I am typing with my left arm braced against my side, holding an ice pack to my ribs. It’s ten days since The Tumble, the afternoon when my flesh met pavement. I think I may have won the battle, with Red Bike by my side, but I am now a vigilant warrior, guarded against the mean streets of Seattle that threaten to smack me down again.
The scabs from road burn are closing over with tender new skin; the bruises have run the color palette from angry red to moody blue to outrageous Chartreuse. They are fading now to a soft sea green. I was able to shuffle-run a couple of times this week and yesterday, finally, I was able to do a full Upward Dog and a Side Plank during yoga practice without collapsing on the mat.
The ice bag I now clench is soothing what remains of the pain. I still can’t sleep on my left side. Sneezes- oh the horror- come out as strangled yelps of pain. But this morning I was aching to run. Not to shuffle, but to break out and pound. So I did. And I’m paying for it. But Sweet Jesus in the Garden, it hurt so good. I intended to go an easy, steady 5 miles, just to break in the legs, but found I couldn’t stop despite the brittle pain that radiated from my left ribcage. I finished my circuit and kept going, dashing past still-sleeping Ballard bungalows, running without destination or intention just for the sheer joy of movement. Endorphins are magical, wondrous things. As are the three Ibuprofen now working their way into my pain.
I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with biking (I hesitate to write “cycling” because that seems very serious and laden with gear and intention that casual riders such as I do not possess). For all the years I lived in small towns with unlimited country roads, I barely ventured out. Two words: loose dogs. As much as I adore canines of all persuasions, I simply cannot abide being chased. Brendan, a true cyclist, has enough experience and power to out-race those chomping, foaming jaws. I seem to think that I can reason with or at least out-bark a frenzied dog, so invariably I come to a halt and start shouting “No! Bad Dog!” As if. My bike became a means to get to and fro in the safety of my little towns.
Ironically, it took a move to our first city to embolden me to bike regularly. I marveled at the bike lanes that criss-cross elegant, Victorian Christchurch and determined that learning to ride on the other side of the road would be an adventure I couldn’t pass up. I found a Specialized European-style Cruiser that I named Poppins, because I feel very Mary Poppinish sitting on its high, feminine frame. It’s the bike that now takes me to and from work.
Then we moved to the Back of Beyond and I had to have a country bike to tackle the winding roads that lead from the hamlet of Cheviot, past sheep paddocks and eucalypt groves, to the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean which opens at Gore Bay. So we found me a racy red KHS mountain bike. New Zealanders have the good sense to keep their animals properly enclosed and not once in all my meanderings on those Canterbury roads did I encounter a cantankerous mutt. Once, a llama took off after me. But there was a fence, so the only danger was from a well-aimed llama loogie. Fortunately, I could bike faster than it could spit.
We shipped our Kiwi bikes back to Seattle and I pretty much fell off the saddle. It was too great a hassle to schlep the bike up from our apartment’s basement. Besides which, we lived atop Queen Anne and the return from anyplace other than a relatively level 2-block radius was a dispiriting exercise.
Even after we moved to Ballard, I let my two-wheeled companions deflate in our storage unit, breaking Red Bike out on a rare day when Brendan could convince me to wheel to Shilshole Bay. I nearly gave away Poppins but after she sat on the back patio for three weeks, gathering rust from the rain, I knew I couldn’t let her go. Back into storage she went.
Then came this summer. Brendan’s promotion meant a complete change in schedule, taking him from a late afternoon to 2 a.m. shift to an early morning to mid afternoon schedule. Our routine of me walking to work and Brendan leaving me the car to drive home was over. My ride was gone.
So, on July 9- the first day of Brendan’s new job- I began commuting by bike. We fixed up Poppins with a rack and a pannier and flashing lights that now come in handy as I trudge up 8th Street in the dusk of early autumn. Each morning the cyclopaths speed by, decked out in aerodynamic helmets, reflective Lycra tights and clipped-in shoes. I am content in my geeky glory that includes a fisherman’s-yellow rain jacket two sizes too large, reflective bands that velcro around the hems of my Levis, and my scuffed-up Brooks trainers.
