On the Road Again (May 25, 2014)

On election day 2012, I ran a yellow light in the rain at a six corner Chicago intersection where three busy streets converge. I got the business end of a giant SUV for the recklessness, not to mention the complete inability to enjoy Karl Rove’s Fox News meltdown. I had bounced off the pavement and broken my tailbone and sacrum. The tailbone was in a particularly bad way.

I spent the next three solid months on Tramadol, a strong painkiller, just to get through the necessities of life. During business hours I whimpered through and tried to stand as often as possible. I did a lot of wall leaning in meetings. It made me look authoritative. The drugs were blissfully effective – too much so for the office.

For nine months I sat on this soft black doughnut cushion that doubled as an excellent commuter train pillow. When I accidentally left her in Salt Lake City, I decided it was time to try sitting naturally again. However, it was only the beginning of this calendar year that I could resume Pilates or sit on a CTA train without leaning to the side. And I wasn’t the only injured party.

Poor L’il Red. Not only had she suffered a popped tire, bent wheel, busted brake hinge and misaligned handle bars, but she’d also been the victim of my neglect. I daresay scorn. As I have told several friends, my attitude toward Red after the smash up was similar to that of Daniel LaRusso after Johnny and the other Cobra Kai douchebags ran him off the road with their motorcycles. In the immediate aftermath of scraping myself off the pavement, I was ready to toss my girl into the dumpster. For 18 months, she sat behind the couch collecting dust.

But as you may have heard, Chicago is emerging from a painful and cruel winter even measured against its own diabolical standards. And my keister is feeling better. I also have eczema tamed well enough (thank you raw, organic beet juice!) to contemplate holding the handlebars again. So it was time to take Baby out of the corner, put the blame for the incident where it really belongs (on me) and get her the required medical attention.

Two weeks and $110 later, I walked a little over a mile in anticipation of a reunion with a clean, rehabbed Red. I had not ridden a bike for awhile. Last Fall I took a spin class with my little sister during a weekend in Wisconsin and I mostly did the whole thing standing. And I admit to being a little afraid to get back on the road again. I had already resolved that henceforth I’d confine cycling as much as possible to the safer lakefront area, rather than the city streets. I’ve had one incident too many, the last only being the most extreme in a fairly regular series. But to get L’il Red back home from the shop, the roads were the only option.

I started by strolling her to the corner of the nearest intersection and waiting for the pedestrian walk signal. I like to think I am capable of learning. As I took those first tentative few pedal strokes, a rhythm was sought. Cycling leverages different muscle groups than running, my habitual form of cardio. I know I have to ease in slowly. I stuck to side streets and began to relax. It was a beautiful day, the sort of spring perfection we’ve been denied until recently. I think we can finally put our winter coats away?

I also eased back into something else I’d forgotten I’d missed – traveling by life happening at medium speed. In the span of a short 10-block ride I saw: a woman briskly pushing a cat in a baby carriage, a middle aged man absolutely blasting the Scorpions “Winds of Change” out of the windows of his worn Toyota Corolla, beautifully dressed people streaming from a community church. Sunday in the city. I missed viewing the world from the bike seat.

The second act of my relationship with L’il Red reflects a revised 2014 approach to life in general. A little more cautious, a little more in the moment, but also a little less frenzied. What’s the hurry?

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