Getting to this point in cycling has been an awesome ride, pun intended. Cycling has saved me. It has brought back some passion and joy to a little room of my life. I’m living in a house of my grief, it’s with me all the time, but when I’m on my bike, my grief is less harsh. Cycling is the only thing that doesn’t push back, it’s my agreeable companion. My bike says “hey, where are we off to today?” And if I miss the turn on my scribbled map notes, bike says “that’s okay, we can go this way instead!” So nice. I do some deep thinking while riding and I write things in my mind. Sometimes I need to pull over to jot down in my phone a certain idea or phrase that I will get back to in-full later. I also have had tears flow down my face filling my eyewear, screamed and swore at all the incessant bumps in the road, and I’ve smiled with pure satisfaction of getting just the right gear for an upcoming climb. Cycling captures all of my emotions, and I’m out there with the wind hitting my face and whistling in my ears, all the while knowing that being “in the ride” is a gift of time to myself well spent that I desperately need to keep my sanity.
My riding days began over 25 years ago in Pennsylvania in the early 1990s, before I met Jon. I was into weight lifting, rollerblading, and running, but I was always looking for something else to do. I bought a mountain bike, and had a few friends to ride with and we also went to a races. I remember buying gloves because my hands were so sore, what an improvement! Everyone else I rode with was better than me, so typically I was the one who would fall or get stuck in the middle of the wet, but it was so much fun to challenge myself with getting up those hills! Bruised, dirty, sweaty: mountain biking gave me confidence and a rush unlike other activities.
After Jon and I were engaged in 1996 and living in Chicago, we rode together throughout the city streets, traveled to Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin and rode through many parts of Illinois. Our mountain biking together and with friends made us both so happy, he also had been riding for years. In 2000, I had a freak biking accident. We were riding deep single track, and not even going that hard, when my pedal got caught and I couldn’t get my foot out of the toe cage. I collapsed forward into my bike handle bars and fell to my left, still stuck in my pedals. It was a slow motion-type fall, and I was able to get up, but for the rest of the afternoon, I had pain around my ribs when taking a breath. Another bruise I thought. Over the next few days, I couldn’t shake this pain, and I knew I needed to see a doctor when my whole hand went completely numb while I was at my desk at work.
I had a compression fracture in my spine to my T7 vertebra. My left shoulder was also involved with some muscle and nerve issues. I spent the next year in physical therapy. I worked as a graphic designer in the Loop, and after work I would walk across town toward the lake to have various treatments. No more mountain biking. My gym time was all about my shoulder and pain management. Not what you want after you’ve just entered your 30s, I was not ready to feel this old! I promised myself that someday I would get back to enjoying biking. Soon after Jon’s grad school ended in 2001, we were propelled into becoming parents to the first of our two children and of course the endless moving began in 2002. Biking became a pipe dream.
After Jon died last October 2016, my heart would beat through my chest even while standing still. I would wake in the night with hot tears pouring down my cheeks and my heart would be racing, every inch of me covered in sweat. My life was turned into mush, and the stress was crushing me from the inside out. In mid-November, I got back to the gym, wanting to control my crazy heart, needing to breathe hard about something other than crying. I started going every day without fail, but running and weights weren’t giving me the release that I craved. I was trying to think of something to add that would tire me out, and get the anxiety to go away or at least settle down. Ah, the miracle that is cardio-cycle! I took my first one-hour class and I was hooked. Two or three times a week, the cardio cycle class was giving me what I needed. Music playlists in class were a fun perk, I often heard Jon’s favorite tunes at just the right time. Bike magic. In late February, I couldn’t resist getting out my mountain bike. I had trouble with my air compressor working to fill my tires in the cold, so I took my son’s bike out for a spin instead. Shifting, seeing ahead, the wind, it all came back to me in a rush how much I loved biking.
After finally figuring out the air compressor, it was go time on my mountain bike in early March. I couldn’t see myself back on the trails, too squishy and I was not ready for those kind of maneuvers, so road cycling made better sense. I live in a mostly rural area in Michigan, so country roads are everywhere to explore, connected by little towns. My first recorded ride using the Strava app was a 22 miler! At the end of May, I realized that my mountain bike was not made for long distances, I needed the right tool for the job: a touring bike! It’s been so amazing. I bought a used bike, a 2015 Jamis Aurora steel frame in midnight blue with a Shimano Tiagra groupset. What I really like about it is the fact that it has some wear on it and it’s not fancy.
My goal now is to train on this touring bike. To what end I actually haven’t figured out yet. I am going through each detail of it to make my ride more comfortable, and I am especially wanting to improve my speed. I like planning out my routes, and I am fascinated with street names. I think in the short term, I hope to ride with others that are better cyclists than me, and keep up! When I detailed my bike, I added pedals with clip ins on one side and a regular pedal on the other. And no toe cages. I’m ready to get shoes with cleats and clip in! This whole notion of clipping in is me taking my cycling to the next level, fulfilling the promise to myself that I would get back to biking one day. I can’t wait to compare my speed on the app for a route I did a few short days ago! Buying and working out the details on these shoes has not been easy. Here is my little update of how it’s going:
Picking the shoes. I was against getting a traditional cyclist shoe because I did not want to look like I’m trying to be professional or something. I choose a shoe that basically looks like a hiking shoe, laces up, and is very light.
Trying the shoes with the clips. The cleats are the turn-out type, this is an important detail. Moved to the grass, I can’t get the release to happen. What I found with the hiking shoe style is that they are quite wide. They rub in to the crank, and my foot in the shoe has too much wiggle room. These shoes look happy, but I am not happy that they are not releasing. I had one fall in the grass, with a minor cut to my finger because I wasn’t wearing my gloves.
Back to the bike shop today. I decided that I love my original shoes, but these will be worn for the regular pedal side. The cleats have been removed and added to a new pair of shoes purchased that are much narrower and are more fitted all around. Replacement is not pretty, though. Damn, these things look like trendy bowling shoes, or maybe make me look like a nun who needs pronation correction. But hey, they seem to be working with the turning out! Practice is needed, but if I can make it work, Sunday afternoon should be ride time! ~Paula