It’s a certifiable truth that it’s awfully hard to be off the bike for any amount of time. But, let me just say that sometimes it can also be difficult to get back on it. Case in point: These last few months that I’ve spent sidelined due to a longstanding knee injury. As bad as it was not being able to ride through the spring, not riding in July was especially tough, as each day began by watching the Tour de France.
Happily, it would only be a few weeks later when my daily routine would turn for the better. By mid-August each day started with a long bout of watching the Vuelta Espana. The big difference now was that thanks to finally getting a bike fit, after watching the pros I would actually be riding myself. And quite simply, there are not enough words to describe the joy I felt for being back on the bike.
And by being “back on the bike,” I’m not talking about taking pulls on the Montrose ride or accepting any of Jack Nosco’s steady invitations to bag some steep climbs in the mountains. Having gone through more than a handful of recovery periods over the years, simply feeling the celebrated “wind in the face” was my first priority, so slow and easy pedaling would be enough.
A WEST-SIDE STORY
Due to an antagonizing heat wave where the temps in my neighborhood rarely broke out of the triple digits, I decamped for the cooler climes of Santa Monica, where a fresh ocean breeze could animate each pedal stroke. My route would be repeated laps on San Vincente Blvd., which climbs gently from the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean through a posh neighborhood before hitting an even posher business district where I would make a U-turn to start another lap.
This being the west side of town, the sights and sounds are very different from those found in the east-side digs that I call home. Awash in obviously higher levels of fortune, everything from the cars to the bicycles and motorcycles that passed by were of a wholly different level of value. Given that San Vincente cuts through a corridor of Gucci-like mansions, there was an ever-present collection of Latin gardeners and laborers toiling about while spectating a steady stream of Lycra-clad athletes riding and running by. What must’ve been running through their minds, I can hardly imagine!
Despite purposely not pushing hard on my first day back, I still managed to catch one guy on the slight incline. As I pulled up on his rear wheel for a short tow, he yelled out, “Am I going too slow?” I soon rode up alongside him and replied, “No worries, friend, for me there is no too fast, nor too slow; it’s just about going!”
As I was finishing my second lap, it was amazing (sad really) to realize just how out of shape I had become. But, despite being winded early with increasing pain in my lower back, the dreaded feeling of having a screwdriver jammed into my knee joint was no longer there—yes! Right about then I was passed by a family of visiting Aussies riding e-bikes who seemed happy to comment on the ease of their power-assisted effort compared to my self-induced pedaling—nice!
One week later I returned to San Vincente, and midway through the ride I decided to add some distance and fun by hanging a right turn on 7th Street, which drops down into Chautauqua canyon that has a stretch of road that resembles the treacherous “corkscrew” descent of the Laguna Seca racetrack that’s home to the annual Sea Otter Classic. I well remembered this section of road from decades earlier, as it was where my friend Chris and I once landed in a pile of bloodied flesh after locking handlebars at speed.
As a reminder now of how months off the bike affected my bike-handling skills, my first go at the normally high-speed, arcing turn was a slow and stumbling effort. It took repeated attempts on this and the next week’s ride before I could hit the turn doing my best Valentino Rossi imitation without using the brakes. In a word, yee-haw!
A MAMMOTH EFFORT
The culmination of all this effort was my desired goal to accept the challenge of my friend Gary to participate in the Mammoth Gran Fondo. Like myself, Gary, too, was just getting back on the bike, and as much as we hated to admit it, neither one of us was ready for the 102-mile-long ride, let alone the 70-mile-long Medio course. Nope, since the priority was still building back slowly, we signed up for the 42-mile Piccolo ride.
The feeling of being back in a group ride was sensational, and the scenic high-sierra loop was all I needed to feel whole again. Despite a red light that stopped my forward progress just shy of the finish, I still finished second in class and sixth overall at 2:24. Best of all, there was no knee pain to speak of. Was I a bike rider again? Hopefully.