The First Ride of the Season

Going through cancer treatment takes a lot out of you. If you were super fit to begin with, maybe it doesn’t as much. If you were like me, you weren’t necessarily feeling great to begin with….why else did I go to the doctor? There are some great programs through Livestrong in partnership with local YMCAs that are designed to help cancer survivors regain their strength, but I haven’t matched up with one of them yet. Before Christmas, I did a free trial at Curves, but felt like that was too much…especially before going through radiation. I tried walking around the mall or big box stores for exercise. I even went to PT for a moment because my thigh muscles were damaged from my hysterectomy. After I pulled a groin muscle, and realized that it wasn’t doing much for me, I also pulled out.

One form of exercise that kept screaming at me was bike riding. It was the exercise I did that summer after 8th grade that helped me lose 80+ pounds. I had super fond memories of riding the trail along the lakefront in Chicago, or tooling around with my chihuahuas in the bike basket.

I had bought a fairly expensive bike for myself in Chicago. I didn’t take it on a trial run, and was so awkward and nervous when talking with the salesperson about it. I ended up buying this $500 bike, but it never really fit me. It is a men’s bike and it was a little too tall for my 5’ 10” frame. I still rode it, but it was never super comfortable.

As I began thinking about getting back on the bike, I would look at my bike rotting on the back porch. The inner tubes were shot. Rust was beginning to collect on the frame. I longed for a new bike and went to every bike shop in town. I came across a cruiser with fat tires for $500. It fit my height. The fat tires felt like a cushy suspension system. I was in love. I rode the same bike at two different shops. I drooled over it.

I told the boys about my attraction, and they were reluctant. If you really wanted to ride a bike, you would just ride the one you have now. I don’t think they ever believed that I would ride my bike from Loyola to Navy Pier in Chicago on several occasions, nor did they think I ever rode it here. They never saw me do it. Besides, they couldn’t get over how a 350lb woman would look like on a bike. In their minds, being fat on a bike was just embarrassing. Besides, how could I handle sitting on that bike seat?

I understood why they questioned it. In RPM (spin) class, I couldn’t handle riding on the class bikes because the seat was too painful. I rode my bike outside of their company, primarily because they won’t ride one. I rode my bike once last summer and had been out of practice for a long time. Still, my test runs with the new bike brought back in sharp focus the reason why I love to ride a bike. 1) I love the fact that I can cover a great amount of space in a few pedal strokes. I am not a fast walker, and I can’t run. On a bike, I can cover distances I couldn’t imagine on foot at this point. 2) There is something about the wind in your face and the feeling of tooling around in nature. I can see things on the bike I can’t in my car. 3) It is exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise. At the end of the session, I know that I went somewhere. I can’t say the same for a treadmill or an elliptical. I might have logged XYZ miles, but I have been in the same spot the whole time. It is so boring. 4) It is meditative. It is just me, the bike, and the road.

I had enough money dropped into my bank account from taxes to buy the new bike. I thought about it, and thought about it. There is nothing I wanted to do more than buy that bike. Unfortunately when I looked at my finances long term, I needed to hang on to that money. I was pretty bummed about it. Every time I passed someone on a bike, I just felt a nagging feeling like it should be me.

Finally, I decided to say screw it. I couldn’t afford a new bike, but I could get the old one road worthy. I took it to a local shop for a tune up and new tires. Today, I picked it up and it looked like an almost new bike. It is still too tall for me, but if I am careful I can mount it fine. (Balance is a huge issue for me right now, so maybe it is a good thing.)

I took the bike to a local trail. The sun was out. The temperature was cool. I was nervous at first. The ride I was about to take was a little over 3 miles. Did I have the strength to pull it off? I wouldn’t know until I gave it a try.

I swung my leg over the bike (a challenge in itself), held on for dear life, and just pedaled. I had a nerve-racking start. I was rolling down a hill super fast. Watch out for the little kid! I missed him. Brakes working, check. Bell working, check. I started to play with gears until I matched one to my rhythm. Half a mile into it, I could start to enjoy the scenery. There were a lot of people on the trail. Some walked with friends. Others jogged with their earbuds on. I saw owners walking their dogs. Some moms were pushing strollers. On occasion, I saw some wildlife off the trail. My butt would hurt, so I would try to stand. Half way through the first half, I wondered if I had the strength to make it to the halfway point. I just focused on getting there. Put one foot in front of the other. Breathe.

Eventually, I made it to the halfway mark and collapsed on a picnic table. I took off my sweatshirt and my hat. I tried to catch my breath. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. I couldn’t conceive of doing the trip back. I knew I just had to wait until I could gather some more strength. I played on my phone. I snapchatted to my friends. I watched some people walk by.

After a half hour rest, I got back on the bike and began to ride back. I paced myself. There were more people on the trail. I dodge them as gracefully as possible. I am sure this 350 lb bald woman in a hoodie and jeans on a bike was a sight to behold. I didn’t think about that though. I felt the wind by my cheeks. I watched a squirrel run by. I became fascinated by the 80 year old man on rollerblades pass me. I made it up a couple small hills. The cancer center returned a phone call I had left about some documentation for work. The nurse asked me how I was feeling and I told her that I was riding my bike on the trail. She seemed surprised. There was one bigger hill at the end. I tried to get up it and just failed. I got off my bike and walked it back to my car. I was panting and out of breath. I sat in my car for twenty minutes to regain my composure. I was exhausted.

On my way home, I felt proud of what I had accomplished. The more I do this, the stronger I will be. Of course, I am ready for a nap….but I did it. Sometimes you don’t have to see the whole staircase, you just have to take the first step.