Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” ~Lao Tzu
Another spring weekend. It’s partly cloudy with light winds. The citrus blossoms are fragrant, birds are frolicking, and a storm is brewing which won’t hit for another day. It’s perfect cycling weather, yet once again I’ve ignored my alarm in favor of extra snuggle time with my husband and cat. I’ll go out a bit later, I rationalize. And at 10:30, I look at my drawer full of bike shorts which are now a size too small, glance at my other drawer of ride snacks which are a year past their “best by” date, stare blandly at my bike, and opt to have a leisurely breakfast of homemade ham, eggs, and cheese crepes. This seems to be my new reality, and I’m not sure I know who this person is who is choosing leisurely time at home over an adventure on a bike
In December 2017 I attempted my last 200k ride. I was 2 cycles into chemotherapy, desperate to prove to myself and the world that it didn’t matter – that I was still the same hard core athlete, that I could do ANYTHING even when my body was in less than optimal condition, that life would continue as I knew it despite a cancer diagnosis which would require 2 surgeries, 4 cycles of chemo, 20 radiation treatments, and at least 5 years of hormone therapy not for a cure, but to minimize the risk of dying from this disease I will now live with for as long as my heart beats and my body breathes. I managed about 80 miles of the easiest 200k in San Diego County on that December day, and next picked up my bike in February. While I had planned to drop to a P-12 from an R-12 while going through treatment, a wildly unhappy liver and a bout with sepsis which led to beginning 2018 from a hospital bed forced a new plan. For the first time in my adult athletic life, “pushing myself” meant getting out of bed in the morning. It meant forcing 3 liters of water down my throat even though it tasted like a blend of metal and mold. It meant trying to get through a work day without falling asleep with a patient resting on my treatment table. It meant figuring out strategies for keeping details in my chemo-brained mind long enough to write them down. “Exercise” became standing in my back yard for 30 minutes, or walking to the cul de sac with my cat.
After chemo, I was desperate to ride, to break a sweat, to feel that high which comes with a hard workout. I rode short distances through my month of radiation, and built myself back up to 70 miles before having my ovaries removed in June. Again, I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike and was pedaling 4 weeks later – the absolute earliest my surgeon, who is also a cyclist, would allow. I trained again, and rode a 55 mile charity ride in November which I finished an hour ahead of that surgeon. I was ready for a come-back.
Except, I wasn’t.
December 2018 brought rain, and, for San Diego known for its desert climate, a LOT of it. I was cold all the time, and the colder and wetter it was, the more my joints ached – an unfortunate side effect of the hormone blocking medication. In January and February, it rained EVERY. SINGLE. WEEKEND. In years past, I rode in all weather. I’ve got epic stories about riding through midwestern thunder storms, losing my brakes in a sleet storm and using a driveway as a “runaway bike ramp”, hitting a rock and crashing in the middle of the night in the pouring rain, and more. Yet this year I simply couldn’t bring myself to take my bike out if the weather was less than perfect. A few 10-30 mile rides per month became the routine, and I picked up hiking again. Cleaning my bike after riding in the rain was simply too much work and not enough FUN.
Something curious has happened in my 18 months without randonneuring. If you’ve only known me from rides, you probably don’t know that before I picked up this sport I was an award winning jewelry designer and glass artist. My torch and kiln have been idle in the garage since training took over my life in 2012. There simply isn’t enough time in the day for full time pursuit of income, a marriage, maintaining a household, keeping up a fitness base to ride a 600k, AND art. One of my greatest joys as a cyclist was always exploring new places, getting lost if only for a little while in the far corners of the backcountry around my city. Once I started pursuing award goals, my rides became brevets and perms, routes created and prescribed to be the shortest points between controls so distance couldn’t be “cheated”, sometimes without regard for safety or scenery of the route. And many of my favorite roads were not on the list. My language gradually changed from “I can’t wait to get out on my bike and explore” to “I’ve gotta do this 200k to keep my R-12 going.” The truth is, I was bored with the routes I could easily access from where I lived, tired of riding on someone else’s terms, and while I loved the challenge of meeting control times and the comradery of riding with a group, as a slower rider I was working CRAZY hard to simply keep up so I wasn’t solo all the time. Like the frog who hops into a pot of cozy water and doesn’t realize he’s being cooked until it’s too late, I was gradually losing the joy I got from riding in exchange for the pursuit of “goals” and “awards” which, at the end of the day, meant nothing.
