Outside looking in
Reconciliation of desire and reality seems to be the key — of course there are limits, but our experiences are beautiful regardless. Over the years, I've observed this process in friends and acquaintances. There was always some hubris in believing it wouldn't happen to me, or if it did, I'd be fine because I was already secure in my belief that there's so much more to life than scaling mountains and riding bikes. But now I'm in a summer of discontent, losing fitness in spite of my best efforts, avoiding mountains because I've lost so much faith in my abilities, and imagining what life might actually look like on the other side.
It's interesting to consider the notion of "letting go," even if I haven't arrived there yet. People around me still insist "you'll get it back," and for the most part I still believe this, too. My recent bout with carpal tunnel syndrome provided its own perspective — I was rapidly losing function in my right hand, I was constantly in pain, and it felt like a permanent condition. If it wasn't for surgery, it likely would have been a permanent condition. Instead, it was a surprisingly simple fix, and two months later, my hand is almost back to a hundred percent — or, at least it would be if I was more diligent about strengthening exercises. Maybe in two months more time, I'll be breathing just fine, I'll spend long days outdoors while feeling great the whole time, fire will again rage where right now there are only fumes, and I'll wonder why I ever lost the faith.
For now, I still have good days and bad. The good days are starting to outweigh the bad. On Friday I embarked on an incredible bike ride — incredible only because it was the first ride since winter where I finally felt reasonably strong, didn't crash, didn't wheeze, didn't stop to take puffs from my inhaler, and propelled myself through forty miles of interesting scenery. I pedaled past beautiful rock formations on Magnolia, side-eyed strange characters in Nederland, stole glimpses of big mountains on the Peak-to-Peak Highway, breathed crisp air on the Switzerland Trail, and tucked into a screaming descent toward the plains on Sugarloaf Road. It was a satisfying ride, and reminded me that my identity isn't tied up in being an athlete. It's tied up in loving the outdoors. My vision of the "other side" doesn't contain imagery of working out in gyms and indoor activity. Instead, I imagine painting landscapes and going for walks — if necessary, finding less taxing ways to enjoy the outside world. Still, if I can engage my body in exhilarating activity while moving through the world, that would pretty much be having it all.
Near the summit, we arrived at a needle that required a four-foot jump onto a forty-five-degree slab. I couldn't bring myself to make the leap, so Beat and Chris offered their shoulders so I could lower myself down. In the process of putting all of my weight on a few curled fingers, my right hand cramped up badly and never recovered. There was one more pitch after the jump that was the steepest pitch of the climb, and I was reeling with muscle cramps in my hand and a beginner's unwillingness to trust friction to hold my feet. Chris offered a lot of support and I'm grateful for his guidance. This was a solid venture out of my comfort zone, and it was very satisfying to reach the top. Scrambling "The Freeway" and riding from home to the Switzerland Trail feel like big victories near the end of a rather disappointing summer.
Maybe I'll get it back, but even if I don't, life is still awesome.