I may have slammed the door to ever riding a bicycle again. Yesterday, I asked Bill at Campus Bike Shop when I could take in my 6 bikes for him to have a look, with an eye to selling them to cash-strapped students in the Spring. In the meanwhile, I’m covering my bases by contacting my former psychologist and the colleague she thought might help me get over my cyclophobia (yes, that’s the word). I’ll tell you how I got there later. I still love my bikes. They hang from my garage ceiling waiting for Kathy and me to take them down and ride them again. We built up the collection slowly, and it’s well seasoned by now. I bought my big pale blue Miyata 110 back in the summer of 84 to replace the brown 5-speed Schwinn I’d had since high school. I’ve replaced just about every piece of standard equipment myself to make it more to my liking. If a bicycle can fit like a glove, this one sure does. Next to it hangs Kathy’s blue carbon fiber Trek, light and fast, which she bought with her first big NASA paycheck in ’98, after taking crap from the guides on our Hawaii trip earlier in the year for having such a heavy bike. Her sturdy reliable red steel number she’d had since college weighed 51 pounds. Bought a little earlier were our Mongoose mountain bikes when we took the leap into off-roading. Simple by today’s standards with nary a shock absorber they were always good for a run around the many trails in the area. Latest additions were the two Specialized combination bikes, which we bought used from Blazing Saddles bike rental in D.C. the second of Kathy’s 4 years there with NASA. We kept them in the basement of Kathy’s Pennsylvania Avenue apartment and rode them all over whenever I came to visit. They made errands simple, with a straight bicycle shot preempting having to deal with the Metro. Bike paths in the area are abundant, and we took our share of long rides. We brought them home to Ann Arbor, and they became our go to bikes when we didn’t feel like dealing with toe clips or pushing fat tires.
Those bikes have taken us a lot of places. We used to love riding around town and the surrounding area, back when that wasn’t a hazard. We learned how well bicycles burned calories. Whenever I got to feeling a little thick in the middle, I’d get back to my daily 20-25 mile loops and watched it melt away. We’ve gone through 3 different bicycle rack systems carrying our bikes along to any vacation destination that had any outdoor component . We took vacations that were exclusively bicycle focused guided by pros. We’ve circled the Keewenaw, explored the San Juan Islands, ridden around the Big Island of Hawaii, and even pretended to be ace mountain bikers (on bikes we’d bought 2 months previously) on the White Rim Trail in Moab. We made our own way around the Mission Peninsula, to Canada and back crossing by ferry over lake St. Clair at Harson’s Island and back at Marine City, and I made over 50 miles in one day along Hines Drive to visit my Aunt Dorie in Royal Oak. We did a century, finishing a hot Helluva Ride one July. Mercifully, naps along the way were allowed. But my burning desire was to do it all, over days, without help: strap tent, sleeping bag, cooking utensils, food and water, clothes, and other supplies all to the bike and peddle away. Adventure Cycling came each month and became like porn to me, with its description of people who had done just what I desired, exploring the corners of the earth. I finally got Kathy to try something a little like that. We affixed panniers, loaded them with a few changes of clothes and personal care items and set out to conquer the Waterfront Trail in Ontario. We started in Niagara Falls, getting there by Via Rail from Windsor and shipping our bikes ahead. After leaving our B&B there, we made stops at an inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a McMaster University dorm in Hamilton, and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student run hotel in Toronto. Our favorite tragically undiscovered Canadian folk singer, Eileen McGann, was giving a house concert in the Oakville neighborhood, where we ventured by bike – of course – to the marvel of all present, who didn’t believe Americans were capable of such things.
