“Wow, that was a close call,” I thought, my body slumped over the top of one of New Jersey’s bucolic stone bridges “I nearly crashed.” If my body didn’t land on the ground, I reasoned, then it wasn’t technically a crash. Fifty miles to go. Let’s do this. The adrenaline surged through my body as a friend pointed out that my knee was bleeding and my bike only had one operating brake. This could be a problem. And my shoulder’s a little stiff, but if I just fix this brake I can still get in my long ride for the week and be strong for my first road race (ever) in a month. This is just a minor setback.
But an hour later, I wasn’t training. I was sitting in the bike shop with one stiff knee and a shoulder that was slowly seizing up, staring at the chipped paint on my frame. But it could be worse and had I really crashed? I was always afraid of crashing during races, not group rides, especially not when I was flying downhill away from the pack. I hadn’t crashed. I just stopped myself from crashing by grabbing onto the bridge.
That night in bed, after being diagnosed with a separated and sprained shoulder, those few seconds played out over and over, as the screech of carbon on cement jarred me out of a fitful sleep. I wasn’t so much a climber as a fearless descender. Or at least I was, until I descended into a 100 degree turn I’d ridden dozens of times. Add new brake pads to the mix and suddenly I was fishtailing out of control, skidding and swerving, the walls of the stone bridge inching closer. Then there was that dreadful sound.
Does all this mean I’m finally a true cyclist? Do I have to leave some skin on pavement to learn the secret handshake? I’d dodged this 800 pound gorilla for the past 10,000 miles or so and the law of averages had finally caught up to me. But crashing wasn’t the hard part. The most devastating, soul-sucking part of the whole ordeal was the morning after. It was like waking up after a night of partying only to realize the stark reality of what you’d done. Most days are built around training, from what I eat for breakfast to checking the weather and then that day’s training plan. It’s my foundation, the one true constant, an immediate sense of accomplishment and an instant mood boost. Cycling has the power to whittle away the things I worry about. It all gets left on the road, released from aching muscles. Cycling is an addiction, a language of its own. I rarely go shopping or to a movie with friends. We ride bikes.
What surprised me the most was how quickly everything can change. I was following a longer training plan for the first time and it was comforting to see my winter mapped out for me. I had just performed a power test that week and my numbers were up again. Out on the road I felt unstoppable and other riders (strong guys!) were noticing, too. I finally had the confidence I needed for Battenkill.
With one touch of the brakes, everything was slipping away. I suddenly appreciated all those bone-chilling winter rides and slogging through the rain, even though I had complained at the time. Cycling is a lesson in impermanence. Each ride forces you to live in the here and now and to make the most of the present moment. Nothing is ever guaranteed.