I’ve credited cycling with a lot of good things in my life. Always presenting the upside, but that isn’t 100% honest. With some forced time off the bike due to my collarbone & rib fractures, I’m getting some more time to think about this.
I’ve held the viewpoint that bikes lend needed balance to my over-scheduled life. My brain is on bikes a disproportionate amount of time. My partner has to stop me from talking about training, races, events, because it’s what i gravitate to, my mind is always circling back to this really great thing in my life. At this point, most of my social life revolves around cycling, all of my fitness is attributed to cycling, and most disposable income as well.
In the last month as i looked to fill my calendar with cycling trips, rides, events, and adventures, I thought, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to skip cyclocross season this year. I had that same thought last year too. I thought, maybe I should switch out a ride with some running or a hike. I thought, maybe I should diversify my interests just a little. After all, I AM interested in other things. Was this burn out? I’m not sure.
Now, post crash– I’m forced to change my focus. I’m still scrolling through my Instagram feed which is about 95% cycling focused, and on Strava every day, and thinking about what kind of training I’ll need to do to squeeze out a few cyclocross races this fall. But I’m doing other things too: I’m taking walks twice a day to keep active. I’ve reassessed my approach to retirement and saving for some of my other goals. I have started reading a new book–a hobby I love and have been really bad at making time for.
What I’m sure about is that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’m sure this break will serve to rebalance my life a bit, and getting back to cycling will feel fresh and even more appreciated after this break. That’s my hope anyway.
After 17 years of riding, it finally happened. On a trail I had ridden before, at Thunder Mountain Bike Park, I crashed off a small jump and injured myself. Badly.
Thank God for full face helmets. Thank God it wasn’t worse.
It was the first day of my vacation–after a year of no vacations, and the weather was a perfect 80 degrees, dry, not a cloud in the sky. I took my son for a day of mother-son fun before he headed off to camp for 2 weeks. We took a run together and then he joined his lesson, and I was on my own for a couple of hours.
A little foreshadowing: this vacation time was largely unplanned. I had no solid plan for this week, other than a ton of cycling. I made the decision to book a bike and lesson for my son just a couple days before–but….I had some hesitation. I feared he would get hurt (not me), and felt unsure and uncommitted about even going, even though I love downhilling and bought my new full suspension mountain bike with Thunder Mountain in mind. I felt a bit displaced and distracted, almost outside of myself mentally on this trip (and in all things lately). Almost like I was only half there.
Fast forward, my first run solo and I hit the trails. I rode trails I had in the past, “blue squares,” nothing crazy. I usually stop and regroup with whomever I’m riding with, but this wasn’t necessary being alone….and my impatient nature urged me to keep on. I hit Chin Strap, a moderate jump trail–which meant you could jump or just pop gently over the feature. I’m more of a popper than jumper, but I can deal with a bit of air. I’m not certain what happened, I think my speed was greater than I realized and a jump came on faster than expected. And I bit it. I remember seeing my entire bike over my head, I think I’d hit the ground at that point.
I knew immediately I was done for the day but unsure of how done. I scampered off the trail and pulled my bike off too, as another rider soared past me. I was hurt, a little confused, I hadn’t yet taken stock of my injuries but knew I had to get off that trail before I caused another crash. I managed to get back on the bike and roll down to where the trail intersected an access road. I found a safe place and sat down to figure out how hurt I was.
My shoulder had taken the brunt of the fall and all I knew was it hurt and wasn’t working right, and I didn’t think it was a good idea to test it much. I felt a grinding and popping at the tip of my shoulder, which I later learned was my broken bones moving around.
A man on an ATV riding up the access road stopped and asked if I was ok. I answered honestly. “I’m not sure yet.” I asked how tough the rest of the trail was, he advised I take the access road down. “Will it bring me to the lodge?” Yes. I decided for the path of least resistance.
I collected myself and started walking my bike down the mountain. I felt nauseous. Bike patrol stopped me and asked if I had gone down on Gronk (my favorite trail there). Nope, that wasn’t me. They offered to call a buggy to get me down. I have skied the mountain enough to know I could be at the lodge in 5 minutes if I just kept going. Plus I’m stubborn as hell. “Nope, I’m good.” I kept heading down the rocky, washed out access road, walking my bike. The nausea persisted, but I felt capable to get myself off the mountain under my own power. I started to feel pain in my chest while breathing.
I got to the car and was exhausted. I texted my gf. My son had another 45 minutes to his lesson. My shoulder was a mess. I managed to load my bike into my car with one arm. I waited for his lesson to wrap up, collected him, and then drove myself a hour home to our local hospital’s ER.
