Solo Ride

I need to take my bike in to the shop for an adjustment to its gears. Maybe I will learn to do this by myself in the future, but for now, I’ll leave this job to the professionals. I’m just glad that when I’ve had these occasional chain slips while out on my rides, I know enough to put the chain back on to the chainring where it belongs. These bike gear problems have been on my mind. The next thing to figure out. Now that I will be clipped in to my pedals, a lock-up, or worse a sudden chain-slip, is something I dread. During my ride, the gears have got to work smoothly, and If I can’t resolve it quickly, or if I’m in a bad spot on a hill climb, I am at a higher risk to fall. I want to avoid falling as much as possible, don’t we all? 

On this last ride, I wore my regular shoes, the pretty blue ones, so I could concentrate on the gears, and figure out why my chain keeps locking up, and sometimes slipping off. I find that switching into third, actually “finding” third, is difficult and I have to pull up way too hard on my drop down lever. I hear the clicking of the gears struggling to make the change, they can’t quite make it. The sweet spot is elusive as I’m watching the chainring below, as I switch through each gear. I’m sure there’s a just a simple something to be done to fix it. Second gear will just have to do for this ride.

Even while out cycling, my mind is in a terrible place at this time. Solving these technical bike difficulties is just another distraction. Since I have been sleeping so little now, and for a culmination of years, my once active dreaming time is now part of my wakeful state. It’s outright dangerous. Images, words, and stories float to the front of my brain, calling for immediate attention, to be expressed and heard. Many of these don’t make sense, a blend of random pictures and incomplete conversations cause me to go into deeper thought wanting to turn inward for further reflection and reasoning. Sometimes I don’t hear what is being said by someone right next to me, my mind is focused elsewhere. I am thankful for writing, to put some of these thoughts on paper, to act some of them out would be a huge mistake. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between what is real and not real. I find myself needing to review the day’s events, re-read my own writings or texts with real people, just to distinguish what is, in fact, reality.

My biking takes up a large part of most days. If I’m not doing it, I’m planning my next ride, reading some advice article, or figuring a route and how many hours I can manage away without being missing for too long from my kids and responsibilities. The more I talk with other cyclists, I have noticed a particular theme about their riding habits amongst them. It seems most say that riding solo is the best type of ride they enjoy. I’ve thought a lot about this because I have no choice but to ride solo right now, and I fantasize about having a cycling partner or being in a riding group, as if it were an end-goal of all of these miles, technical adjustments, and Strava recordings. I’m hearing that there is a time that riding alongside someone else is good, but riding alone is when the real workout is done and true pleasure is fulfilled. The real escape. 

I’m not riding my bike as my “escape.” I think of it more of a “going somewhere.” I keep pushing myself to ride a bit further, to ride faster, and wanting to earn the name of being called a “cyclist.” Before I got back into biking, I began in October 2016 after Jon died with getting back to the gym and running. I had been a runner on-and-off since I was 13, and just like mountain biking: injuries, career, and my role as wife and mother took over as priorities. I’ve worked my way up to do about five miles for an average run. When I run, I think about the exact location of where I am on the track. It is a matter of perspective, and on a given run, I ask myself: am I running away, running towards something, or being exactly in a fixed position? Not only is it a question of my spacial relationship I wonder about, but also a time relationship of my thoughts: am I dwelling in the past, existing in the present, or projecting myself somewhere in the future? Every once in while, I catch myself running with my eyes closed for a few seconds, trying decide which state of space and time I feel most like in at that moment. Honestly, the borders blur together and there really is no balance, no separation from one state to the next. 

My daughter had her phone pick-pocketed while walking through a festival in Peru last week. I considered it our donation to the local Peruvian economy, “gracias, mis amigos, de nada.” She has since returned home, and while we wait for her phone replacement to arrive in the mail, she is using her Dad’s phone, which after he died, I had set aside with his other personal items. I still have his phone service up and running. It contains all of his contacts, texts, and pictures, and when he first died, it was a lifeline to him and his lifelong friends. I still haven’t read all of their messages sent to him from his last days, I’d like to think he received them by osmosis of being so connected to such an amazing group of people. Even though Jon has died, his friends still offer love and support to me and our little family. I have had to make room in my mind to fit all of their love, yes, my universe is expanding, everyone fits in. I plan on reading these texts, maybe sometime closer to the first year anniversary of his death, which is fast approaching. 

My kids and I are currently fulfilling the third of Jon’s requests for his ashes. It is a small family gathering, at a place where our children will be the fourth generation to experience and learn. Lead by his parents, there will be oral histories to pay attention to; water, earth and sky to feel the greater good of; and fish to catch and eat in honor of those who we love. As we make this journey, all of the timelines are overlapping. I have to concentrate to be present in the given moment, it is easy to be so many other places and times at once. We are staying at a hotel for a couple of nights before heading on to our destination. It’s now past 11 p.m., my kids are using up their energy in the workout facility downstairs after our drive in today. I’m back in the room, busy on my phone working on this writing, lost in thought. Suddenly, the usual text ding, followed next by a new text pop-up that said “A JZ cell” and read “I’m coming right up” – I felt my eyes widen and bulge as I read it. There he was, JZ, my husband. As I lay by myself in this room on the crisp white sheets, one light softly illuminating my hands grasping this phone, I had that sudden and familiar pull of my heart overtake me, “Oh, he’ll be back up to our room in a few minutes.” All of the past nine months erased, of course he’s coming right up, I’m here, ready to greet him, anxious to welcome him back after being away for so long. 

The truth is, Jon, my person, was my “total escape.” All things revolved around him. All the bullshit surrounding us would melt away when it was just us. If we were separated for any reason, and there were many, the goal was to get back to each other as soon as possible. Once together, we would close the door to the outside world. Our world together was the most important thing, no one else was allowed to see, only the two of us. So now that my one true escape is gone from physical reality, I am unable to soothe myself, my link to bliss and sanity taken from me by a horrible disease. I reach out for that rock to balance me, search for the only one would stare into my eyes and read my deepest thoughts, and crave that touch always given in just the right spot. With him was where I most wanted to be, to love, to breathe. Now nothing, no escape. He is not here. My escape that I relied on when I was falling, his wrapping me in his arms and telling me everything would be alright, is unable to be found on any bike ride, discovered in any words of writing, or even in time spent with friends and family. But still I do it, my distractions now on full display. I can’t really focus well on any one thing. I wake up every day on this path, a path that will never lead me to the destination I most seek, and If I stop moving, if my gears jam or my chain slips, I most surely will fall.~Paula 

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