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Thursday, June 1, 2017

It's Like Riding a Bike, Only Different

Wow-today was one of my first rides with my most recent, and carefully timed cycling upgrades; SPD compatible shoes.

This careful timing is not just a function of economics. No, I don't currently have the expendable income to upgrade to the latest and greatest bike stuff I grew used to having in my old cycling life.

Nah. I'm just entering my new cycling life and, for the first time since my big crash nearly five years ago, the routine is going to stick. There's no turning back, I'm in the saddle once again!

It feels so good to say that, I could never explain it. It's the same feeling I get on the bike once more, and it's no different than ever.

Which leads me to the real reason I've created a self-imposed timing; it's meant to keep me out of trouble.

Put simply, I know how I think when I'm totally immersed in my focus on the trail, navigating through all the stuff thrown at me and not concentrating on heart rate or muscle power.

The rush from that has gotten the best of me before, and it'll take a supreme effort at times to control it again.

Yes, it's great to be getting into the sport again, and adrenaline feels as good as I remember, but better because I am a survivor. It didn't require anything more than really, really wanting to ride again that's making it happen.

Which means then, that I really, really want it. But what I also want is to return tomorrow to build on what I've done today. And being smart about it is the key.

I've had a hierarchy of upgrades since I began riding several weeks ago, all designed to keep me from getting crazy in a rush of adrenaline and biting off more than I could chew. A one-way ticket to the ainful town of Endocity.

Mountain biking is serious business, and the trail is not a forgiving place. Rocks and stumps don't give if you hit them-but your body will. Cactus is prickly, branches will scratch and tree branches will surprise you in unimaginably insidious ways.

As a one-armed rider, even the least technical of trail sections demand I maintain my grip on the bar. Not until I reach a flat and/or straight section can I free my hand to grab a drink or swat away the bug I'd felt climbing up my neck for the past ten minutes.

But I wouldn't change a thing about it, for the alternative now - hiking or just plain sitting around, killing time - is unthinkable.

For the first time, winding along, feeling the warm wind in my face and the snug smoothness of my cycling shorts once again, I heard myself let out a whoop I'd forgotten once existed inside me everyday.

It just felt so good, like my world felt right again, the way things were meant to be. By my definition, this side of cycling is an esoteric experience that must be achieved to be fully understood.

I look forward to exploring that feeling again tomorrow with, as always, the rubber side down. It's mind cleansing and soul stirring stuff, and it makes me stronger, inside and out.

Also well worthy of mention is the community of cyclists out there on the trails.

Having been a roadie for so long, I'd forgotten the camaraderie that exists among off-road cyclists. Even if it's through sharing the trail, the give and take of stopping for someone climbing a singletrack stretch toward me, just as they'd stop for me, the positivity exists.

Other cyclists will take a few minutes to share their knowledge with me of an untried trail, so I'll know what I can expect as my bike control and technical skills improve.

Hikers and horses, too; we all coexist out there in our mutual enjoyment of the outdoors.

In my experience, I can't recall ever seeing a one-armed cyclist, though I know they've surely been there. Lately, however, I see at least one such rider every time I ride (hee-hee!).

I've grown used to being a novelty out there, and many people have offered encouraging and welcoming words that never fail to fire me up. “Dude, you're a stud” someone told me today, and it makes me laugh. Maybe it's because he was riding the trail with his little girl, who looked to be around twelve or so.

I'm gracious in return, for I've forgotten just how damn strong some riders out there are. While I'm happy to inspire others as a differently-abled, one armed cyclist, it's those powerhouses that inspire me to build back my own strength.

The road is where my best cycling remains to be found, but only on a mountain bike can I develop the strength and bike handling skills that will make me a safer rider no matter where I am.

No trainer or stationary bike can claim as much, and the road itself is no place to break back into the groove of cycling again. It can be a very unforgiving place that could result in a situation from which you won't walk away. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and I ain't going back there again!

That said, I’m happy to report that, when I'm out there, I don't feel fear. It's a function of having spent most of my youth and all of my adult life on a bike. Just two wheels and muscle power is all that matters; once I have that, I can take it from there. I'm a confident yet smart rider who gets the rhythm of traffic and the road in general.

Something that's been beyond my control however, runs far deeper. I've often felt a profound sadness about the very real possibility I might never ride again.

Maybe I couldn't overcome my fears or my physical pain or I'd find myself facing some other demon I'd yet to meet. The idea ate away at me inside like some all-consuming, insatiable tapeworm.

What's more, just knowing my old comrades were out there together, training without me, or seeing a lone rider out with nothing but time and many miles yet to ride always brings back the memories.

But it's not meant to be-I'm free of the demons, free to ride once more. Now, I can bring those old memories to life once again, and things will be the same as ever - only different.

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