A Cyclist’s Love Story

I found great freedom on two wheels over the years. I wasn’t ready to listen. The surgeon was patiently explaining how the disc replacement in my neck would work and what the resulting limitations were likely to be. No more road biking was a very real possibility.

I came to the sport later than most. My husband was an avid enthusiast. A professional mechanic and weekend racer, he built a wonderful Raleigh touring bike for me, hoping we would be able to enjoy casual rides around town.

Something magical happened on that first ride, though. A sense of joy, long forgotten, overcame me. Soon I was lost on the back roads of Colorado, feeling the exquisite rhythm and cadence that only distance provides. Cycling brought such immediacy to my experience. Finally slowing the pace of life down enough, I found my place in the scenery itself.

The soft gurgling of a small spring completely lost to the occasional passing car harmonized perfectly with spinning wheels. My sense of balance was restored.

Avoiding the surgery wasn’t an option, as C-6 had ruptured severely. It was either a disc replacement or a full neck fusion. The replacement was a new, barely legal, approach but was minimally invasive, allowing the rest of my spine to move naturally. Taking a deep, calming breath, I called and made the appointment.

The procedure itself was uneventful. It left me whole and thankfully almost pain free. Returning home from the appointment, I detoured through the garage, looking over motley, well loved machines.

My ultimate adventure was riding coast to coast solo, the overloaded panniers and a questionable cell phone my only companions.

The old, scarred touring bike that I rode hangs there, next to several others. All whisper their stories as I slowly move past and turn off the light.

I was riding an old mountain bike around the neighborhood just three weeks out, off of pain meds and feeling a bit of my old sass. Road biking worried me, though. I was good for a short jaunt on an upright, but the limited range of motion in my neck made me too vulnerable to ride on the roads safely.

I decided to sell. I have never been able to master the concept of losing with grace. An incredible sense of loss and longing enveloped me as the last bike rolled out the door. I turned my focus away from cycling almost completely, surely making at least tentative headway in creating the next chapter of my life. Cruising in the truck, though, I would find myself automatically plotting bike trips and assessing roads, once a favorite pastime.

Later, when a good friend offered me a free cross-bike, all of my resistance and vehement excuses didn’t keep it from mocking me on the trip home. Every time I glanced in the rear view mirror, the straight bars peered back from the bed of the truck, eerily resembling the solid antlers of some strange, alien beast.

So I started to ride again. Even with a carbon fork, I felt every jarring bump through that stiff aluminum frame. The upright geometry stubbornly resisted supporting me on lengthy explorations, but sensing a steady echo of the old joy sifting through was strong enough that the fear of pushing my neck too far slowly gave way to trust as the mileage gradually increased.

I chose a day that capriciously promised the perfect tail wind, and set out to try for a century. Just one more. We were living on the Outer Banks of North Carolina at this time, a singular two lane road wandering the entire length of the island chain my only choice. Dodging rifts of wind-blown sand and several miles of strip malls and beach mansions, the road gradually opened up, revealing subtle treasures. Long grasses waving me on, majestic shore birds keeping careful watch. The wild rhythmic song of the Atlantic ocean filled my ears, the salt air crisp and tangible. Forty miles. Eighty. At ninety five, my body was begging me to quit. My nature has always demanded that I push the envelope, even when it is clear that surrender is the true path, but this time I listened. Just this once.

I eventually tried a new road bike. This year, with the careful attention of my local shop, different strategies were tried and rejected until I could ride a wonderful carbon fiber frame without distress. Eight years after the surgery, most mornings find me back on the road, exploring once again. I can’t go down on the drops or stand and climb, and the next century continues to elude me.

Just being able to ride, I am finally pausing long enough to remember.

I always fall for that one road. Endless possibilities. My open vulnerability, sense of power and the excitement of adventure all a mixed bag. Those drawstrings are held tight as I roll down the road to see for myself what is around the next bend.