X-rays, a quick exam, and a Motrin and I was sent home with a sling and diagnosis: Comminuted displaced distal right clavicle fracture, AC separation, and non-displaced right fourth rib fracture. See the orthopedic folks on Monday to access if surgery is needed. The nausea was from the pain of the trauma, not a head injury. That was good news. I knew I was badly hurt, but never in severe pain, which may have been masked by adrenaline. Apparently my pulse and blood pressure was uncharacteristically high at the hospital.
UPDATE: Surgery is not needed.* I’m staying in the sling, keeping the joint immobile. The broken rib hurts the most. I have a bunch of other abrasions, bumps and bruises that have blossomed in the 2 days since the accident. I have to sleep upright. I can’t drive. I can’t put my sling on myself. I can get MOST of my clothing on myself. I expect most of this to get better soon.
(*at this time. Reassessment in 4 weeks).
I am so grateful that this wasn’t much worse, as it easily could have been. I love cycling but it’s got it’s dangers, even for experienced riders.
So I’m off the bike for a while. More to come with thoughts of this unplanned break, and updates of my progress. Thanks for reading, and always wear a helmet!
Guys! After many years of wanting to give back to the cycling community and never having the time, I have fallen into a board role with MassBike PV (Pioneer Valley). I’ve attended 2 meetings thus far, and I’m looking forward to helping the chapter, as well as the organization as a whole, achieve their ongoing mission of bicycle advocacy, education, and community support.
As my first act of support, I’ve signed up for the Tim Johnson’s Wachusett Fondo. Tim has been a wonderful, high profile advocate for cycling in all forms, and proceeds from the event will help fund MassBike’s work with cycling advocacy in the state of Massachusetts. Some of my teamies from Keep It Tight are signing up, and I’m talking some friends into signing up as well. I’m also excited that my little brother Steve will be joining me (he says) on this ride! Steve rides motorcycles and dirt bikes more than he rides pedal bikes, and spends a lot of his time picking things up and putting them down in a gym. A recent skiing accident this past winter has left him unable to hit the gym and perform his typical weightlifting regimen, so he started riding his road bike to keep fitness. A little sibling challenge from his older sister and I’m pretty sure he’ll be gutting the ride out with me on July 28th. This ride is 70 miles paved & gravel, and 5,000 ++ ft of climbing, concluding at the summit of Mt. Wachusett. Beer will follow!
This year is nearly half over, and I’m just feeling like it’s starting. The winter was long. So long. Like still getting snow in April long. Now warmer weather is here and all I can think about is being outside riding. I’m getting out enough, but it’s like I feel the need to make up for a lot of lost time. This spring I returned to Montpelier, VT for The Muddy Onion Spring Classic. I entered the first mountain bike race of the year as a Cat 2 rider, and played hookey for a solo adventure ride that took me somewhere I deeply needed. Let’s play catch up.
The Muddy Onion
We just call this “The Onion” now. We actually call it “The Funion” because it’s such a good time. Gail, Laura an I rode up to Vermont together, meeting Matt at a diner for some late night breakfast the evening before the event. Laura didn’t feel well after dinner and I was worried she might not be able to ride in the morning. She toughed it out and rallied for the event, even changing my flat tire at mile 31.
The route changed slightly this year, but still brought us over some primo peanut butter mud and gravel. It had been raining all day Friday, and the roads showed it. I overheard that it was the muddiest Muddy Onion ride on record. I was just happy to be back in Vermont, a place I feel akin to. Beautiful roads under moody skies with friends and friendly cycling community. This ride attracts a group of good people.
I should mention, my entry was comped by the GRVL-XX Project.
“GRVL-XX is a group for female cyclists only, dedicated to increasing participation of the ladies in gravel riding and racing and to showcase fun and unique events.”
They have a good community of FB and use their platform to grow the sport for women. Check them out of you are a female rider, or a race promoter of a gravel event and are interested in promoting a little gender diversity.
Fat Tire Classic-Winding Trailing Mountain Bike Race
Despite the terrible weather all year, I’ve been keeping up with riding and while I’m not dedicated enough to be doing scheduled intervals on the trainer during the freak snowstorms we just kept getting all spring, I felt I was in good enough shape to level up to the Sport category for mountain biking. When I started racing mountain bikes again in my 40’s, it was only a
couple few years ago and I did a small handful of races. I always raced Cat 3 (beginner) and I’m not a beginner. I’m just middle aged and slow. But my bike handing skills are decent enough. I started bringing home some hardware from these cat 3 races-which was nice! Mountain bike races increase overall length of the race when you upgrade, and I can handle the increase in miles, so I figured–just go for it. Upgrade! Also-the mountain biking scene tends to be more chill that cyclocross, which is a nice break. I’m competitive enough in my own head, and a laid back culture is a very nice counterbalance. I like that about mountain biking. A lot.
