As I reached the 1-year mark post-accident, I continued physical therapy, but I had to see the doctor less and less. At the ‘anniversary’ of surgery, Dr. Childs said – “You’ve made great progress, so I think we’re done.” After major surgery, rehabilitation, and a year of healing and hard work, he released me from treatment.
At first, I didn’t know what to think. I was so glad to be walking, I hadn’t considered any other forms of exercise. Post accident, I never even thought of running, but I wanted to add a few exercise options, so I tentatively got back on the bicycle to try and ride around the neighborhood.
It was easier than I thought – while I was unsteady at first, the old lessons came back, and I started riding further. While I didn’t need training wheels, I was glad to be able to put my feet down and stop whenever I could. I felt like I was riding for the first time, but before too long, my old bike skills came back.
I was happy enough to just cruise around the neighborhood. It gave me something different to do than walk all the time. Even within the neighborhood, I pushed a little bit farther each time. After a couple months, I wanted to go beyond the local streets, and ride some more challenging distances.
I was fortunate to live near a network of bicycle trails, and also lucky that Northern Virginia has a large and active bike community. I figured out how to easily get to the bike trails, and enjoyed expanding my horizons to include the main W&OD rail trail. It is a favorite of local riders, and every weekend sees it filled with cyclists of all ages, runners, skaters and walkers, (with and without dogs).
The first few rides were pretty short. I’d get to the trail, get a couple miles in, then turn around. Over time, I started building my distance to an average ride of 10 miles, but some days, I’d push it up to 15 or even 20. Each time felt like a bit more freedom.
I started to get faster too – not Tour de France fast, but fast enough. Occasionally, instead of being passed, I’d call out “On your left”, and pass a slower rider. That was a huge boost to my confidence.
Slow and steady was the order of the day, though. I’d see large groups of organized riders fly by me like I was standing still. As they passed, I’d push to keep up, but usually it didn’t take long to drop me like a bad habit. Still, it felt good to push.
I was riding a hybrid bike – meant for easy riding on smooth pavement. One day, a spandex-clad cyclist was riding on my tail, ‘drafting’ off of me to make it easier to ride with less effort. I didn’t mind it at first, but after a while, Lance Armstrong was starting to get a bit annoying, as he was riding my wheel closer than I felt comfortable. Then, at the first opportunity, the wanna-be racer pulled out to the left, and pushed past me a little too close, brushing against my sleeve. He didn’t bump into me, but it seemed he wanted to show off his cycling skills as he pulled away.
At this point, I wasn’t just annoyed, I got mad. The trail picked up some rolling hills – and I took advantage of the downhills, closing the distance. Even though I was riding an upright bike, I was strong enough to push faster when I wanted to. After the third hill, I caught up, and at the top of the hill, called out, “On your left!” and blew past him as I went on the downhill.
I was ahead of him for a couple miles, and he finally caught me near my turnaround point. As he went by, he growled…
“Anybody can go fast on a downhill.”
I replied….”I caught you…going up.”
I felt so good, that the ride home just flew by. Over the next few months, I really began to enjoy riding the bicycle. It reminded me of when I was a kid, and riding a bike felt like flying. Even on the days I got caught in a rain shower, or had a flat tire, a bad day on the bicycle was better than a good day off of it.
I had some of those bad days, too. On one ride, I had no fewer than three flat tires. I replaced the first tube without incident…but evidently, I didn’t check the tire for debris, so in less than a mile, I felt the tire go flat again. This time, I made sure the tire was clear, got it inflated and I was back on my way.
I must not have checked for a pinched tube, because about two miles away from home, I heard that awful PSSSSSSSSSSSS sound…and too quickly, the tire went flat.
I didn’t have any more spare tubes.
I didn’t have my phone.
I did the ‘walk of shame’ the last two miles to the house, walking my bike along the sidewalk, until I rolled up to the house. I recycled my dead tubes and fixed the tire a 4th time. The next week, I put tire liners in to give me some additional protection from flats.
More than once, I got caught in the rain. A little bit of rain isn’t bad – it can cool things down on a hot summer day. A LOT of rain brings other challenges. It’s hard to see through glasses, since they don’t have windshield wipers. Brakes go from useful to non-existent….and you become even less visible to cars. More than once, I had to dry my bike off with towels…and finish the ride with a long hot shower to bring my body temperature back up to something resembling normal.
Each ride brought more confidence and a sense of adventure. One day, after a long but satisfying ride, I thought..
“Well, I may not be able to do everything..but I can do this.”