Stress

My body knows. When on my game of fitness I am tuned. My body is balanced. I can take the blows that a hard ride delivers, and know the familiar feel of recovery that follows.  My normal level of fitness diffuses the stress that comes with a regular day.  The thing that amazes me is how, when as aware of my physical-self that I am, stress can sneak up and scream itself out in some physical manifestation when I think (operative word here, THINK: a conscious and intellectual exercise) that I am so meticulously aware of my physical-self that I know my stressed-out self well enough (another conscious exercise) that I have the power to keep those physical manifestations at bay.

But currently I am definitely not at the top of my game.  Since January commuting to work and our weekend group rides have dwindled. For the first three months of 2018, with ten hour days each weekend and four-to-six hour stints after each workday, we blasted through our home from top to bottom in preparation to sell. We closed escrow in March at a satisfying high of a seller’s market. That, along with becoming a grandma, the increasing needs of my aging eight-seven year old mom still living on her own, and settling happily into our temporary home had put our riding life on hold.  We are only now barely getting back to our weekend group rides.

My brother, who ran a 2:35 marathon in his day says not to worry – that my base will see me through this time. Although I wonder how I’d be “seeing” had I still been on top, another extremely important aspect of an athlete’s life is to accept one’s present conditioning without beating one’s self up for what is not. So, I will trust my brother’s wisdom and the flow of my own fitness history (yet another conscious and intellectual exercise) and believe that I will be back there sometime in the near future.

Years ago I remember thinking I was very self-aware when I realized that stress was what I didn’t consciously know was brewing. Little did I know the extreme of what I had surmised with the age-appropriate philosophical mind of most twenty-something young adults. Now, these thirty years later I’m struck with the idea that not even these years since, with all that I’ve been through, have given me the experience to be able to think stress away.  This just validates that even the mental strength to push through that 200th mile of the Hemet Double Century and the 124 degree heat my Garmin read on the Tollhouse Century and the 15,000th foot of climbing and 129th mile of The Death Ride did not prepare me for the stress of this new ride I have just begun.

After a routine mammogram on May 31st, a followup mammogram and ultrasound on June 14th, and a biopsy on June 25th; on June 27th of this year I received confirmation from my new surgeon that I have Stage 1B ER+ HER2- Breast Cancer.

On July 13 I came down with my first-ever cold sore. It has been brutal. I had no idea that the innocuous pimple I felt developing on my upper lip, the random tingles, nerve shots of zinging pain, nor the metallic whiffs I kept getting in my mouth would turn into a full-on attack.  Thankfully I was meeting with my new oncologist the day after I felt the first twinges and had started using a topical medicine. He prescribed the medicine that would kick down the symptoms systemically.  Though it has done its job, the course of this infection has been as bad as a flu. I have felt like crap since. Only now, after ten days of the medicine am I feeling like I may get back to normal in the next few days.

I don’t think I need any more validation that my innocent twenty-something moment of philosophical brilliance was spot-on.  Our athlete minds can get us up and over any mountain. Our athlete bodies tell us when to listen.  Our athlete grace reminds us when it’s time take notice so that we can gather our inner troops to attack and heal.

On July 30th I will meet with one more of my team of doctors to solidify my plan of treatment. This team is at the top of their game and my WBF and I are confident that their level of care is unmatched. And, in this very short whirlwind of time that this has all transpired, I have learned that I have a team of amazing family and friends at my side that have already begun to see me through the emotional ride on which I have just embarked.

 

 

A Bike Ride Away

Having a whole month to train for the next century felt luxurious when we got home from picking up the trailer Monday evening, and I jumped into the old commute routine on Tuesday ready to ride a few days a week, knowing it would whip me back to my regular form.

A few weeks ago I had started to take a different route the last few miles from home which adds about four miles to the ride. Just for mind-game’s sake, I had begun to call it route my “regular” route. Actually I prefer it because it takes me away from the traffic in our small city and adds a few small rollers. After riding along the highway so many miles, the quiet road is welcomed. I was looking forward to this stretch my first afternoon back until the reality of summer set in.

Each day I leave work I text my WBF to let him know I’m leaving for two reasons: one is for safety, and the other is he’ll know what time to leave the house if he can ride the eight miles south to meet me. The first time he did this it was such a sweet surprise. Some boyfriends hold roses behind their backs at the front door. Mine shows up on his bike to escort me home into a headwind. He’s the best boyfriend ever.

Fairly sure he wasn’t going to be able to ride that day I reached into my jersey pocket like reaching for a gel, held down the home button by feel and said, “Text WBF.” Siri said in her robot voice, “What do you want to say to WBF?”

With both hands on my bars I said, “Already 98.6 at the bottom of the grade on the south side.”

At the top I stopped, put my foot down at the elevation sign, and sent, “This is crazy! Taking the shortest way home. Top is 110+.”

Five miles further, off the highway and heading the last few miles home, I started chanting out loud to myself,  “Pick me up, come on WBF, come get me.” I kid you not, within the next minute I looked up and saw him driving towards me, making a u-turn, pulling over, and opening the rear door for my bike. Okay, okay, I know it might have sounded like a wee hint when I texted more than once, but I really was prepared to make it home knowing I’d gotten that much stronger because of it.

I didn’t ride the rest of the week and spiraled into a funk. Some ride indoor trainers because of snow and ice. In our part of the world heat is a more valid reason, but it didn’t even occur to me. Instead I wallowed knowing with every ounce of my being that I was fat, out of shape, and I’d never be ready for another ride in my entire life. Even an evening out with three of my favorite girlfriends Thursday, avid riders themselves, left me feeling out of place and couldn’t pull me out of it.

And then it was Saturday.

With the temperature forecast for one-hundred degrees the ride was starting a half-hour early, and to tack on a few extra miles (fourteen round-trip) instead of driving, we rode up to the park in the cool air of the morning to meet twenty of our riding friends for our group ride. That alone should have done the trick. Week-in and week-out the same core of us show up and spend roughly four hours together, and often socialize at evening get-togethers. I’ve often said there’s something very special about the kind of commitment we share.

I stayed in that funk for the first hour of the ride and I think some could tell. I definitely wasn’t my usual, talkative, outgoing self. Joe rode up and asked how I was doing. “Blech,” I said. He told me I was strong and had good form and I know he meant it; and then rode on up to catch the group as I trudged forward. A few minutes later Danny lagged a bit looking over his shoulder so I could jump on his wheel and he hammered ahead so we could catch the lead group until I couldn’t hang on anymore. A few miles after that Dane rode up behind me and gave me a thankful shove as I trudged up my nemesis grade of four percent. Give me anything below or above, but thanks to my Garmin I know that’s the rise that gets me.

It took a few more miles but something began to change and without even thinking about it I was out of my shell and by the time my WBF and I were riding alone together the last few miles of the official ride, and those last seven miles of our fifty-one on our own, I remembered something I’d read online:

You’re only one bike ride away from a good mood.

Welllll, I loved that quote when I read it but after the last few weeks I think it needs to be qualified. If the statement needed quantification I believe it would only require something like, “You’re only fifty-one miles away from a good mood.” And to push this out a little further, I’m now stuck on the fact that is reads, “…a good mood,” not “…the good mood.”  But “the” good mood would imply that there is only one type of good mood, and ummm also, WHICH ONE of the “one” bike rides are they talking about and who the hey are “they?”

If it were true, this blog post wouldn’t exist because as you now understand, that hot, miserable ride home two weeks after our truck’s own death ride would have done the trick.  So maybe I do, indeed need to quantify it and say this:

You’re only TWO bike rides away from a good mood.

And then qualify it with, “Yeah, and starting in the cool of the morning, not the 3:00 pm heat of the day, away from highway traffic on some of the most beautiful roads a rider could ask for with a few of the most terrific people ever.

Many years ago I heard a comedian (Steve Martin?) say, “There is not going to be any weather today and I’m not going to have a mood.” What, I ask, would we have to write about then?

Update

As this week tumbles by with the truck back home and ourselves back at work, I finally have some time (it’s 3:40 a.m.) to write about it.

On our way to The Death Ride a week and a half ago, at about 9 pm, on a dark mountain Highway 88 (sounds like a song!) while pulling our twenty-four foot camping trailer, our Ford 250 truck’s alternator died. HA that’s it! The truck wanted all the attention and had its own death ride! My mind does funny things so early in the morning with the first few sips of cup of coffee.

We limped without headlights or any other power in the truck for what seemed like a very long time though was probably less than five minutes, to a place to pull over and figured we’d sleep and deal with it in the morning. Here’s what happened:

July 6: At 9 pm and 2 hours from Markleeville on a dark mountain road our alternator went out. Two nice CHP officers came by and the one in the SUV strapped the truck and trailer up and dragged us fifty feet forward to get out of the way of a gate and fence.

July 7: WBF hitchhiked six miles to town for a new alternator, got a ride back with an Auto Zone employee and they installed it on the side of the road. We thought we were on our way but the truck continued to have issues. After many stops and starts, the CHP escorted us to back to Auto Zone to charge the truck batteries. We limped to the recommended auto shop three miles away.

July 7: We learned that the transmission was toast and decided that towing it home was the best option.

July 8: We coordinated the tow and how we were going to store the trailer for the week.

July 9: The tow truck left at 3:00 am from home and drove the 268 miles to pick us up. Great guy, bench seat, no air conditioning, 106 degrees.

July 10-14: The transmission was rebuilt by our local mechanic.

July 15: With the new transmission, we drove back up north, picked up our trailer, and took a mini-vacation wandering old western towns while waiting for the shop to open on Monday morning.

July 17: Hooked up the trailer and drove it home.

Soooooooooooo, on our way home we decided on our “make up” century. There are many from which to choose between now and the end of the season, but as it turns out, on August 20th The Napa Valley Century has an official NF Endurance Team participating! The director of the program has offered to set us up to stay with a family affected by NF the night before the ride. I have the feeling that it will be an amazing experience.

I’m So Not Ready, I’m Ready

Tuesday
I woke up this morning composing this post in my mind and hearing the voice identical to that, for which I’ve expressed such disdain on these pages and wanted to make sure I didn’t belabor that angle. The Death Ride – Tour of the California Alps is FOUR short days away. Rather than waste this post with predictable indications of woe about how poor my diet has been over the last few weeks, my lack of preparation, questioning my fitness level, and doubting my confidence; there are a bazillion other angles from which to gaze. In other words, when going through a difficult situation years ago, what popped into my head and has remained as my mantra when worry takes over is, “The world is bigger than that.”

Indeed it is. This year I am doing The Death Ride as a fundraiser. I mentioned it briefly here a few posts ago without much explanation.  I was born with Neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1). My story is here.  Please take the time to read it and share the link or this blog with anyone you think will read it too. The suffering I will endure on the ride is nothing compared to what others with my condition endure daily. We who have NF1 all have the same gene. It’s just luck of the draw as to the severity of each case. I am very, very fortunate.

In addition to my link above you can Google NF1 or spell it out: Neurofibromatosis 1. 

Every event we finished last year was based on the ultimate goal of The Death Ride. This year it feels like I am a teenager testing the boundaries of a parent’s discipline; only in this case, I’m the parent wagging the finger telling my teenage-self that I’m about to be grounded because I haven’t done my chores. Blame the rain, the heat, appointments, the sale-hence-papers-and-packing of my WBF’s home of 20-some years; but the bottom line is the training miles did not get ridden this season, not to mention the blog posts that went with them.

Two weeks ago we finished my second Tollhouse Century. Mid-ride my Garmin read 124.3 degrees Fahrenheit. I figure it usually reads about five-degrees high. Early in the ride close to the top of only the first climb I seriously wondered if I was going to be able to make it. My WBF said, “Only seven miles to the next rest stop.” That got me through. “Brutal” is over-used among our tribe of riders, but that ride was everything-brutal and more.

Last year every training ride was calculated. Every event prepared us for the next. And all of it was new for me. This year I found myself approaching Tollhouse without the anxiety I couldn’t shake the first time, even without the preparation I knew I needed.  I know that the 97.5 miles and 7500 feet of elevation gain in temperatures soaring above 100 degrees two weeks ago put me in better position for The Death Ride.

Am I fooling myself? The Death Ride is twice the climbing as The Tollhouse in only thirty-five more miles. Saturday will tell all, but there are two things I inconveniently forget when the worry takes over leading up to these rides:

  1. Every event becomes a training ride if there’s another one scheduled after it, and
  2. Being part of such an intense challenge with hundreds of others is electric.

On Bill Cosby’s seventieth birthday he said, “I’ve never waited so long for anything else in my entire life!.” Well, I say, “I’ve never had this many miles of training on my legs ever before in my entire life.  I’m so not ready, I’m ready.”

Yes, the world is bigger than that.

 

Looking Back

It was just over a year ago that I was stuffing my jersey pockets, not knowing what I’d need or crave on a ride over fifty miles. I’d plan, sort, bake the day before, package, rearrange, ponder, unpack, and then pack way more than I’d ever need while imagining a confidence I could only fantasize. My pockets were so heavy they’d clunk on the back of my saddle, then sag and swing when I stood up on a climb.

Saturday morning we lounged around with coffee and we both ate only half our bowls of oatmeal because it was the consistency of paste. I wrapped four dates each in a strip of wax paper, made a PB2 and honey sandwich on raisin bread, grabbed a tube of Hammer Perpetuem Solids and one Hammer Espresso Love Gel, drank a dose of Hammer Fully Charged*, and we got out the door for the ride like another day at the office.

Riding is an excellent lesson in how to live in the moment. I ate my sandwich at about mile thirty-five with the thought that it might be too early, but I’d been hungry for the last half-hour and the tip I learned when I first started riding in the early 80’s still hangs with me: “Eat before you’re hungry and drink before you’re thirsty.” The thought always reminds me that it’s not necessary to save nutrition for later, rather it’s essential to prepare for later by taking care of energy now.  It’s a completely different mindset than that which we follow during a non-riding work day.

My energy was stable the entire 77.04 miles. I didn’t bonk; I didn’t even droop. I munched on my dates and three solids throughout the day, and I didn’t long for anything more. When I arrived home I had nothing left in my pockets but one optimistically half-empty tube of Perpetuem Solids.

That evening we volunteered for the second consecutive year at the finish of the Central Coast Double Century. I kid you not, the second rider (eleventh overall, I think) who rolled up after we started our post was plastered with the Hammer logo. I asked him if he worked for Hammer or just liked their stuff. Duh…shows you how sheltered I am. He said Hammer sponsors him. We chatted about what products we liked and used, and he mentioned that sometimes he thinks Fully Charged is almost too good because it can make him go out too fast and he’ll suffer later in a ride. Not only did that make complete sense having used Fully Charged enough to know how great it is, but it was another example of how imperative it is for us to stay alert to our energy in the moment.

We talked of how much we value the knowledge of Steve Born, and then he brought up exactly what I’d been pondering for this blog a few hours before. He said, “I haven’t talked to Steve in a long time. Once I figured out what worked for me, I just use it.”

Ain’t that cool.

*I am in no way sponsored by Hammer. I’m not being paid or otherwise compensated for touting their products. They just work for me and part of the impetus for this blog is to share what does.