you can make it happen!

    Also, I was in South Africa this winter and stayed with a wonderful woman, friend of a friend whose partner is Tim James, who is as we speak, riding the Freedom Challenge RASA for the 5th time. Great guy, and they were so amazed that I knew about the Freedom Challenge! Having been to South Africa, I followed your story about that ride with even greater interest than usual - and I love all your stories!

    Wishing you a speedy recovery - Barbara from Pennsylvania


Feedback is always appreciated!