The smile admittedly faded some as I ground the pedals up a three-mile climb, with dust swirling in the hot wind and my underdeveloped quads straining under the workload. My right hand only recently became useful again, so my whole arm all the way to the shoulder is significantly weaker than the other. I've improved my grip with hand exercises, but that doesn't do much for biceps and triceps, which were burning by the time I reached the next descent.
My hand surgeon said I should be able to start riding again six weeks after surgery, and so July 18 was the date I'd been looking forward to since June. She told me to stick to flat pavement at first, but there's only a few miles of pavement close to home, and absolutely nothing is flat. Still, the gravel road climb went okay, and my grin returned on the second descent.
"I can probably ride a few miles out the trail."
The Homestead Trail is actually just an old doubletrack with a few eroded ruts, but for the most part it's smooth, evenly graded, and as non-technical as a "trail" can possibly be. I took that "yay bikes" selfie on the climb, and started downhill feeling rather pleased with the comeback ride. My wrist didn't hurt at all, there was no numbness, and I'd received the best confirmation that surgery worked. I was healed!
Old habits returned and I accelerated quickly on the descent, eyes wide and grin spreading when suddenly the bike flipped end-over-end. I still don't know why I crashed. There was nothing on the trail to hit. My best guess is that my brain hasn't adjusted to my arm strength imbalance, and I made some tweaky move with the steering that launched me over the handlebars. Or I'm just woefully out of practice. Whatever the reason, I was crumpled beneath my bicycle and struggling with my stupid bad arm to lift the damn thing off myself. Just like that, all of my joy flipped a complete 180 to crushing bewilderment.
This was one of those stories I wasn't going to tell anyone, because it was such a devastating emotional blow at the time. I had to tell Beat because my arm was torn up with new trail rash and there were several new bruises to add to the patchwork across my legs. But I didn't want to admit this to anyone else. I've had an inordinate number of running crashes in the past few months, and then there was the return of breathing difficulties, and now that I can finally ride a bike again, well, I can't even do that right. I pretty much suck at everything. Why do I suck at everything? I sat on the dirt for several minutes, crying and berating myself. I knew this was childish and unreasonable, but sometimes it's better to just let it all out, especially when there's no one else around to witness embarrassing meltdowns. Physical pain does help release the emotional stuff.
Now that it's five days later, I do feel better about it. I haven't gained much confidence, but I realize it's not going to come back instantaneously. Four months is a long time, especially since my last cycling experiences were in Alaska, and now that I think about it, my last dirt ride also ended in a crash (when the front rack came down on top of the wheel one week before the Iditarod.) I took the mountain bike out again on Wednesday and stuck more closely to pavement — specifically, the climb up Flagstaff Road. With 2,000 feet of climbing in 4.5 miles, Flagstaff closely resembles the profile of another road I used to ride regularly in California, Montebello. Flagstaff does differ in that it's more gradual at the bottom and becomes unconscionably steep for the most of the last 1.5 miles, but I figured it was a good place to compare performances. Well ... I don't really want to talk about that either. It was a little pathetic. There were some low-oxygen dizzy moments. Temperatures were in the low 90s and my face was oozing because I'm off antihistamines ahead of another skin allergy test next week. But I did it, and I didn't put a foot down. It's got to get better, right?
Anyway, since I was driving all the way to Colorado Springs but didn't have much extra time, I figured I should check out the iconic Manitou Incline. The incline is an old cable car track with the rail ties still in place, forming a staircase that gains 1,900 feet in 0.8 miles. I was not all that impressed with the steepness because in Boulder we have rocky trails that are just as steep (Fern Canyon), and most photos I've seen of the Incline were not that interesting. Still, when in Colorado Springs ... it seemed like one of those things I had to try once. I had to sit in Denver I-25 traffic and then pay ten dollars for parking in Manitou Springs, which made me grumpy. But all of that melted away once I started marching up the steps.
Let's see how I can embarrass myself this week. It can only get better, right?