It’s pretty safe to say that these past two weeks have put me into an emotional tail spin. With the persistent dragging undercurrent of joblessness pulling on me at all times, it’s hard enough to remain optimistic and upbeat, but with the added twists of devastating news, bad luck, and, heck, the hard, cold backhand of reality, it’s been tough to keep focused on that narrowing sliver of light at the end of this dark, twisted windtunnel of my life. I was looking forward, at least, to this weekend’s long practices, where I could shut out all of the bad stuff, focus on being around good people, getting stronger, and slaying more of my fear dragons on those hills.
Earlier in the week, I’d taken some time out to meet up with Coach Amy, to attempt to learn how to “drink and drive” on the bike. Being a newb, the idea of removing my hand from my handlebars for any considerable amount of time not only seemed impossible, but terrifying. However, as the rides were getting longer, I knew that I couldn’t get away with only drinking at stops, especially in the dead of summer. I would have to learn to do it sometime anyhow. I might as well get started now.
Amy and I met up in the parking lot at Hanson Dam, which is a bit of a drive for me, but it’s a great spot with a lot of open parking lots. She had told me to wear long leggings, as I might fall. I found my roller blading knee pads and strapped those on too, just in case (my knees had had enough skin scraped off to make up a whole new person by now). Now that I was thoroughly dorkified, I wheeled myself around the lot, attempting to remove my hand from the handlebars. A couple more rounds and I was able to reach down toward my bottle. A-ha, I thought. This is more of a confidence game than a skill game. Before I knew it, I was grabbing the bottle out, and had started to become confident in putting it back.
“Well,” Amy said, after I’d picked up and replaced my bottle for a third time. “Sorry that you wasted your time coming all the way out here.”
I told her not to worry about it, I really had nothing better to do. Besides, parking lot practice can definitely help a person gain confidence. Plus, having a coach help to walk you through things can make a world of difference in progress and confidence. Sometimes I need someone there to tell me that I can do something, especially when i think that I can’t.
On Saturday’s long, 56-mile ride at Zuma Beach, we had a “drinking and driving” test before we left the parking lot. I was still nervous and shaky, so it took me a few times around the lot to get up the nerve to take my bottle out, drink from it, and put it back. By that time, all of my teammates had booked it, and I was the last to head out.
Coach Adam and I pedaled briskly along the route, taking in the sparkling ocean views along the undulating Pacific Coast Highway. The 70-degree sunshine felt much warmer than it was, given that the past several weeks had been in the 30s and 40s. I was glad I’d gone ahead and bought an obnoxiously yellow lightweight cycling vest (on crazy sale) to wear over my breezy running shirt, instead of sporting a warmer jersey.
“You’re a strong climber,” Adam remarked, as we powered up some of the hills on our way up to the first turnaround.
Enough people have said this on the team so far that I’m starting to believe it. I guess that’s a good thing, considering that our team’s major focus these days seems to be hills, hills and more hills.
Speaking of hills, our first major climb came up at about Mile 20. Encinal Canyon Road. There is a State Park, called “Charmlee” along this road that I like to go to with the dog, not only for its peaceful, un-crowded trails, but also for the incredible ocean views and calming meadows. I would often see cyclists climbing this hill on my way up to the park, and I would think, “Gee whiz, this guy is crazy.” Now I was the crazy one, pedaling steadily upward.
The road was supposed to be relatively undisturbed by vehicles, but, as my luck would have it, an endless brigade of midlife crisis sports Porches zoomed past my weebling two-wheeler like a hoard of angry hornets. Once we got to the turnaround point, it was terrifying to imagine them whizzing back down, especially when, as a beginning cyclist, I had much less control on the downhill than I did going up. I carefully crossed the road and headed downward.
My quads burned on the downhill, mostly from supporting my weight down such a steep decline while I gripped my top tube for dear life. While downhills scared me much less than they used to, I was still terrified down the steep, winding paths. If I could see the bottom, the quick zoom down the hill was a blast. No bottom, no bueno.
