Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Shifting gears

A couple of weeks ago I was out riding with a friend who has been patiently teaching me the basics of cycling, helping me feel comfortable with the physics of being balanced up there on two skinny little tires, and figuring out how that big mess of gears work. As I was clunking through some gears during our ride, I asked her what would happen if the bike chain slipped. Her reply went something like this:
Your pedals will keep spinning, but you won't be going anywhere, so you'll have to stop or else you'll fall over. No big deal. Just walk yourself to a safe place, and take care of it. You'll get really dirty and greasy in the process of putting the chain back on, and you'll be annoyed by the delay in your ride, but then you'll just get back on and keep going.
It dawned on me that this is exactly why I've resisted bicycling for so long. Breakdowns are actually a part of the deal! Cyclists have to be ready to pull themselves over and patch a flat or put a chain back on at any moment. And not only does it require some technical expertise that I don't yet have, it also requires a lot more mental flexibility and perseverance than comes naturally to me. Sure, as a marathoner I can make it through a tough hill workout, or talk myself through a difficult race, but there are times that a run just isn't "clicking," or something hurts. And if I'm having a crappy run, I will usually just stop. I adjust my route and call it a day. At the purely recreational level at which I run, this is a perfectly acceptable approach. Not so in cycling, however. Pull over, deal with the problem, and get yourself a little dirty in the process.

It's been a weird few months, you guys, but I think I've got the chain back on. My hands are dirty, my back hurts, and I'm pissed off about having been sidelined for so long, but I'm back up and moving again. January and February were a fog of pneumonia and fatigue. March and April I was up to my eyeballs in the mess and recovery from a flood in our home that displaced us and had us under construction for seven weeks. 2014 has so far been a lot of spinning my pedals without going anywhere. And unfortunately, when the going got tough for me this time around, my self-care instincts failed. I just never clicked into the right gear. Instead of getting out of the office in time to get in an evening run, I stayed at my desk and let myself work too late most nights of the week. For two months straight, I think I accepted every single offer to go out for happy hour that came my way, because eating and drinking with abandon sounded like a lot less work than sweating or writing - my two usual go-to strategies for dealing with a problem. It didn't take long for it to catch up with me, for the chain to slip, and for me to be forced to pull over and deal with it. But I'm healthy again, my condo is put back together, and summer in San Diego - my favorite time, in my favorite place - is almost here. I'm strapping on my helmet, wiping off the dust, and heading back out. See you on the road, friends!


Post-script: In the middle of writing this post, I learned of the unexpected death of my very dear grandmother Roselle. The loss of this marvelous woman is still too much for me to process in this moment, but I have the love and support of the beautiful family that she created to lean on, and I know we'll come out on the other side of our grief intact. Thankfully, the chain is firmly in place.


  1. Happy to hear things are finally settling down for you, and just in time for summer! And I'm sure your grandma is watching over you and help things move along...
    I have yet to learn how to bike... When did you learn? I have won a women's bike in a raffle a year ago and I made a pact with another friend like me (mid 30s and still doesn't know how to bike) to learn in the next week. I'll just wait to finish my first marathon on May 31st - I don't want to risk any scraped knees until then :)

    1. Thank you! Excited about your first marathon!! I "borrowed" this bike from a friend while recovering from an injury (a swimming injury, actually; leave it to me to get injured swimming) almost two years ago now. It turned out she didn't want it back, so it just sort of became mine by default, even though it isn't really a good fit for me. So now that I've overcome my fear of cycling (well, I manage it, anyway!), I'm in the market to buy one that suits me better. Stay tuned! =) Enjoy these final few days of your taper, and have a great race!!