I have to laugh at my own folly. It takes me as much time commute by bike as it did to drive. Those first minutes when I leave the store and I’m pedaling on the Burke-Gilman as it follows the Ship Canal – breathing in the still air, watching the sunset glinting off the rippling water – are some of the most peaceful and restorative of my day. Of course, the slog up noisy 8th Street is still ahead of me, but each week it gets a tiny bit easier. The dark nights of autumn and the wet chill of winter are still to come. I hope that a habit has formed. I’m determined to see this through.
But it’s the biking I now do beyond the easy commute to and from work that has been transformative. Brendan has taken me out every weekend since early summer, showing me routes he’s created from Ballard through Magnolia, around Greenwood, beyond Sunset Hill, to downtown via Interbay and Myrtle Edwards Park, around Lake Union and of course, the wonderful Burke-Gilman trail that extends miles and miles north. We live in the perfect biking community – hills abound, streets are wide, bike lanes a-plenty and Seattle dog owners are so well-trained- fenced yards, leashes and poop bags are de rigueur.
I venture out on my own a few times a week, using my rides as a cross-training workout to give my run-weary joints a rest. I am utterly enamored with my rides, novice though I am. I have a favorite route that takes me to Shilshole Bay and up the hill past Golden Gardens Park. From there I can weave in and around Crown Point neighborhoods, taking as long or as short a route home as my energy and the fading light allow. When I first began biking this route, I would stop halfway up the Golden Gardens hill to catch my breath and slurp some water. Now I don’t even stand up from my seat to power my way to the top.
I was on a workout ride through Greenwood, crossing a busy street off 45th where it separates Phinney from Fremont, when I crashed. I glanced over my left shoulder to check for traffic before sliding into a left turn when my tire hit a split in the pavement. My bike shot to the right and I went down, my right leg tangled up in my bike, my left side slamming into the pavement. I bounced. I recall saying something accurate but ultimately unhelpful, like “I’m going down”, to no one in particular.
I had one coherent thought and that was to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. I scrambled up and dragged my bike out of the road. A passing cyclist saw what happened and rushed over to see if I was all right. Doing my best Monty Python Black Knight impression (“It’s just a flesh wound!”) I assured her I was okay. It wasn’t until she biked away that the sunlight suddenly narrowed to a thin white tunnel, then faded to fuzzy gray. I slumped to the sidewalk, contemplating the lunch that was suddenly pushing against the back of my throat. The indignity of vomiting next to a Metro bus stop brought the world back into focus again, as did the jarring pain in my left arm and ribs.
I walked Red Bike about twenty yards, to a quiet side street, then realized I was in trouble. My legs were trembling, my vision was narrowing again, and I began to hyperventilate. I sat on the edge of a traffic circle with my head between my legs and considered my options. Crying seemed like the best one at the moment, but even that took more energy than I had. I watched a spider push through some bark dust, a cat came to sit beside me, and the sun draped like a warm blanket across my back.
After a while I thought I could get home on my own steam and I did. Red Bike clanked and wobbled a bit, or maybe that was me. Brendan was home and made all the right worried noises over my scraped skin and bruised shin. He said “Isn’t it a great thing that you are in such good shape you could walk away from a crash!” God bless that man. I was working on the theory that ample padding on my hip had broken the worst of the fall. I like his version. I’ll keep it handy.
Yesterday was my first serious ride since The Tumble. We rode from Ballard, walked across the Locks, climbed through a few hills in Magnolia, stopped to admire the views of Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle. I’m wary of uneven pavement, my guts clench at steep descents and I worry about how I will manage when the rain sets in and wet streets raise the hazard level to the nth degree. But for the moment I’m back in the saddle again.