I stopped running because my joints demanded it. The morning after a jog, my ankles refused to move, the first ten minutes of the day shuffling around the house instead of walking. I only lacked fuzzy pink slippers and a quilted, knee-length house coat to complete a grandmotherly image. So, I decided to find a new physical activity to stay in shape, something with less impact to the skeleton. Like cycling.
I wasn’t a natural. Learning how to push off and clip into the pedals came easily. Stopping, however, was sporty. I’d lean the direction of the clipped out foot, but the bike tilted to the other side. And you can’t put your foot down to catch yourself if it’s still attached to the pedal. But the worst spills came in the parking lot where the local biking club met each Saturday morning. How you crash to the ground just standing around talking, I don’t know. But I did.
Six years later, I’m a bit better handling the bike. I’ve even entered a race. On a whim. For some reason, working on a two-person team to ride a circuit course and log as many miles as possible in a 24-hour period sounded fun. Until I realized I hadn’t been on the bike for three-months.
So, I hit the road to get some saddle time in the three-weeks leading up to the race. The first week was great because we had unseasonably warm weather. But the second reminded me it was January in south Texas. Which meant cool temperatures and wind. Lots of wind.
On my last ride, bundled head to foot in cold-weather riding gear, I cut my planned mileage short. Not only were my toes numb, but the fifteen mile-an-hour northerly wind beat me down. The first two miles were a blur, the energy rush of starting a workout masking the true difficulty of the ride. The next four took my breath away, pedaling into a full-on headwind. I looked at my Garmin to see just over ten miles-per-hour speed, realized it was going to suck, and put my head down to concentrate on pumping my legs. You see, I’m still not good enough on the bike to keep pedaling while retrieving the water bottle to take a drink. To hydrate, I need to coast. But you can’t do that in a headwind. You lose momentum in a heartbeat and tip over.
At the turn-around point, I gulped down water and realized I had four miles of tailwind ahead of me. Excited, I slammed the bottle back into its cage and pushed off. I quickly hit eighteen miles-per-hour, without overexerting my quads. Euphoria! I decided to add on a 5-mile loop, because it wasn’t so bad after all.
Turning off the tailwind superhighway, I wobbled along against a crosswind. But it didn’t deter me, and I started the loop. It took 30-seconds riding in the unrelenting headwind, snot running out my cold nose, toes numb, for me to question my sanity. Why on earth would I do this to myself? All I could do was concentrate on a slow cadence to keep the bike plodding forward. With each downward stroke I berated myself for picking the sport, my stupidity to ride in the winter, the worthlessness of racing in February, the idiocy of adding an extra five miles onto the ride.
From the deep pit of hate and loathing, joy emerged when I saw the turn back onto the tailwind expressway. Renewed energy fired up the muscles, and I hit twenty miles-an-hour fast
. I nimbly wove around potholes, artistry in motion. I knew I was going to kill it on that race course. And I definitely needed to find a couple 100-mile rides to sign up for over the summer.
Back on the crosswind road, faith in my abilities waned as I struggled to maintain a posture leaning to my right in order to stay balanced in the gusts. Why, why, why did I ride when it’s windy? I knew my back would remind me of my folly later when I tried to fall asleep. Hours later, the ride would still exact revenge on me. Unless I crashed coming to a stop at the car because a gust threw my concentration off. Then the pain would be more immediate.
Safely in the car, heated seats on the highest setting, heater on full blast, a whole packet of tissues damp and wadded up on the floormat, I reflected on my performance. I logged seventeen miles, equal parts head, cross and tail winds. Two-thirds hate to one-third love. Most would advise me to find a new sport. But for some reason, it’s enough love to keep me going back for more. And certify me as crazy. But like everything in life, the sacrifices make the successes so much sweeter, enough of a drug to keep me coming back for more.