Stay on Your Bike

Even though I wish it would snow, I’m glad it hasn’t snowed. Is THAT the ultimate human paradox? It’s nice to head out the door without lots of coats, boots, shoveling and worring about icy roads etc. all the winter stuff I normally like and desire but, this year? Less than usual. Not-snow is a little more spontaneous than snow.

I felt this yesterday when I found myself on the golf course with the kids, and they were rolling down a hill that was built to hold up one of the challenging holes. I worry all the time when I’m out with them because they’re little kids, so if they find something that’s rough (they are kids) and yet, safe, I’m happy.

The hill isn’t high. It’s pretty much just ideal small-kid-roll-down size. They ran up, and rolled down, ran up and rolled down, ran up and rolled down. You know. If you’ve been a kid or had them, you know. At one point they took off their jackets and I thought, “Awesome. December 7.” It’s not even a bad little hill for sleds if you’re a little kid.

Of course, as all old people do, I compared their lives with mine “back in the day.” They are 7 and almost 9 (next week). At 7 and 9 my brother and I had more freedom than, well, than I have now. It was normal to say, “Mom, we’re going to the woods,” and we took off, crossing a busy street, running into the forests and fields. Or we’d say, “We’re going to ride our bikes,” and we were out the door getting our bikes out of the garage and riding them, first just on our street, then anywhere we wanted to go. When we were each ten, we got a 3 speeds with skinny tires and GEARS. REAL freedom.

Thinking about bikes as I watched the kids, I thought of a promise one of the Boys on Bikes and I made to each other; that we would stay on our bikes. We agreed staying on our bikes was the best way for us to stay out of trouble. A couple of the boys had gotten off their bikes and ended up in serious — grave — trouble. My life was at a very dangerous juncture, too. 18 isn’t the only sketchy moment in the life of humans.

He’s 44 now and teaching his kids (about the same age as the kids I hang out with) to ride BMX. They recently joined I guess what you’d call a club and had the first race. He was a pro freestyle rider, not a racer. Over this past weekend all three of them won a trophy; he got his first racing trophy. I love it so much. (Thank you Facebook)

With that on my mind yesterday, when the kids and I got back to their house, I said to their mom, “Does M’s bike still have a flat tire?” M is the little girl.

“Yeah. We’re going to fix it. Now that G (husband) is working again we might be able to get one of those tires that can’t go flat.”

“There are a lot of goat-head thorns around here.” I see them bloom, tiny yellow flowers in pernicious faux-clover plants, and sometimes pull a thorn out of a dog’s paw. “If you do, I’ll take the kids to the high school parking lot so they can ride.”

In my mind’s eye I see boys flying helmetless over dirt jumps while I lie in the dirt, pointing a video camera at them. I see my brother and I flying — helmetless — down Bellevue, Nebraska’s steepest hills getting speeding tickets as we raced to the movie theater. I see me, in my forties, rehabbing an injured knee riding my first ever mountain bike, feeling like a hawk as I rocket down the narrow trials and like a slug when I push that sucker up some hills too long and steep to ride, just to get to the top where I could SEE something and ride a certain rollercoaster fire road. I hear a friend say, “Martha! You caught air!”

Watching the kids yesterday, the mantra, “Stay on your bike,” rang through my mind. I see the future of the two little people I spend time with, and I am sure that they need to stay on their bikes, too. I came home and bought each one a gift card for Walmart for Christmas. For bike tires.

Fear is Information

A few days ago a friend stopped by between here and there. When she got out of her car, I saw she was bent over by at least 30 degrees and walking stiff-legged. I hadn’t seen her in a few months and I was a little stunned. As it happened, she’s also the friend that argued with me about my hip surgery insisting that I hadn’t had my mobility restored but “augmented.” That made me furious and I don’t get angry all that easily. I was ready to set her straight on that when she arrived, but when I saw her I thought, “We have a bigger problem now.”