I got to second turnaround and headed back toward the first one. My shifter got stuck on yet another hill climb. Luckily I noticed and fixed it. By about Mile 33, my body was feeling a bit drained. I knew that I was more than halfway to the end, but that there was yet another huge hill climb awaiting. Riding those high PCH rollers, I hoped that my nutrition would sustain me through that last big push. I got to the crest of one hill, switched into my big chain ring for the descent, flew toward the bottom, and then pressed the shifter to bring it back down for another immediate climb. The shifter wouldn’t budge. Ugh.
I pulled over, jimmied the shifter this way and that, and got it to switch down again. I hopped back on, climbed the hill, only to face another steepish descent, followed by another immediate climb. I switched up, and then, click!, nothing. Drat. And I was already commencing the ascent. At that point, I committed, pushing earnestly upward, breathing in my usual steam engine fashion, cursing as I got myself over the crest and to a more level area. This time, it was seriously stuck. Here I was, almost at Mile 40, almost finished, and my bike was thoroughly broken. I felt horribly cheated out of a good dragon slaying.
I broke down and called our roving SAG person, Kris. Meanwhile, a friendly hardcore triathlete guy, with all sorts of gadgets adorning his suped up cycle, stopped to help. Despite his apparent technical knowledge, he couldn’t help me. I thanked him and waved him on, along with a parade of other cyclists who slowed to ask me if I was okay. One thing I will say about cyclists is that they definitely do go out of their way to help out their own kind, which is more than I can say for most motorists in Los Angeles.
It took quite a while for Kris to find me along the route, but, finally, he arrived and scooped up me and my bike in his Land Rover. Kris offered me boysenberries and hand sanitizer to wash away all of the bike grease that had besmirched my hands. It wasn’t a fix-all for my bummy mood, but it helped. On the way back, he received another distress call from a teammate, who’d gotten dizzy riding down the last big hill.
“Ooh, this is just like riding in a cop car,” I exclaimed to Kris. “So exciting!”
Kris laughed. “Yeah, the Batmobile!” he said, turning the Land Rover around and heading up the giant climb that I would have taken on two wheels, had I made it that far.
We scooped up our teammate and drove the few miles back toward the Zuma Beach lot. I figured I would redeem myself somehow on the run, broken toe be damned. I stripped down into my transition gear and headed out on the path. Surprisingly, my toe wasn’t too ouchy. In spite of walk breaks every 10 minutes, my watch averaged my pace to 9:25, which probably meant that I was running about a 9 minute mile. I hadn’t lost my mojo! Phew!
Of course, then, around Mile 3 of the run, I felt new stabbing pain in my left foot, right under the ankle bone. Great. I stretched a bit and walked for a couple of minutes until the pain subsided, then I picked my run pace back up, hoping that I’d just landed funny. I could still feel it. While not debilitating, I knew it wasn’t a good thing. That’s what I got for not taking it easy, I scolded myself. I still got in over six miles in the hour, but I knew it’d come with a price.
I had a feeling that the 11-miler scheduled the next day was going to be a “no go” due to this new injury. Meanwhile, Coach Dave, the mechanic, had a look at my shifter and told me to take it to his former shop to get it fixed, as the mechanic who had looked at them before said that my shifters were just low-end, and that nothing could be done. I returned home, feeling a little defeated, a little like I couldn’t catch a break. While, surely the universe hasn’t conspired against me to keep me from being happy and successful, it surely has felt like it recently.
Hopelessness is a tough feeling to shake. It grabs onto your shoulders and holds you down, making everything you attempt all the more difficult. There is so much of me that wants to believe that everything will turn out okay in the end, that, like my shifters, one day the bad stuff will magically be fixed and I’ll no longer be stuck in this bad place. I guess that life can shift quickly. I’m not sure what kind of magical force will un-stick me, but at least I have a tiny bit of hope that it will.
Meanwhile, I’ve been icing the ankle and trying to make the best of being on the sidelines. Besides, I did make a friend last night at an art gallery, who told me to cheer up, that life isn’t all black or white: