It was supposed to be a simple, run of the mill, ordinary Friday morning ride on the Silver Comet Trail. I do this most Fridays between late March and early October, when the weather is not too cool, and assuming the rains are not too awful, and I am in town. More often than not, I am on the Trail by 7:30 for a ride that depending on the time of year and the rest of my life (and schedule) may be anywhere from 25 miles (short) to 60 or more miles (which I like). This past Friday, with a number of things going on, I decided to ride 30 or 35 miles.
It was not too hot, but then again it was not cool, and the humidity and the temperature were pushing one another to see who would get highest before I got off the bike. I started out, feeling OK (not great, but not sluggish, which I can be sometimes), thinking that I’d just put the miles in.
And then it happened.
Some guy had the audacity to come put of nowhere and pass me in the first two miles. The instant he passed me, I thought, “Oh, boy. Here we go. The race is on.”
I let him get about fifty yards ahead of me, and then I attached the elastic, not letting him pull any further away, just holding him at that distance, sometimes closing in on him, sometimes letting him pull away. At one point, and for a stretch, I closed in well enough hat I was drafting him, and he had no idea. We rolled up to an intersection, and when he turned to look for traffic and saw me in his peripheral vision, he jumped like a stuck pig. I think he thought he had dropped me and left me in his dust. That’s when I started playing with him. I let the rope out, and let him build his confidence up, then I reeled him back in, and let him see that I was right there on his shoulder. I let the rope out again, and reeled him in. I was playing tapes from the broadcast of the Tour de France in my mind, and Phil Liggett was singing my praises. I was having fun, feeling great, and having the ride of my life. The competition with this guy was pushing me, but I was fine with that. I was pushing right back.
As we approached the 15 mile mark, I let the rope out and watched to see what he would do. As I predicted, he circled a parking lot, and stopped, obviously turning around. My plan was to keep going, and I did. I went past him sitting there, nodded, and kept going, never looking back. “Beat him,” I said.
I hit the 17.5 mile mark and turned around, stopping for a moment to eat a bar and check to see if I’d gotten any emails that demanded attention. None, good, get back on the bike.
I was flying, feeling great, drinking enough so I would not cramp, and marveling that I was riding so well. As I approached the intersection at the 11.5 mile mark on the way back in, I was feeling good enough that I decided not to stop at the small parking lot/rest area where I often take a short break. I mean, I was now racing myself, thinking that this was going to be a benchmark ride.
Then it happened.
As I reached that intersection, I looked to my left and saw no cars on the road. I looked right, and saw a car approaching. I was riding fast (that’s “FAST,” in Eric Liddell’s Scottish brogue from Chariots of Fire), and did not want to break my rhythm or ruin my average MPH by stopping. But a quick evaluation let me know that I could not safely cross without endangering myself. “But I can turn right on the sidewalk, go those twenty feet to that driveway, make a left-hand U-turn onto the road, then pick the Trail back up, and keep going.” I did it.
And something happened. I’m not sure what, but the instant I turned onto the sidewalk, something took me and swung me sideways; whether I over-turned, or slid on grass clippings or leaves or a wet spot, I don’t know. But the next thing I knew, I was hitting a street sign post broadside, my left shoulder (yes, the one surgically repaired a year and a half ago), my left forearm, my knee, my helmet, and THE BIKE, all slamming into the post, then my force slingshotting me around it and I am now laying on the ground. Testosterone instinct kicked in, and I started laughing in case anyone saw me. The car stopped, so I sat up quickly, still laughing, and when the driver rolled the window down I waved to show that I was OK (I was not), and they drove off. I stood up, looking at my shoulder pretty baBike damagenged up, and worked it to make sure I’d not destroyed it. I flexed my knee, then saw the bike. An ugly scar on the top tube, screaming “I’m carbon fiber! Am I safe to ride?”
I examined the damage as best I could, tapped and checked it out, thought about calling home for a ride, but then I heard German cyclist Jens Voight telling me to man up and ride in. So I did.
It hurt pretty badly, but I rode that last 11 miles watching the crack on the top tube, willing it to be only in the paint, and made it back to my car with no problems. Well, no further problems. I racked the bike, looked at my watch (“Oh, yeah–I killed my expensive Garmin GPS watch, too.”), checked the dashboard clock, and realized the bike shop would be opening in a minute, so I went and had the bike checked out.
They said they thought it was OK, but it would be wise to keep an eye on it. I have ridden some since then, but have also found a carbon fiber bike repair spot that is convinced they can cure me for less than $200. Better safe than sorry, so I’ll give them the job next week.
But it all got me to thinking, that it was my dadgum competitive fire that did this. Had I not chased and raced that other fellow, had I taken ten more second of a break, or not been trying to cross that intersection without breaking my rhythm, I would have missed this entirely.
Burned by competitive fire, and I was the one stoking the flames myself.

No Pain, No Gain

February 29, 2012

Come tomorrow, it will have been four weeks since my shoulder surgery. By most accounts I have come along pretty well, getting off the prescription pain meds four days after surgery and dropping to Extra Strength Tylenol a couple of times a day as needed. I started physical therapy a week after surgery, making the trek to the PT center once a week, and doing the exercises at home one or two days a week. After three weeks I graduated from the sling (mostly–when around crowds I still wear it judiciously, as people-men in particular-like to instinctively slap one on the left shoulder).

I realized that last weekend was a pretty taxing one; a church officer retreat Friday and most of Saturday, followed by a wedding, followed by celebrating my (wonderful) Mother-in-Law’s 80th birthday, then preaching twice (and serving Communion), hosting 13 family members at our home for lunch, then playing pastor for a couple, where the wife recently lost her sister very suddenly. On Monday, out of the sling, my “shoulder bone” was hurting badly enough that I went back to the prescription. As it hurt on Tuesday, I decided it was time for “game on.” I called, and upped the ante to going to PT twice a week.

As I lay on the table, the diminutive but fierce physical terrorist Amy kept pushing-stretching-the shoulder boldy where it did not want to go. I kept saying to myself, and to her, “No pain.” She repeated it back to me. And then she pushed, stretched, the shoulder beyond the last point. From the deep recesses of my mind crept a part of my mantra: “Pain is my friend, hunger is my brother, fatigue is my lover.”

One of the other therapists walked past, and seeing me grimce, said with a smile on his face, “No pain, no gain.” I winked in reply.

Now, while I agree with that philosophy, and tend to live it out-not only in terms of rehab, but in life in general-I find that many people will go to great lengths to avoid pain. That’s really fascinating, when you consider that many of the early Christian writers viewed sacrifice and discomfort as a way of drawing closer to Christ, identifying with His suffering, and coming to understand their own mortality and growth.

Without pain, we will not grow. It’s as simple as that.

I recall the summer of 1981, when I was dating this wonderful young woman in Dallas, and I realized that in a couple of months-literally, a couple of months-I would move back to Atlanta to finish my Master’s degee. I considered our romance insane, given the fact that it would have to be terminated at the end of the summer; yet we both chose to continue it. I recall thinking once that it would hurt to leave that relationship and lose that love, but that if that was what happened, I would grow as a person from the experience.

And for the record, that young woman and I have been married for over 28 years. Sometimes you don’t have to experience the pain, in order to discover the gain.