What I Miss

This isn’t going to be one of those “pity-Joe—he’s had a tough year” posts. I completely realize that while I have had some difficulties, life is still pretty good.

But yesterday, I watched a documentary called Ride the Divide, about a bicycle race from Banff, Alberta, Canada to the Mexican border along the Continental Divide, and it hit me right in the old memory banks.

When I lived in Colorado a decade or so ago, I did a lot of cycling. A lot, of cycling. I even dreamed of riding across America, albeit on a road bike, not a mountain bike like the intrepid riders in this documentary.

At one point in the Ride the Divide Race, the route passes through the town of Fairplay, Colorado. Fairplay is where I bonked on my Denver-to-Aspen ride in 1997. For those of you who are not familiar with the term “bonked”, it means to have nothing left—to break down and not want to go any further. I crawled into the checkpoint in Fairplay after a brutal climb up Red Hill Pass (9993 feet) where a gust of wind nearly blew me backwards. I lay down on the grass, and cried. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get back up. I’d ridden a hundred miles in a day many times before that ride, but this one was supposed to be 200 miles in a day, and it was special. Everything I had done in a year of training led up to this ride. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish.

But I wanted to pass the 100 mile mark on this ride and Fairplay was only 97 miles in. After a twenty minute break, I got back on the bike, and headed south to the next checkpoint.  I battled through the pain for another few miles down Hwy 9, almost to Hartsel, but that’s where my ride ended. My knees ached too much to continue, and my body had been broken by an incessant headwind wind and two relentless climbs.

Watching that documentary made me conscious of what I miss about riding: the long hours on the open road where all you can do is think; pushing yourself beyond what you ever thought possible; the rush of a descent down eighteen miles of twisty-turny canyon road; the utter exhaustion of getting off the bike at the end of a hundred-mile Saturday knowing full-well that Sunday morning meant 80 more miles—and knowing you wouldn’t want to be any where else.

I never again did another ride longer than 100 miles. Actually, I don’t think I ever did another ride longer than 30 miles after that. The rest of that year, I had to let my body heal. Then, in the fall of 1997, I got sick with a bad case of mononucleosis (yeah, bad shit seems to follow me from state to state). The following year I moved out to the Pacific Northwest, where the riding environment wasn’t nearly as conducive as it was in Colorado.

The reality of my situation right now is that 100 mile Saturdays are a long way off. The days of considering a 50-mile-ride a sprint are long gone. Maybe I’ll never be able to do them again. After all, when I was doing those rides, I was only 26. I was in the best shape of my life. I “only” had CMT. I had a job I hated. The road allowed me to run away from that until I had no energy left to run. I had no money to do anything else besides ride since my crappy job paid me crappy wages. I had no house to care for. I had no writing career to think about. I had no family with whom to go and see things. I had no kids with baseball games or gymnastics to go to. I had never heard of GBS, and never dreamed that it would take years to recover from a stupid disease.

A lot has changed in the last 15 years. I’m not 26 anymore. I’m 20 pounds heavier. I like my job now, and I make very good money. I don’t have anything to run away from. I have a nice house in a great neighborhood. I have a family I love very much. I enjoy going to my son’s baseball games and watching my daughter’s gymnastics practices (though the latter scare the crap out me). I have GBS, and know that it will still take a while to get better.

Still, watching that documentary made me want to grab the bike off the wall and hit road.

But I can’t. That’s just not possible… right now.

Instead of looking back at something I was able to do when fifteen years ago and have no hope of doing in the next year, I decided to come up with a list of more reasonable things that I miss… things that I hope to get back sooner, rather than later—with the hope that someday, I’ll once again be able to do a long ride on a Saturday morning… maybe alongside my kids.

So here are some of the things on my short-list of things that I miss the most right now (in no particular order):

  1. Morning coffee. Yes I know this is a silly thing to miss, but every day I see other people drinking it, and I wish I could have some. Maybe it’s a social thing. Maybe it is an addiction that needs to be fed. I just know that right now, actually drinking caffeine really messes me up. I’ll know that I’m truly better when I can have a cup of coffee without fear that it will set me back in my recovery.
  2. Travel without worry. Every time I make plans to do something outside of my comfort zone—whether it be dinner out with friends or travelling to see family or to take the kids somewhere, I worry that I will either have an episode while travelling that will debilitate me, or, when I return I’ll crash and regret the whole trip. I want to be able to stop worrying about that, so we can all travel and do fun things without that dark cloud of GBS hovering over us.
  3. Writing. Yes, I am still writing. But I’m not writing with the speed and ease of what I was doing before I got sick. Once I went back to work in April, I wasn’t left with much in the way of an energy budget for the evenings or weekends. I’d love to be able to sit down at the computer after the kids have gone to bed and pound out 1500 words. Right now, that’s just not possible. What writing I do get done, is on the way to work (and sometimes on the way home). But that doesn’t cut it for me. The pace is too slow. I can’t get into the story, or into the characters’ mind. I want that writer’s high back.
  4. Reading. My eyes just won’t let me read like I use to. I can’t sit down and read a book from cover-to-cover in day. And, no, audio books don’t cut it for me. My ears aren’t connected to my brain. My mind wanders when my eyes aren’t involved. I have a collection of books on my shelf to be read—many of which have been there since before I got sick. I want to dig in, and enjoy them without worrying that I won’t be able to work the next day because I read a book the night before.
  5. Aerobic Activity. I can’t wait until I can get back on the elliptical machine I bought two months before I got GBS. It’s still sitting there in our bedroom, waiting. Soon, I hope, on this one. I push myself a little harder each day with my rehab, and fight through the side effects. The elliptical is my next hurdle.
  6. Blogging. Yes, I miss blogging. But the time I spend blogging right now is time I’m not writing, and it is an either-or choice. When I finish this next round of edits on Nowhere Wild, I’m going to step back and try to find a balance between blogging and writing.
  7. Beer / Wine. Much the same way that it makes no sense that I miss coffee, I miss having a cold beer on a hot day, or a glass of wine while out with friends. The beer triggers memories of younger days when I worked hard and was rewarded with a cold Labatt’s at the end of the day. The wine is a social thing… it makes me think of fun and laughter and peace and friends.
  8. Video Games. Yes, I know this sounds like an extravagance considering my eyes can barely deal with doing my daily work. Video games seem like such a time waster. But sometimes it would just be nice to turn off the life and the TV and be able to sit back and play WoW for a bit. Or Civ. Or Command and Conquer. They’re puzzles for my brain, and allow me to relax.

When I can do most of these without breaking myself, I’ll get back on the bike. And then maybe, I’ll work my way back up to another hundred mile day. And when I get that first hundred-mile day, I’ll know I’ve beaten this stupid disease, once and for all.

One Comment on “What I Miss

  1. Interesting story Joe, with great accomplishments. Count your blessings on what you were able to do 15 years ago, and the acceptance of limits as you get older, or the health set-back you have experienced. Go and enjoy the 30 mile ride.

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