First solo in a long, long time....
The last month has been a rush of ideas and new things. Two things stand out and you would think that they are completely unrelated, but is anything in the world ever really unrelated? When you think about it, everything we do has an impact on others if only in a very tiny way.
First, I started a new job! This is at least the best thing that has happened to me in 20 years. In what I can only think of as complete irony, I spent almost 14 years working for a non-profit, but now understand that where I am now, which is for profit, has a far more philanthropic culture - and that was really what I needed all along. In my new job, I've seen a side of people that I haven't seen in a while. I just spent a week with fellow new employees from all over the world, people who are bright and were hired, I suspect, specifically because they were interested in making the world better in some small way. It also just tickles the cockles of my heart that the entire company once got into a fundraising contest in which a VP offered to wear ANY hairstyle for a week and leave it on his internal photo for a year. FYI, he wound up looking like a blue sunflower. Just the kind of eccentricity that is right up my alley.
The next thing of consequence was the very tragic accident in North Carolina in which 4 fellow randonneurs were struck from behind by a car. Their lives changed forever that day. The first article I read detailed the critical injuries, especially to Mike Dayton, former RUSA president. Though I do not know Mike or the others personally, the chances that I haven't met them in my travels is low. I've always appreciated that part of the sport in which you can instantly be friends with people you just met. You find friends that stay with you in this sport.
Recently, a stream in Facebook detailed that one of those injured had a moderate brain injury but was expected to make "a full recovery". There were at least 50 comments that followed about what a relief it is. Though I certainly am very happy to hear that is so, I also couldn't help but have a somewhat heavy heart as well. I am now at 6 months, which I now understand is really the earliest I should have expected to have life even start to be "normal". I can only say to of all those relieved people, the road is only starting and that our comrades will need many more encouraging thoughts in the next few years. Recovery from a brain injury is the most difficult thing I have EVER done and though I finally do believe that my recovery will be complete, that isn't the same as me being the same person ever again.
So when I sat down with my new colleagues for a week of learning about the culture of our new company (and really, how many companies have every employee spend and entire week learning about the CULTURE of their new company), it was interesting to see what we did to get to know about each other. I was mainly with people in Sales and I really admire sales people - I could not sell water in a drought myself. One of our activities was to create a blog post with our company tools on something using as much humor as possible and as many widgets as possible. One of the sales guys came up with our subject, the Peregrine Motorcycle Company with our logo "Think Differently, Ride Backwards". Really, you can't describe my life better - I'm sure that guy will go very far.
So much of my life has been backwards for the last 6 months, but I have come to appreciate that things were backwards for much longer than that. I started thinking about the long marathon of recovery from the injury, about the permanent effects that are a part of that "complete" recovery and about the very difficult and unpredictable road that lies ahead for my 4 compatriots. I so hope their journey is smoother than mine was, but I also hope that as they recover, they discover something about themselves as I have.
After completing the Bone Dry 200k in Arizona late last month, I was elated. To be able to do a ride like that, and no one should EVER think that riding a 200k is easy, was one of those moments that I will always treasure. The accident moved to the rear mirror in my mind, but at the same time, it's still going to be there for a long time. Then I started that new job and was absolutely shocked to experience a place that I actual fit and and rediscover my love of coding, design, and people in general. It was as though the clock was turning backwards! As my professional life suddenly surged, so did my desire to spend time on my bike.
So on to the ride ...
If you go the RUSA site (cheers to those doing the redesign!), and look up permanent #947, you will find Delano-Henderson-Chaska, my first permanent. I created it in about 2010 and I have ridden it so many times that I can't count them. It's a triangle with 3 main towns (guess what they are called). I originally thought it would be ridden in that order though it is a loop and both directions are possible. So of course, in my own backwards way, I have almost never ridden it in the original direction. I always do it backwards. I apparently can't even follow my own directions.
As the end of February approached, I started thinking about riding it. My new company is on the 10th floor and my new manager and some of my group have a mid-morning group activity of going up and down the stairs a few times. That coupled with sessions on our home elliptical have made me much more confident about my ability to remain upright for long periods of time. After an aborted attempt to ride it on Feb 20 due to ice, I was faced with the last weekend of February having an unheard of dry day with temperatures in the mid to high 50s. I elected to take this as a sign from the universe.
So I decided to turn back the clock and do this ride in my own way. It used to be that I would just decide to ride. I'd grab a wallet and just go ride. No thought to preparing food or plan out details. No schedule - in fact, I deliberately decided to leave at 9:30 am to avoid any early morning ice. What I needed, I would find. Though I like to have my own food, I also realized that I had lost the spontaneity that came with being able to "just go". Besides, it is very possible to eat sensibly at convenience stores.
So off I went on the Princess, my original rando bike, with every focus on avoiding taking extra stuff and a new set of aero bars. I got them to avoid problems with the nerves in my arms and am happy to say, they work. I also have brand new glasses from Rudy Project - the only company I could find that could build cycling glasses with the prisms I need to have acceptable vision. And, thanks to my new company, I had retaken the accursed StrengthsFinder and had the fact that only ONE of my original top 5 strengths was now the same. Showing up on the list for the first time was Intellection, which basically equates to people who love to sit around and think, mostly by themselves. It suddenly occurred to me that I sure had a lot to think about and that perhaps one of the things about this sport I love was that it gives me a lot of time to do just that.
That doesn't mean that your first 125 mile solo ride after a brain injury is easy. I left right on time at 9:30 am with temperatures already heading for 50, but with a rather harsh south wind blowing at about 12-15 mph. Oh and the first leg of the route is 50 miles pretty much south with most of the climbing. Ouch!
I worried for the first 30 miles that I would miss something on the right. My right eye is rather lazy now so peripheral vision is just okay on that side. I also worried that I wouldn't be able to maintain focus either (a former strength no longer in the top 5). What in the world would I think about? The first 20 miles to Chaska is one I have done a thousand times and yet it seemed brand new. The view of the Minnesota River valley, the rolling hills, the sun puffing its way through the clouds on a completely abnormal day for February - all of them took my brain on tangents. I thought about rides I had done, people I knew and darn, how hard you really have to work to climb! Though running up and down the stairs does wonders for cardio, I apparently need to life some weights. I told myself over and over again, "I have permission to ride as slow as I need to so that I can enjoy myself". I was to repeat that phrase a lot on this ride.
In Chaska, I checked in with IronK, "how's the wind?" she asked with the voice of someone who was looking at things blowing all over the front door. I told her it was fine, that I had been in worse. So then I thought and analyzed all the windy rides I have ever done. I actually like riding in the wind, I find it challenging in ways that hills are not. I thought of the Santa Ana in California, the 50 mph wind in the Titanic 400k, and of course, the magnificent times that the wind reverses itself and becomes a friend instead of a foe.
While not Colorado, the rolling hills do take their toll and I must admit that as I saw my first bald eagle soaring overhead, I also had some rather sore and tired legs. I had about 6 miles to Henderson and I wasn't yet confident about riding and eating or drinking at the same time. I pulled over and rummaged around for some maple syrup. There was no sense in bonking, I had permission to do whatever I wanted.
So I pulled into Henderson with perhaps not as much time in the bank, but elated! The next 50 miles would be primarily a tailwind. I had some potato chips, a Starbucks Double Shot, and a Heath Bar. While not making a nutritional hot list, they sure made me feel better. Along with my friend the tailwind, I started out of Henderson. I had some trepidation about the 250ft climb out of the Minnesota River Valley, the last real climb of the day. But I surprised myself by simply riding up without thinking so much about it. I also made use of my new iPhone, which is now tightly mounted to my handlebars and has lovely speakers.
It's only 14 miles to Green Isle, the second control. I like Green Isle and we are approaching March which means lots of St Patty's day decorations. What hit me going in, for the first time EVER, was that they had hot dogs available. I ate one and refilled my bottle. About 40 miles to the next control and it was about 3:00 pm, the sun was high, the wind was behind me, the day was glorious.
The next 8 miles on CR25 were a little nerve racking. I spent as much time as possible on the aero bars trying not to have a panic attack when the occasional car came up behind me. But nothing happened and I started to notice tiny things about this route in February. There wasn't much snow and I had always thought of this area as mainly farmland, but somehow it seemed bigger and more vast; perhaps the lack of leaves on the trees or the long swatches of white snow against the brown fields. I was dreading one section with a limited shoulder but happily, the entire stretch had been completely redone now there is a 6 ft shoulder with brand new pavement.
I completely amazed myself by pulling into Delano with the sun still shining. The original control is out of business, but Dairy Queen next door was open and I had some very nice fries before heading out just at sunset. I would have about 2 hours of night riding. Another big step.
It's curious how the stars can be so bright in the winter. The temperatures stayed around 45 and I really paid attention to potholes and puddles as I made my way down Watertown Road. People in Wayzata have left on all the holiday lights and Ben and Jerry's was open - rather a strange sight together.
The owner of the YesMart has known me for years, buying things before and after rides. I used to wait there for Uber to take me to my various therapies so he was thrilled to see me finally back on my bike. "But not too much - don't over do it!". Few times have I been triumphant at the end of the ride, must be part of that Achiever strength that values the journey instead of the destination.
My complete recovery won't restore everything that I lost, but my spirit isn't one of those things. Everything else, I now think I can replace.