She’s a very controlling person with strong opinions. I don’t like confrontation (she does), but I have confronted her before back when I was negotiating for my house and she was my agent. I also, frankly, think she’s kind of an idiot. Many of her opinions about things have been refuted for once and for all by solid scientific research, but I just let it roll away into the twilight zone of illusion. I’m not a person who has to be right, even when I am.

So, instead of telling her not to argue with me about stuff I know (like my own hip surgery and repair) I talked to her about her mobility. She was very defensive and attempted denial. “It doesn’t matter what you think,” I said. “Just get X-rays so you know what you’re dealing with. If it’s something, you need to know.”

“So I know what my options are?”

“We don’t always have options,” I said. A person with bone-on-bone osteoarthritis has the option to have surgery or ride around in a wheelchair. I know she’s not a person who “believes” in objective reality, but it’s there, nonetheless.

Even then she’s (allegedly) going to get the X-rays and show them to her sister, a chiropractor, rather than let the doctor read them. I just figure “Whatever.” Then I tried to explain what long-term pain and challenged mobility do materially to our brain, the organ, not our mind the ephemeral entity.

Either that got her attention or she decided that agreeing with me would get me to shut up.

But, if you’re curious, what pain and being crippled do to our brain is this:

People with unrelenting pain are often depressed, anxious and have difficulty making simple decisions. Researchers have identified a clue that may explain how suffering long-term pain could trigger these other pain-related symptoms. Researchers found that in people with chronic pain, a front region of the cortex associated with emotion fails to deactivate when it should. It’s stuck on full throttle, wearing out neurons and altering their connections.

What’s more, a person in this situation — because it evolves slowly — has a tendency to accept the unacceptable — like my friend walking like that, and excusing it by saying, “I just drove 3 hours.”


I said straight out, “That doesn’t wash in real life. These are not symptoms of driving. They’re symptoms of a physical problem.”

I think that whether she does anything or not (it’s her life, her body) she knows I care about her. There’s not much more I can do.

I’m still fighting the brain changes every day. I was essentially handicapped and in pain for a decade. Sometimes I’m amazed by what I’m able to do now that I couldn’t do for a long, long time, like figure out a solution so my back storm door doesn’t keep breaking, like cutting back an unwelcome elm tree, like basically figuring out anything.

Today I filled the tires on my real bike which I haven’t ridden in more than 2 years. I was determined to ride it. The whole scenario reminded me of taking out my new Cross Country skis the first, second, third, fourth, fifth times. I felt a nagging apprehension, fear, that threatened to hold me back from doing something I wanted to do. As with Cross Country skiing, I didn’t know if I could ride, but I have no rational reason not to.

My fears are about getting on and stopping at a stop sign. I have to figure out a way to get on when I’m afraid? unable? to lift my leg over the bike. For now I lay the bike on the ground, straddle it and pull it up, but that isn’t what I want to do. So, as I wheeled it out of my yard onto the driveway and laid it down to get on, I felt real terror. What if I fell? Could I get up? Would I be hurt? Then my X-country ski voice said, “Don’t fall. Just ride. Just try. See what it’s like. See what you remember. Stop while you’re still having fun. Get on. Who cares how?”

It was a fresh and lovely morning. I rode a couple of miles where I wouldn’t have to deal with stopping. I thought of how nice it would be ride where I walked Bear in winter. I appreciated how much faster and more exhilarating is than walking. I tested out the gears since it had been so long since I’ve shifted bike gears. I think the seat’s too low, but? I don’t know. I decided to take it to Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa and get it fitted to me. It’s a small bike for a small person — maybe too small? I don’t know. Then I turned into the alley and felt the clutch of fear at the rough curb, the rutted dirt and without thinking I was in a solid mountain biking position on my bike. I felt a little spring of joy in my heart.

I might get this. “Keep trying, every day,” said my Cross Country ski voice. “It’s almost as good as snow, remember? Remember how you rode on all those dirt trails in California imagining you were skiing? It will get you through the summer. Don’t give up.”

I came in the house and cried. Fighting fear is very emotional. You hold it back until you can release it. It’s a very good feeling.