In the last five days, I rode from Oberlin, OH to Bloomington, IN, and on the way I spent time with some truly wonderful people, passed the 1K mile mark, left the Ohio nest, and now suddenly I’m 25% of the way to San Francisco. The trip itself seems to have changed too. I’m more relaxed and, dare I say, edging on comfortable with this lifestyle. And this is a lifestyle—of course I’d love to spend a summer sitting by a pool and eating bonbons, but this journey is bigger than I am, and I have to keep moving.
Pain is part of the journey
Really everything hurts some kind of way. People ask me sometimes how my butt is doing. Yeah that definitely hurts right under my “sit bones,” as a yoga instructor once called them, but even that wouldn’t make the medal podium. Number one would be my knees, or more properly the high shins right under the knees that I’ve overused. Second would be my wrists, for which 8-10 hours per day of vibrating handlebars is reviving my architecture school carpal tunnel syndrome. Third would be the collective entry from every cubic inch of my quads. Then, yes, my butt hurts too.
To address most of these, I knew what to do. Butt: stand up every now and then, and short breaks go a long way. Quads: they’ll get stronger with time; stretch, and take some rest days to allow them to rebuild themselves. Wrists: use padded riding gloves and move your hands around the grips as frequently as needed. Knees: …stop riding right now before you do permanent damage!?
I started having trouble with my knees (more properly the high shins, as I later found out) on the training ride to Montreal. Imagine shin splints but way up high, just under the knee caps. It was hard to walk up stairs for a few days after that first appeared, but my shins mostly healed in the week after Montreal. Then as soon as 3-4 days into the big journey, the pain was back, and it was sharp enough and scary enough to affect my routing decisions—gone were my plans to ride through the hilly Finger Lakes to Ithaca in favor of the flat-ish Erie Canal corridor.
I couldn’t help but realize that my shins were the single greatest threat to completing this journey this summer because it wasn’t just some muscle soreness, it was a tendon or ligament that I might be damaging. Would I create a chronic condition for myself out of sheer stupidity? It also felt like an indictment of sorts that despite all the work, I didn’t do a good job training and preparing myself for this (undoubtedly true, but who wants to admit that?).
Somewhere in Upstate New York I discovered that if I peddle with only my quads and I forget that the rest of my legs exist, their only purpose being to connect my knees to the peddles, my shins didn’t hurt with each stroke. Cycling had always been a satisfyingly full-leg kind of experience for me, but if some weird technique is what it took to get to Cleveland, my personal terminus of minimal acceptance, so be it.
I took nearly two weeks off in Cleveland to heal while also tying up as many life loose-ends as possible (I won’t touch my own computer again for another 2 months!!). I learned after plenty of online searches that (1) my bike wasn’t adjusted properly, now fixed, and (2) indeed, you’re supposed to peddle a bike mainly with your quads. Could it be true, then, that after years of cycling somewhat seriously, I wasn’t doing it right? Well, consider that you probably don’t chew your food right either. Do you chew each bite up to 30 times? You should. It’s better for digestion and it helps prevent choking to chew so much. Though it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot if you eat just three times per day, if you suddenly start competing in 8-10-hour-long eating contests, every day, it’ll matter.
Because of those knees and perhaps because the scale of this whole thing is so huge, I think some people quietly wondered if I’d be able to continue past Cleveland. But today I’m in Bloomington, Indiana, and I’m doing well. Achieving this is another kind of personal triumph that, at least for now, I’ve learned how to avoid and manage most of the shin pain.
I’ve re-taught myself how to peddle, I’m taking breaks more regularly during the day, and I’m planing longer day-long breaks about once per week. I still have a burning desire to make progress with every waking moment, but I’m learning to accept that there is a careful balance to strike with rest and enjoying wherever I find myself along the way.
More to that enjoying part, I can say that I was looking forward to this last stretch through Ohio and Indiana for some time, and it’s almost unbelievable that my long-anticipated visits with my friends Michelle, Dustin and Jennifer and their now three(!) beautiful children, Justin and Natalie, and Janice (plus Skype call with Bryan in Ecuador!) are now past. I loved all of it, and I’m weirdly already starting to mourn the impending end of this most-special time in my life.
There are plenty of terrific challenges left, 75% of them technically, but now for the first time in this many-months-long process, the end is starting to feel actually achievable and all-too-near. Last week I accepted a [great] job in SF (details when the time is right), and I have to be there by the beginning of September. For this cross-country business, I’m not a novice anymore, and I’m no longer at the beginning. There’s something incredibly liberating to have achieved the beginning of the middle of the journey, but something sad too.
Tales from the road
I said a final good bye to my parents at Mifflin Dairy Bar near Mansfield, OH. We met the owner that morning who said he sees cross-country cyclists and hikers more often than you’d think. He took our picture and posted it to their Facebook page. Apparently that little place was my good friend Marcie’s first job in middle school, and a childhood favorite of my college friend Ian King. Small world.
I crossed the 1K mile mark somewhere in the town of Somerville, OH. That’s ironic, of course, because I lived for the last year in Somerville, MA, but especially because I had no idea that Ohio town even existed. Later, near Oxford, OH, I ended up in the middle of a parade of old people driving even older cars for at least two miles.
I rode through Columbus, IN, which is semi-famous for its collection of modern architecture. The fire stations and churches are particularly notable. The town deserved more time than I had to give it; it’s worth a stop on any road trip.
Bloomington is also a nice-looking town. I did laundry chez Janice, got a quick haircut, and I stopped at a bike shop here, Bicycle Garage, Inc., to get a problem with my front tire fixed. They did a whole tune-up for me including fixing a problem with my back brakes I wasn’t aware of, and they didn’t charge me a cent.