I mean really, who cares if I’ve ridden 71 consecutive 200k’s and 4 consecutive Super Rando series and PBP but never earned a RUSA Cup? Well, I cared. I have friends who have succeeded in these goals, and if THEY can do it, I should be able to, RIGHT?! Each new event completed earned a brief accolade from my husband, cheers from social media, and a declaration of insanity by my family. But in the end, what did I really gain from all this achievement? What was the goal?
At the heart of the word “endurance” is the root “endure”. And if I’m brutally honest with myself, the last 2 years I was in the rando world enduring was exactly what I was doing. I couldn’t eat enough calories to sustain my activity level, and I was losing muscle mass as my body consumed itself. I was struggling to keep enough glycogen in my system to keep from bonking, and hormonal changes were leading to a completely different set of nutrition needs I couldn’t figure out. I got injured, a stupid thing really, a foot sprain while sprinting through an airport. But it was enough to make hill climbing torturous and it limited me to the coast with the least amount of climbing. After 5 months of struggling to complete the same coastal 200k route to keep up with R-12 #6, I was terminally bored. And then I found a lump on my breast.
In the last 2 years since my diagnosis, I’ve endured plenty. I used to be curious about where the edges were, how far I could push myself, where the limit of my ability to press on without sleep would be. It took me over a month to recover from PBP in 2015, yet I fooled myself into believing that this was ok. That I could keep on doing this forever. I’m no longer curious. I know the answer is that I can force my body, under “normal” conditions, to do whatever I set my MIND to doing. Whether on a bike ride or in the chemo chair.
I also have learned that there is a price to pay for the glory of earning the awards and going the distance. The intensity of training, the time away from home, the money spent nearly cost me my marriage. While my husband supported my desire to push harder and further, he was quietly at home worrying about me on the road, resenting my being away and playing while he maintained the household, feeling pushed away and left out of my life. And I didn’t realize that we were experiencing a gradual breakdown of communication. When you spend as much time away from home as I was spending, you are either running towards something or away from something. I had a mentor who questioned why I felt such a need to travel, to ride, to spend my weekends away. I labelled it passion. And it was. It was also a way to avoid the discomfort of being at home without knowing how to bridge the gap which was steadily growing between me and my husband. If I ignored it, it didn’t exist. Or so I wanted to believe.
Without sharing all the personal and gory details, I’ll say that our marriage reached a crisis point early in 2016 and both of us had big decisions to make. In the end, we decided that we wanted each other more than we wanted to move on and with a ton of work we figured out a way through where we were and pulled ourselves back to one another. He has been steadfastly by my side ever since, and we are more of a team than ever before.
So here we are, spring of 2019. I weigh 20 lb more than I did 2 years ago, 30 miles on the bike feels like an expedition, my house is beginning to feel like a home, I’m hiking with my husband on HIS terms (which means shorter workouts), I’m riding for FUN and exploring back roads on my own when the weather is perfect, and I’m creating again. Will I ever return to rides as long as or longer than 100k? Truly, I don’t know. Part of me misses the intensity, the craziness of pedaling a two wheeled vehicle for 39 hours at a time, the sheer joy of watching the sun rise, then set, then rise again from the saddle my bike. Part of me misses figuring out how to carry enough clothing to keep myself warm on a 40 degree night and cool on a 100 degree day; planning new and creative food to manage the inevitable palate fatigue and upset stomach which was my day-two reality; sorting out transportation logistics for point-to-point and out of state rides. And another part of me is relieved to not HAVE to do any of it. That part of me loves sleeping in and enjoying a leisurely breakfast on my patio followed by a 5 mile hike in the local canyon. And it loves having the time to plan and create fabulous meals, swim a mile (or three!), and play with the aesthetic synergy of metal and glass while designing wearable art. That part of me is softer, more forgiving, less driven, and needs 9 hours of sleep each night in order to thrive. She eats with enthusiasm, dances with abandon, and pedals more slowly than before with closer attention to the scent of spring flowers, the caress of the sun on her shoulders, the sensation of wind in newly grown hair. And while she LOVES to ride a bike, she is no longer willing to give up so many parts of herself to pursue the reward of an award. For today, the ability to ride, the sweetness of life in relative health, the flick of my cat’s tail against my leg as he passes on his way to chase lizards, my husband in the hammock beside me with a glass of wine and a good book – these are the rewards. And for today, they are enough.