As the new century took on more numbers, we put fewer and fewer miles on our odometers. We still took our bikes on outdoor vacations, but stopped making bikes the main focus of any extended free time. Then, in the Fall of ’14, an unsolicited email arrived from Saddle Skedaddle describing a trip in the Lake District of Chile and Argentina https://www.skedaddle.com/us/classicroad/holidays/location/Chile/869#guided
Tho’ it was in and around mountains, it wasn’t really mountain biking. For the price there should be a lot of pampering, and hey we love malbecs. It would take place over Christmas break, and we hadn’t yet made any big plans for Christmas, so we signed on. The weather didn’t permit much training. After our long same time zone flight to Santiago, then bus to Temuco, we looked around and were pleased: not at all exotic, sort of like the U.P. with volcanoes. Not long into our first riding day, however, we began to worry we’d made a big mistake. We rode mountain bikes, not because we were mountain biking but because the local roads were so crappy: big rocks and potholes. We were clearly the old fat Americans, as everyone else was a trim British or otherwise European Gen-Xer, all riding circles around us. But there was room for us in the sag wagon, and the lodge at the destination that night was spectacular and served wonderful food, which we happily consumed with our compatriots, who forgave and encouraged us. The next day was more of the same, and it looked like we’d make lunch without clocking any sag wagon time. There was a little downhill coming up to be negotiated, which to be safe we were going to take one by one, like Andreas Wellinger at the ski jump. When my turn came, I surveyed the obstacle: same crappy, potted rocky road, and we seemed to have drawn an audience. A few locals had come out to watch the foreigners ride down their hill, one woman with 3 little weiner dogs at her side. If they were like NASCAR fans itching for some spectacular crash, they were about to get their wish. I rolled down with brakes half applied, bouncing over the rocks I couldn’t swerve past. Then, as I approached the bottom, one of that woman’s damned little dogs darted into the road, right in front of me. I squeezed hard. The bike stopped before hitting the mutt, but I kept going, flying into a nearby ditch landing first on my outstretched right hand, then smack on my shoulder. The head guide, who boasted some EMT experience, pronounced I had “just a soft tissue injury”, but threw me into the pickup to head to the nearest doctor’s office, just as a precaution. The doctor’s office, quiet for lunch, did not have an x-ray machine, so we went on to the “German Clinic” in Temuco. By then, my hand had swelled up, and I couldn’t move it. Yes, there was pain. Ernesto, the local bike shop operator Skeedaddle had hired to help with the trip, was along to translate. I can’t recall which came first, the x-rays or the pain shot. The x-rays were pretty spectacular and had the techs oohing and aahing. I’d sustained a fracture through my humeral head and dislocated it for good measure. They had to call in the local orthopod. Access to the OR where they’d have to take me to sedate me and pop my shoulder back in was delayed by a young woman going through a difficult delivery with which everyone in entire clinic had to go help. The young but kindly orthopod finally did his thing, of which mercifully I have no memory. As I was about to be discharged with my arm in a sling, I asked him why my hand wouldn’t move. “Brachial plexus injury. Take about 6 weeks to heal”. Ah, that intertwining network of “rancid Tom drinks coke” I‘d struggled to memorize back in medical school had been squished by my displaced humerus, where it had rested for the 11 hours between injury and relocation. Kathy got on the stick and the next day – Christmas – we were flying business class back to Dallas and Detroit. The long flight gave me plenty of time to strategize, and by Boxing day I was ordering clothes I could handle with one hand and made contact with Dr. Miller, the local shoulder guy. Had it not been for the accident, we would have missed the Illinois basketball game where Jim Harbaugh was introduced as the new football coach. I went back to work on the 2nd and never missed a day of work. Trainees, under my supervision, eagerly did the many procedures I used to do. The doses of Neurontin I had to take to dull the nerve pain were so stupendous I developed a movement disorder. I got a medical marihuana card, but found it only distracting rather than useful. My first useful action with my right hand came in mid-April when I shook the hand of a Londoner who had come up to thank us Yanks for all we’d done for his country. By June I started wearing “real” clothes again, much to the satisfaction of my chief who had disdained my “unprofessional” look. By July I was doing meaningful things with my hands again, although the trainees were reluctant to set aside their newly won and much enjoyed activities. My hand never really made it all the way back. It still doesn’t feel exactly normal, my fingers don’t straighten all the way, and I can’t use chopsticks. Although I feel comfortable doing all the hands-on things I used to do, reports have filtered of others seeing “my hands shake” as I aim for a joint with a needle.
So perhaps you can appreciate the memories behind the trepidation I feel when I approach a bicycle. Clearly “I’ve lost that lovin’ feeling” for bicycles. Yet that love was so wonderful, so rewarding, for so long, a big part of me wants to try to get it back, if that’s even possible. Then, each time I knock my head on a hanging bike on the way to the recycle bin, or see the huge expanse of space taken up in my garage by the Yakima bike carrier, I see the practical advantages of just moving on. I don’t know how my counselling sessions are going to go. Maybe we’ll even see the scenario where the bikes and rack are all sold before I finally reach a breakthough. Then I’ll just have to buy me a new one, all modern with all the bells-and-whistles, or maybe even have one custom made to fit my lanky frame. Regardless, it’ll be cheaper than a Ferrari, and even a little less dangerous.