Set free to fly

December 28, 2013

“From my perspective, you looked like a caged animal that had been set free,” my dad said to me a few days ago following our 13ish mile ride together. He was right; but on a 16ish mile just-at-sunrise ride this morning, I realized that a more accurate metaphor for me was that of coming back to health, gathering my strength and confidence, and then being set free to fly.

A few years ago I encountered a mourning dove in the enclosed, upper floor of a parking garage. It had somehow flown up a few flights of stairs but now, in this completely enclosed space, and obviously lacking the insight to fly back DOWN the stairs to freedom, it was trapped. Cruelly, there were glass windows all around and it was evident at a glance that the bird had been there untold minutes or hours, flying itself over and over again into the windows in a vain attempt to get out. It was beaten down, with one wing badly injured, and clearly beyond exhausted. When I returned from my car with a cardboard box lined with newspaper, he put up very little fight as I scooped him up. I took the bird home and, over the course of several days, gradually nursed him back to health. Keeping him in a small glass tank whose sides I covered so he wouldn’t attack the glass again, I gave him food, water, bird vitamins, and dropped in a fish tank bubbler hose to move air around his “cage” in order to keep the air clean, as one wing had a pre-infected look to it. After a few days of providing what he needed, the bird was healthy and strong enough to set free, and I smiled with satisfaction when he flew off into a nearby tree.

This morning, in the introspection that wonderfully comes with the solitude of a good bike ride, I realized that I’ve become that bird. During my recent “burnout”, alienation, whatever you like to call it, from cycling, I’ve become, not exactly “afraid” of riding the bike, but something close to it. “Wary”, or “hesitant” is a better word. All the while, my on-bike fitness continued to drop. We’re talking someone who rode 600+ months a month for a few months in a row, and routinely turned in 40+ mile rides, with 2+ 60-milers per month, gradually declining to riding once or twice, for 15 or so miles, every several weeks.

What I needed was a period to “nurse back to health” on the bike, as it were. My Christmas visit to my parents provided it. My dad has a local 13ish mile route that he does as often as he can get out to ride. This week, I’ve ridden that route with him every day – making today the 7th consecutive day of riding for me. The route is shorter than I typically rode during my “glory days” of spring/summer/early fall of this year, but for where I’m at now, this distance is excellent. I could perceive a return to form – the first day we went out, I was huffing & puffing pretty good; legs sore in ways they NEVER are when I ride actively, and 13 miles felt about the same to me as maybe 25 or more miles used to feel. Day two, I was a little stronger. A few days later, I was handling the distance a lot better and riding in bigger gears, pushing myself. A couple times this week I mulled the possibility of waking early in the morning, before my parents, and going for a solitude ride, to be added to with riding with papa later. But I never felt QUITE up to doing it – till this morning. This bird is getting stronger, and testing his wings, to carry forth the analogy. I got up just at sunrise and headed out. I was ORIGINALLY planning to get in only a very short distance – 6 to 9 miles – and returning home; but once on the bike, I was feeling it. The route wasn’t pre-planned, and it meandered all over God’s green earth; what was constant was a reconnection to that old feeling of being able to bridge any particular distance (within reason) that I wanted, without killing myself to do it.

The distance I turned in – somewhere between 15 and 20 miles – still is shorter than my typical weekend ride would have been 3 months ago; but, wise and gradual progression is what I’m after here. And, added to the 13 miles with dad later today, it’ll end up at close to 30 miles for the day. I felt great during the ride – freedom!! the best aspects of riding a bike – and I’m looking forward to riding again later today (weather permitting – it does look like rain) with dad.

Key will be to bring the consistency and the enthusiasm back home with me post-vacation. Winter in Kansas is, 80% of the time, not friendly to cycling; but that works well with my intentions, stated in an earlier post, to not REALLY accelerate my mileage for a few months. Shorter, but consistent (maybe 2-4 times per week) rides are what the doctor ordered. My plan hasn’t changed with the past few days of riding – it’s still to focus very intently the new few months on weight loss and overall fitness – but, with today’s ride, I gave myself a reminder of what is ultimately one of the main reasons for my efforts: the ability to enjoy returning “full-time” (in terms of my “fitness time”, post-work and other responsibilities) to long bike rides. And if it weren’t clear already, I’m very excited about that.

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