So I entered as a cat 2. Winding Trails is a pretty buffed out course, but this year had some changes to the course and it felt harder–like maybe there were more climbs than last year. Instead of 10 miles (2 laps) I was in for 15 miles (3 laps). We lined up at the start and it’s nice to know some of the women I race against now. I saw Sarah from cyclocross (who now races elite in cx while I’m still hanging out in cat 4) and Kait who started racing last year and just keeps winning everything. We were causally chatting right up to the whistle, so different than the tense silence in the moments before the start of a cyclocross race. I was hoping to place among the 35+ crowd, and I was foolish enough to think this was possible.
I don’t know if it was the long winter, my overbloated confidence, or WHAT, but 15 miles was HARD. I rode as efficiently as I could, and the trails were not too technical at all, but I got my ass KICKED in that race. Dead last among all the women. I did pass one of the older guys who started before the women’s race on the same course. We exchanged pleasantries on a particularly unpleasant climb. But that was my only pass and it counted for nothing.
Since then, I have not done another mountain bike race–only because of scheduling issues. I plan to do at least one more–maybe two. And I’m planning on sticking to Cat 2, even though I got killed in it. Because I CAN handle the miles and I’m NOT a beginner, and mountain biking culture is totally chill. Maybe that combination is really the right one.
Solo Adventure Ride
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take a day off and just have a “me” day. I don’t think I know how much I needed this until I did it. 54 miles, solo. Vague idea of where I was going. Beautiful weather, beautiful roads, beautiful non-roads. The best ride. I’ll leave you with my Instagram post after that ride and the photos of it.
Today I took the day off and rode my bike 54 miles on pavement, gravel, mud, grass, snowmobile trails and cow paths. I accidentally ended up in a cow pasture and the cows noticed me and started coming for me. I was off the map for a while. I hopped fallen trees, crossed a stream, jumped an electric fence, and stepped carefully over barbed wire. I found a very ominous looking murder shack in the middle of nowhere. I found a rubber red goldfish tucked into a 150 year old oak tree. I saw waterfalls. A gaggle of wild turkeys. At one point when I was pretty lost, with no bars on the cell phone, I looked down and half buried in the mud was a small sign nailed to a post that had broken off, that read “YOU ARE HERE.” That was my favorite moment of this extraordinary day.
Summer’s finally arrived–go ride!!
I usually do a “hey this is what’s up for 201X” post, indulging my proclivity for planning stuff. I end up doing some things, not all. Actually–let’s review my track record from last year:
- Fat Biking. CHECK!
- Dog Sledding. D’OH!
- Kingdom Trails-again. CHECK! Twice! A day trip & a weekend!
- An island…..or a canyon? D’OH! This trip never happened.
- At least one Mountain Bike race. CHECK CHECK CHECK! I did three! Podium for 2!
- The JAM Grand Fundo. CHECK!
- The Muddy Onion Spring Classic. CHECK!
- A Dog. D’OH! I’m lobbying hard for this, but right now I’ve been vetoed until we get a bigger place.
- Bikepacking, V2.0. D’OH! This turned into a MTB Women’s Camping Weekend instead, which was still pretty awesome.
- Mystery Getaway. Sort of–Not really. I ended up going to Vermont. Not THAT Mysterious.
- 3 more OCR Races. CHECK for 2. I bagged out of the last one.
- Cyclocross! SUPER DARK EMPHATIC CHECK MARK. Best Season Yet.
I’ve been a little unfocused, coming off a great cx season that I found the most joy in since taking up the sport, and dealing with a winter that has been intensely cold. My work situation is very uncertain, as I learned last week my company has lost the contract for the Program that I run. I’m working with our HR folks to find placement and have had some encouraging leads, but nothing’s a guarantee, and I am unwilling to to relocate. Planning fun adventures feels out of place when this piece of my life is not locked in.
But I might want to change my thinking, in case I am suddenly find myself with a lot more time on my hands. I am looking at another Women’s MTB Weekend with Laura and Gail, and whoever else wants to come. I’d also like to take another stab at bikepacking, and we are looking at TATR-The Adirondack Trail Ride. That’s a 550 mile ride, and we’d do a super short segment of it over a long weekend.
I’m very interested in gravel rides this year. Last year I had a great time at the Muddy Onion, The JAM Fund Grand Fundo, and the NEBRA August Adventure. I like the adventurous feel of roads that aren’t quite roads. And I’ll most certainly be mountain biking too. Beyond that, I can’t be certain of what this year will look like.
