When I tumbled off my mountain bike two months ago, I knew immediately that I damaged my shoulder. Crumpled on the ground, the sensible side of my brain took over: Get up, get riding. Most people who grew up playing sports know that after a significant muscle strain or joint injury, there is often a grace period before the real pain sets in. The muscles, ligaments and tendons are warm and loose, and the swelling hasn’t begun. The next half hour might be the last opportunity to play the sport for several weeks. In my case, I rode the final two miles back to my car. Sore, yes, but certainly capable. My next ride was weeks later—short and painful.
I go to physical therapy weekly. I get a list of new exercises, and I practice them religiously twice a day between appointments. I make progress. My range of motion improves, my strength increases, those instances when my shoulder gets stuck as I reach for my coffee cup, only to break free with a loud and painful snap get less and less frequent. As long as I keep it moving, my shoulder works reasonably well.
I see a direct parallel with writing. I’m stuck.
I wrote my last story ten days ago. Since then, I can’t find a topic, and I can’t find any time. Or at least I’m not making any time. There’s that physical therapy eating up an hour a day. Susan’s busy workweek transferred extra chores to me. On Friday, I watched a Halloween movie with Eli (four days after Halloween). On Saturday night, we drove to Hanover, a half hour away simply to get slices from Eli’s favorite pizza place and frosted lemonades from Chick-fil-A. I haven’t stayed up late to write, something I frequently do. Inertia took over. A body at rest stays at rest.
Typically, when I sit down to write, I start with a vague topic brewing in my head. That, coupled with a nagging desire to create something, pushes me through a multi-hour writing session. I’m so engrossed, I barely even look at the clock. This week, I just haven’t felt it. Right now, I don’t feel it.
Like my shoulder, this will only improve if I exercise it, keep it moving. So here’s a story I want to tell.
After my shoulder injury, I wrote a couple of posts about my struggles with rehabilitation. I complained to my family when pain and swelling got in the way of simple actions. I opted out of many opportunities to lift heavy objects at work. Every time I talked to my father, he asked “How’s your shoulder feeling?” In several of those conversations, as we talked about my slow recovery progress, he said “Maybe it’s time to stop mountain biking.”
This is a common refrain. I heard it at work. I heard it in comments on my blog. I heard it in my private thoughts as I drove to a meeting on the far side of the county. I even talked with Susan about it. She’s been concerned all year. I don’t count my crashes, but I’m sure I’ve fallen hard well over a dozen times this year. Sometimes multiple crashes in a single ride. I’ve got to be the luckiest person alive.
One of the most recognizable features about mountain biking in southern-central Pennsylvania is the prevalence of rocks. Ancient geological patterns cause rocks jag out of the ground throughout the Alleghany Mountains. They are freaking everywhere. The chances of not landing on a sharp rock poking out of the trail when falling off a mountain bike are slim. Every time, I seem to thread the needle. Between rocks, next to rocks, just short of rocks, sometimes on the far side of rocks.
Still, at sixty, these crashes often hurt without the added violence of landing on a rock. What Susan and I agreed on is it’s time for me to seek out easier trails. Those smooth trails that flow through dips and corners, fast and fun to ride, nothing technical or tricky to get hung up on. Not much different from riding on the road. I get the benefit of the woods and the safety of a predictable surface.
Because I’m still healing, the road is where I’m doing all of my riding lately. On Friday, I popped out for a quick buzz around the park next to my house. There’s a hilly thirteen-mile loop I like to ride on my mountain bike. I pedal aggressively nonstop, and when I finish, I feel like I just completed a spin class. As I rode up a long hill, overtaking a minivan that slowed at every monument, I rounded a corner and dug in to crest the hill. As I picked up speed, for a reason I can’t remember, I weaved off the road onto a sunken shoulder.
The lip back up to the road was about four-inches high and covered with fallen leaves. When my kids were learning to ride, we spent a lot of time practicing to ride up lips like this. You have to take the angle sharply. If you try to glide up the lip mostly parallel to the road, your front wheel will slide out and you crash. I did this. I crashed.
I landed squarely on my (bad) shoulder, torqued my neck and banged my helmet hard against the street. This doesn’t bode well for my plan to ride easier trails. I can’t even seem to ride on pavement. Remarkably, my shoulder only experienced a minor setback, and two days later it seems almost as good as it was before my latest fall. Other than a couple of bruises, I have no other marks on my body. I didn’t even tear my bike jersey or shorts.
My sudden inability to stay on my bike is disconcerting. I’ve never experienced a year like this. This afternoon, I planned to go out for a ride. Susan and Eli both protested. “Are you kidding me? Maybe just go for a run instead.” Riding a bike is just about my favorite thing to do in the world. I can’t imagine a life where I’m afraid to do it. Regardless, with daylight savings time ending today, my opportunities to ride will drop dramatically through the winter. In the spring, maybe I won’t fall so often.
I hope this story unstuck my writer’s block. Writing is another front where I find happiness and winter is a great time to immerse myself in projects. Watch this space. I hope to see a lot of you in the coming months.