Monday, September 13, 2010

Great Blue Heron

I'm not sure if it was the sound of the screeching brakes, the heart-stopping closeness of the car to the bike of the cyclist in front of me before it stopped, the loud crash to the pavement of me, my bike, and unfortunately my sense of confidence in my riding, or the painful deep bruises on my knee and hip, but something about what happened last Monday really had me shook up. I woke up on Tuesday morning (which is my day to ride because I don't have any morning clients) and I did NOT want to ride my bike. At. All. It was a strange and empty feeling because I ALWAYS want to ride my bike and somehow over the last year (it kinda snuck up on me) I have come to identify myself more with my riding than with anything else. I didn't care about my 3000 mile goal or keeping off the weight I lost on RAGBRAI. I was like a turtle pulled back into her shell. I just wanted to be at home. Safe.

Ironically, I've been spending the last weeks doing a lot of reading about cycle touring. And, as I stayed curled up in my bed reading Metal Cowboy: Tales of a Path Less Pedaled on Tuesday I felt like a complete fraud. I was ashamed at how shaken up I had gotten by what was just a near miss. These cyclists I've been reading about have fallen off their bikes hundreds of times. They've been hit by cars, for crying out loud. But, mostly, I felt a sense of loss. I didn't know how to do life anymore with a love of bicycling to shape my days.

Wednesday, I was feeling a little better so I rode Reilly around the neighborhood. But that was it. I was still flinching when cars passed me and couldn't wait to get home. What is wrong with me?, I kept thinking.

Thursday and Friday we went to the beach and we had a great time. I was reminded of my bruised and skinned knee every time I knelt down in the tent, but I was sincerely hoping that a couple of days away to lick my wounds would be all I needed to shake this uncomfortable funk.

"Just do a Tabor ride," I said to myself and was relieved when my husband said he would join me on Saturday. As we rode out of the driveway, all clipped in, I actually thought, "Hey, I know how to do this." My mind was focused, diligent. Car up. Car back. Shift, brake, pedal, shift. Unclip, lean to the left. I was starting to remember why I loved cycling so much, but in the back of my mind stayed the ever present thought, "You're taking a risk. You're taking a risk."

"Maybe the thing is that the ever present threat of death keeps you focused on what you are doing," I said to Peter. "You know, like you can't worry about other things because if you lose your focus, you're dead." Peter looked at me quizzically with his eyebrows raised, "Oh yeah?" He was as unconvinced as I was.

Without a partner to ride with yesterday, I lost my courage. I rode to Pho Van to get some pho, but that was it. And as the hours between my morning sessions and evening sessions ticked by I kept thinking, "You've still got time for a 30 mile ride, a 20 mile ride, 4 times up Tabor, 2 times up Tabor." In the end, a bubble bath and a glass of Zinfandel won out. It turned out to be a crappy, tepid bath because we need a new water heater and laying there looking down at my belly I was quite disappointed in myself for being such a chicken. Okay, tomorrow, however you feel, you're going for a ride. No excuses!!!

"10 days in Iceland for 2100 dollars!" the email from Peter said. I called him and asked if that included our flights. "YES!" he replied. When he got home we found an even better deal ($1900) that was for an apartment so we could cook some of our own food. And then, in a moment of delicious impulsiveness we bought the package. It was a completely irresponsible thing to do since we should probably spend that money getting a new water heater or replacing the pipes, but how often do you find a deal like that for an international trip? "We're going to Iceland. We're going to Iceland!" we cheered to each other as we jumped around the kitchen and then in the next breath I yelled out, "I want to ride my bike!!!!!!"

Like a fish finally back in the water, I rode out of the driveway a new woman. Now, I can't say that buying airline tickets to some far away land is ALWAYS the cure for a fear of cycling, but I wasn't going to question it. I was no longer afraid and all I wanted to do was ride.

I blew up Tabor, noticing that the mountain was completely socked in by clouds and made my way towards the Columbia river. About 10 miles in I could feel like a layer of stress, worry and anxiety from the last week was peeling away. Without my regular endorphin dose, people had been starting to irritate me and I could feel as I pedaled that extra "give" that I had lost coming back. At about 12 miles, I noticed that I was using my full lungs to breathe again.

Little birds were all around me skittering from here to there. There was a pile of birdseed on the ground and on top of the cement structure where I always stop to eat a snack. I added some crumbs from my granola bar to their stash. And then, I looked up and saw him (or her, but let's say it was a him). A great blue heron was no more than twenty feet away from me perched on a pole. The picture below is without a zoom or cropping. That's how close he was.
I looked up at him and then down at the little birds. I ate the rest of my granola bar and switched out my water bottles. He remained perfectly still. His countenance one of complete stillness, of peace. I kept watching to see if he might move and for a little while thought maybe he wasn't even real. And, then I got to wondering what he was looking at and looked to the east. Sitting there in all it's glory was Mt. Hood, a view that I will NEVER tire of. I hadn't even noticed that the mountain had found it's way out of the clouds. I went back to watching him and as each minute passed I became more entranced. How could he stay so still? What is he thinking about? Have I ever in my entire life been that peaceful? After more than 10 minutes, he scratched his wing with his beak and I pedaled away knowing that it was moments like that that are the reason why you ride. You never get to learn about stillness and peace from a great blue heron riding an elliptical, or sitting at home reading a book, or watching a movie. No, this is why you ride. This is why I ride.

I headed back east with a tailwind marveling as the mountain slowly began to be covered by clouds again. And, imbued without my own feeling of stillness and peace I pedaled happily home.

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