After a few days of rest, and no more yoga, my back is feeling better. The mid back pain was the first to slowly subside. Then the sciatica. Eventually, the tingling and numbness left my feet first, then my arms and hands. I’ve restarted workouts–easy ones, followed by gentle, reasonable stretching. Really the only pain left is the one I started with, the pinched nerve in my upper back/shoulder.
Today I went for my annual physical exam, which was a pre-planned visit, and just good timing. I was given a neurological exam (insert a variety of jokes here), tested my reflexes, etc. All good. After examining my back, she observed my trapezoids were super tight, with lots of knots in my back. She concluded most of my issues were muscular, not spinal. This was a relief. She said it was probably that I had some degenerative disk issues, as “most people middle aged people do,” but this was a perfect case for Physical Therapy, as I had thought. She said some PT and some disciplined exercises at home, and continuing to practice better posture at work should rebalance me.
Yoga is still on the menu for me. I want to start PT first and then incorporate Yoga twice a week to increase my flexibility. Basic, gentle stretching after workouts should be a no brainer, but my rushed lifestyle omitted them from the routine. That must stop or I’ll risk injury again. If not my back–something else. This incident was a good teacher for me. It’s hard to realize sometimes that I have to practice a little self care if I want to keep doing all these crazy things. Our bodies can be made strong with hard work, but I need to learn to take care of myself after running myself ragged. A little self care could prolong my participation in this sport, hopefully indefinitely. That’s my game plan.
Friends, some stuff going on with my back has kept me off the bike all week. Even the trainer. I’ve been suffering silently with a pinched nerve since November in my upper back/shoulder area. These pinched nerves are common enough for me that I just deal with the discomfort and try not to aggravate it. Eventually it goes away. This was a particularly long stretch but I was not concerned, I just put up with it.
About 3 weeks ago, I started to notice some numbness in my right hand. I’ve had this happen before, and it’s 100% due to bad posture and excessive sitting at work. Since moving late last August, and I work mostly from home, I’m at a different desk and I guess I did not dial in my home office ergonomics.
Then, about a week ago, I woke up, got out of bed, and my knee buckled as pain shot down my right leg. Sciatica strikes again. I’ve had this a few times and I generally find relief within a day or two of rest and stretching. But accompanying this, was also tingling in both feet, and my other hand. All 4 extremities were tingling. “Guess I’ve really let myself fall out of balance,” I thought to myself. I decided to do some yoga, since yoga fixes everything.
I do not do yoga regularly and I have little patience for it’s slow, methodical, quiet ways. My partner gently cautioned me that I should be careful. It sounded like this, “You’re going to hurt yourself because you don’t know what the hell you are doing.” Of course, I respectfully listened, felt the gravity of her words, and then did it anyway. I googled some stretches and poses and did 18 minutes of yoga after a short spin on the trainer.
Friends, if I could go back in time and get those 18 minutes back, I would, because I f’d my back up so spectacularly, I scared myself. It did not happen right away and I was confident I had fixed all my problems in those 18 minutes (I was being an arrogant, overconfident yoga moron).
The next morning, I woke in terrible pain, all over. I felt like I had been in a car accident. A new back pain presented itself: a dull, constant, unrelenting discomfort in the mid back. It was impossible to get comfortable at all. The numbness and tingling in my hands and legs were worse than ever. I couldn’t sleep comfortably for 3 nights. I was scared: had I permanently screwed myself up? Should I see a doctor*?
Humbled, I stopped all workouts and just focused on good posture, Advil, rest, and heating pads. Now a week later, I’m a little better. I can sleep now. My mid back pain is gone, but my pinched nerve that I’ve had since November is still painful. The sciatica is no longer presenting itself. The tingling has left my legs, but still present in both arms & hands, intermittently.
Gentle stretching and yoga is probably still in order, but this time, S L O W L Y. Not my greatest personality strength. Better work set up is also needed, with more getting up and walking around. I’m 100% interested in making this a part of my everyday to get healthy enough to resume workouts and coming back into good fitness for more bike adventures when the snow melts. I love this life I have on the bike, and don’t want to be a yoga moron anymore. I need find some balance and incorporate good stretching habits to prevent something like this from happening again.
*I tried to book a Physical Therapist I have worked with before who I really like directly. Nope, I need a referral from a primary doctor. I called my primary doctor’s office for a referral on a Thursday for pain I described as needing immediate relief from, and 4 days later and no call back, I have lost respect for that office and feel like I’m on my own anyway in terms of my healthcare. For the record, I’d love to see a professional for this. But by the time I get to, I might not need to (hopefully).