Sunday, September 26, 2010

This has nothing to do with food...

...but I needed to write about this, and am therefore subjecting you to it. If you are clinging to the hope that a recipe may yet appear, abandon that hope, pour yourself a cup of tea, and seek food knowledge elsewhere.

A brief background is in order here. Many years ago I was diagnosed with a condition that is both cardiac and neurally mediated, and intermittently rears its head and ruins my life for months on end. It comes with a large assortment of physical limitations, and several resulting stress issues. Since it's primary manifestation is passing out, I was yanked from rock climbing a few years ago (something about high potential of making my partner go "splat"). So I took up cycling. At first, recreationally, and then increasingly seriously. Last spring, I forked over a good chunk of change for a pretty decent road bike, with visions of miles unfolding in front of me on countless country roads. I got about 200 miles into that season, passed out on the bike, crashed, and thus ended the season for me. The remainder of the year was a rough one, physically and emotionally. My body didn't/couldn't do what I wanted and needed it to, and many other things unravelled at the same time. I was in a full on flare up, and with nothing to be done medically, I just had to "ride it out". Which meant a lot of time sitting on the couch, sinking deeper and deeper into a pretty dark place. My driving is, shall we say, "strongly discouraged", so, like my geraniums, I became a little pot bound.

By January, the symptoms had started to subside, and I could function more normally. Back to the gym I went, to lose the accumulated fat of apathy and illness. And then on a cool, early March day, I got back on the bike. Gripped in fear of another crash, I went out anyway, shaking and uncertain. And I rode pretty well. And I kept riding. There were some gaps. My dog needed cancer treatment that was quite intense and lost me 6 weeks of riding time. I do not regret that for one minute, because as I write this, she lies beside me, snoring, her paws twitching in a fast dream, and she and her sister are all my love, placed on four black paws a piece.

In May I was able to tackle the bike in a systematic manner again, and the miles kept plugging away. I very, very tentatively set a goal for myself of 1000 miles for this season. It seemed to be an act of hubris to say it out though the gods of syncope would hear, and fell me on my bike. But they didn't. Some days in the saddle were the worst times I've ever spent...every part of my body hurt, I was such an emotional disaster that flying down a hill at 40 mph I would realize that the blur in my vision came from tears I couldn't shed any other time. I puked. I swore...a lot. I sometimes charged up hills with legs like pistons, and I sometimes wobbled up them, sore, tired beyond belief, and barely drawing air. Descents were joyful...a tight tuck, a big gear and a speedometer creeping up to 40 mph...that always makes me feel alive and I never want to be anywhere in that moment but right THERE.

Though I routinely ride through some lovely farm land, and past orchards and lovely homes, I hardly ever noticed the scenery. These rides were not about admiring what was around me. The understanding came slowly this summer, but these rides were proving something that even now I'm not sure I can articulate. It's got something to do with my will being stronger than this incredibly sporadic, often utterly fucking useless body I inhabit. It's been an effort to conquer a lot of different fears. That, I will say, remains a work in progress. Every time I clip in, I'm afraid. I'm afraid my body will betray me, and I'll crash, and never ride again. Afraid that this one thing that makes me feel strong and fast and bold will end, and I won't get it back. These rides were about numbers...speeds and miles. About getting enormous legs and little chicken arms. Improving form and pedaling cadence. And always, always, choking back some fear.

When I set out today, I had only 17.41 miles to go to hit the 1000 mile mark. As I rode along, surrounded by our gorgeous fall foliage, I shook with worry that something, anything, would happen, and I wouldn't get it done. And then...I did. I'd thought a lot about that moment for some time, and at the time, all I felt was tired, with a little edge of relief. I rode the last 8 miles actually enjoying the scenery and smells, and came home. I made a nice dinner for myself, and tried to let my muscles soften.

As I write this, I am overcome with emotions I don't know how to describe. Relief is a big one. There's joy in here, too...and that's one I'm a little tentative about feeling. It's hard to tell you why hitting 1000 miles in a season is so meaningful to me...certainly many cyclists ride many more every year with far less anxiety and fanfare.

This summer, the bike became a lot of things to me...a powerful piece of equipment to go great speeds on, and an outlet for anger and sadness I tend to keep buried elsewhere. This summer...I won. For me. I won. I got to tell my body what to do, and it did it. I am strong, fast, and can endure far more pain than I ever thought possible. But mostly, I believe that I turned into a cyclist this year. Whatever else happens in my life, whatever titles I hold or roles I play (and I know full well that I will be a patient again someday), I am now a cyclist.


  1. This post is a great definition for my favourite word: Woohoo! :)

    Way to go!

  2. Tremendous post, Jennifer. You forgot to mention another title you can certainly ascribe to yourself: 'one helluva fine writer!'

    All the best to you! :)

  3. You still suck. :) Good Job Jenn! And you are stinky.

  4. Thank you, AJ...and thanks, too, Mel (I mean, "Anonymous"). You're stinky, too!

  5. You have a brand new reader, and a brand new subscriber in me. What an incredible post about your season. Congratulations on 1000 miles! That's amazing!