Getting back on the bike


My neglected Bianchi

Last year after I suffered a pulmonary embolism I got scared and fat.

Or you could say I lost confidence in my body and one result was that I gained weight.

Ironically, my lungs were found to be riddled with blood clots just weeks after I had achieved a major (for me) athletic goal: I had trained for months and then biked 100 miles one chilly, rainy September day. Actually 106.3 miles.

The health crisis had nothing to do with biking but it knocked the wind out of my sails. I had been all set to buy a new bike in the spring of 2012 and get even more serious about cycling. But all that conditioning—which certainly helped me through the crisis—began leaking away in the 8 days I spent in the hospital at the end of 2011. My energy was at a low ebb by this time last year.

On top of that I was put on blood thinners for the rest of my life because I have a genetic condition that makes me susceptible to clots, and I began to worry about bleeding. You always take a few spills when you are getting used to a new bike and clipless pedals. What if I were biking alone and fell and got a concussion and bled to death before anybody found me?

I didn’t buy a new bike in 2012, nor did I get on my old one. Not once.

I told myself all kinds of stories to justify not biking. I wasn’t ready for a new bike. It was a rainy, weird-weather spring, hard to get on the bike for those 5 consecutive days you need at the start of the season to toughen up your butt. The summer was too hot. I made trips to Congo in May and July.

All that was true, but it is also true that I had lost confidence in my body. I lost confidence in my ability to prevent a fall or recover from it. I lost confidence in my strength and energy. I had long since lost confidence in my ability to control my weight. And my body responded to my lowered expectations. I lost strength and energy, gained weight, and moved with less grace.

I believe my recent bout with back pain was partly a result of this loss of confidence in my physical self. My back had become the repository of all my doubts, insecurities, and fears. Even though I had already begun to reverse the weight gain and energy decline, my back was throwing one last spasm of grief and protest against all the vicissitudes of life as a mortal being. It was at its worst in early December, around the anniversary of the pulmonary embolism.

And then it recovered. I am writing this to celebrate my mortal body, now 68 years old. It is leaner, stronger, more energetic than it was a year ago. I am grateful for my physical presence in this world.

My body will take me on adventures this year. Maybe some of them on a bike. Maybe a new one.