In the running community there is a notion that speed is not as important as finishing. When all else is gone, - energy, hope - the idea is to simply keep moving: The mantra is: Relentless forward motion.
That is where I am. Improvement seems to be happening at the pace of geologic time. And although I can do slightly more than a week ago, I don't feel one wit better. This feeling of having an infinitive hangover is slowly putting me in a daze, but it is an interesting self-experiment on how persistent discomfort affects one's psyche.
So yesterday I finally moved at a pace greater than a walk, splitting four miles into a walk and jog followed by a very light weight routine. Beginning to run again is a very big deal. But today, feeling utterly crappy in a cold morning mist, I breezed through a 20 mile bike ride on my '65 Puch.
One can feel horrible laying in bed, or one can feel horrible listening to the birds along the trail....
Even with the persistent nausea, it was a good ride. My $50 Craigslist bike is ridiculously smooth with its steel lugged frame and a long rake. The ancient Huret derailleurs, absent of the slightest plastic component, behave with a solid no-fuss click every time. It is easy to become hypnotized by the silent speed of such a well-oiled machine. With mechanical work complete, I am now focusing on period embellishment and accessories, scrounging them for cheap or making them myself. There are a zillion things I can't do well, but with a bicycle, inspiration comes easy. The photo is from the driver's seat, looking down at yesterday's work: the polished handlebars and stem assembly woven with '60s style cotton tape and hemp whipping, covered in four coats of shellac. Bottle corks from local wineries plug the ends. It is such a pure organic machine, all screws, washers and loose bearings -- all stuff that needs constant attention. And then there are the subtle details - like the pattern on the aluminum handlebar stem. Making such a thing move again, on a slow spring morning, that is the magic that keeps me moving.
My bike isn't beautiful yet, but I have reassembled enough of it to ride. This morning I took out my '65 Puch, the bicycle I will be riding in Eroica, for its first ride. It was like riding a bit of history. The primitive French Huret derailleurs responded smoothly and quietly. The gum-wall Panaracer tires were silent. No creaks or knocks. Freshly lubed from front to back, it just zipped. The lugged steel frame with raked forks rode like a '50s Buick. So I kept it in a decent gear and averaged a speed in the mid-teens, still not pushing it. Sailing through the snow of spring flowers and dappled sunlight amongst the oaks of the local rail trail-- that was my Sunday Easter service. From the looks of the grease in the bearings, I wonder how long since it has been ridden, much less taken out for a brisk stretch. If it could smile it would have. Nausea and fatigue are relentless, maybe a little worse. Losing my appetite. Getting out of bed is becoming more difficult.
Back on two wheels again, just to see if I can even do it. I borrowed my dear brother's vintage Kobe road bike and did an easy 10 miles along a local rail trail. I kept my heart rate reasonable, and tried to stay in gear on the hills, just to see how my body would react. Nothing blew up or failed. The Kobe is my Plan B cycle should my ancient Puch fail the test. The Kobe would require some modification though, and is a size too big, but either way, I am in the game. That short ride gave me hope because the nausea and fatigue are endless.
I had a choice: Either feel lousy and stay in bed or feel lousy and do something. Doing something doesn't make me feel worse so... now I am walking about four miles per day. As of yesterday I am off the IV and only on oral medications - lots of them. Still, I am weary of feeling disconnected from the world, and for me that is intolerable.
So I decided to commit to something - a challenge that is inspiring and classic. I am going to attempt the California Eroica vintage bicycle ride in Paso Robles on April 10. http://www.eroicacalifornia.com/#home That is in less than three weeks. I have not ridden a real bike outdoors in months. I have not yet been able to run because of the IV port in my chest. And I have to do the thing on a vintage bicycle in vintage garb. OK, so what if I fail. The doctors won't approve so I won't tell them. But I have been dreaming of this ride for a year, have already restored a fabulous 1979 Puch (residing impossibly now in our basement 2000 miles away), and know what this whole gig requires. I have less than three weeks to pull this together. Think about it like this: On the anniversary of my open heart surgery, and only 46 days following a bone marrow transplant for a worst-case leukemia, let's say I fail at my attempt of a vintage bicycle ride through the hills of coastal California. There are only six of these events in the world. I might not live to see the one next year. As far as I can tell from my research, I can't find anybody so handicapped attempting this kind of thing so soon. It will be a magnificent epic failure. But, but, but... what if I make it? What a story that would be, and the measure of a life lived is in the quality of the stories we can tell about it.
So yesterday I acquired a vintage Austrian -made bike from about 1965. It is primitive but everything works. From now on, I will spend my days throwing my magic at it, making it roadworthy (and beautiful, of course) and increasing my stamina and strength training.
Thank you to all who have supported me so far in this horrible adventure. I just feel like now is the time for me to start giving back, even if it is only maybe as an inspiration to others.
I have been questioned about my lack of posts this week, so here goes:
Whenever I have been involved in a very long process, such as an extended difficult trail run or some other life project, there comes a time when it isn't fun anymore. The early novelty of embarking on something with possibility has worn off, and the finish line is nowhere in sight. That is where I am now. I am getting ever so slightly better by the day, but sometimes the improvement doesn't even seem measurable. It is a time of no real change and endless discomfort and compromise. I can't go back and I can't see my goal in front of me. My limitations today will be roughly the same as tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. I will take the same cocktail of drugs this morning as I will tonight, and tomorrow morning, and on and on. This is a true mental challenge. I shuffle around the local track and trail like a hamster on a wheel. One foot in front of the other - just relentless forward motion while my conscious brain is numb. I wake up after a restless night, eat a little, get some exercise, nap, eat a little more, pay bills, hook up to the IV, nap, eat, and then go to bed. Repeat daily. The good news: I managed four miles walking today.