Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On mourning an object I didn't know I loved

I'm a bicycle widow. Last weekend I buried (in the back of the basement) the 21-speed silver hybrid I've had since just 2006. I remarried quickly -- too quickly, perhaps, for what's thought proper in civilized company. This was an arranged marriage, after learning the pain in my left shoulder wasn't a muscle knot at all, but a permanent "cervical disc group protrusion at C6 and C7."

I hate you, C6 and C7.

My newly betrothed -- mandated by my physical therapist -- is a pearly green 8-speed comfort model. Pretty as it may be, it's not the same, not by a long shot. And my reaction to the loss of the old bike? I think I'm actually grieving.

The first bicycle I owned as an adult was a snazzy turquoise number my parents gifted me for my 30th birthday, after I'd met a dreamy guy (whom I'd later marry) -- a former bike messenger and impassioned cycling enthusiast. I doted on that bike. I feminized her. I gave her a nickname (my "velocipede"), tore off all her branded decals, and decorated her frame with silk flowers. She was a tool, sure, but she was mostly an accessory.

When it came time to trade her in ten years later, I never looked back. I didn't mourn. I was excited to meet her new owner, a lanky Frenchwoman who looked far more quirky and exotic riding her than I could ever hope to. I breathlessly collected the credit toward my new bike: A workhorse (see above), the same bike I would ride through my early 40s, that would carry me through 50+-mile days in Maine a couple summers back, and that I moved into storage last week, because riding it exacerbates my symptoms and could aggravate my injury.

That second bike? Eh. It never aesthetically pleased me. It was no kind of showstopper. I never much thought about it to be honest. It ran seamlessly and needed little maintenance. I went through a stretch of flat tires last year, but that I blamed on all the broken glass on our lousy Chicago roads. Never on the bike. In truth, I sort of took that bike for granted. But isn't that, in a way, the best kind of bicycle to have? One that rarely crosses your mind? One that becomes such an extension of your body that riding it is second nature, maybe nature itself?

Day 1 on the new bike, Bike #3 for those keeping track, nearly broke me. I had trouble getting started from a stop position. Once I got rolling, I couldn't pick up any steam. I've never been a particularly fast rider but could generally hold my own. On the new bike, though, people on rickety three-speeds blew by me. Parents carrying their children in kid seats, a blur in front of me as I trundled along, trying to find the right gear with this damn internal gear shifter.

A friend of mine, far more wracked with injury than I am (but nothing that affects his riding; he's a demon on wheels) caught up with me on his way home from work.

"So that's the new bike? What do you think?"

"I feel like I'm riding a Rascal."

I didn't tell him I'd just been crying a little.

But a funny thing happened on Day 2 and 3. Day 2 I learned to get a running start, and hopping on was far less teetering than my inaugural ride. My pain and numbing were even subsiding a little. On Day 3, I actually started enjoying the pace and the upright posture, noticing things I wouldn't have otherwise with my body angled forward and my eyes on the prize: beating that yellow and getting through the light.

Then a bike-shop bad-ass told me a generous story. He's swapped out all his old road bikes for upright models. The reason? "It's the city," he said. "I want my head up and my eyes forward. Otherwise I get reckless. Mistakes get made."

It was the nicest thing a tough guy has ever done for me.

So I guess in a way I'm coming around, a little. Change is tough, and sometimes I want to shout from the rooftops: "I'm too young to be this old!" But of course these changes are part of the roadmap. You live, you experience, you age, you remember. You take what comes, and you make adjustments. And if you're smart and marginally graceful about it, you stay alert to the spoils of that bargain.

I may never ride as fast or as far as I could six months ago. But slow and steady, I continue to ride.


leslie said...

Well, I must say that your new bike is CUTE. I can't help but think of your title--mourning something you didn't know you loved--and then comparing your old bike to so many boyfriends I felt indifferent toward until they dumped me. Self-inflicted blindness, the ache & pain of a bad fit... Here's to being able to look up as you travel these roads!

I will also use some of your lines here as a mantra as I enter year 40. :-)

Rosemary said...

I, too, thought of old boyfriends when reading your post, Christy--and I'm so glad to hear that your new BF (bike friend) is already easing some of the pain the old one amplified. It will *definitely* be better to still be riding ten, twenty, thirty years from now on an upright bike than to burn out your body just for the sake of looking hard-core. "Hard core" is the sixty- or seventy-something who's still out there!

Christy said...

Feeling very lucky to have such incredibly wise and reassuring friends.

Adriane Harrison said...

I agree with your wise friends. I would also suggest selling Bike #2 and going out to get a nice meal with the proceeds, riding Bike #3 to the restaurant. Sort of like a date between you and your new BF. A proper way to ease into the early months of your relationship.

brian said...

1. I did not think of old boyfriends when reading your post.

2. What's all this about 40s? I am pretty sure you're like 28 tops. Check your driver's license (if you're old enough to have one of those).

3. I still miss the yellow and black banana-seated "wild stallion" bike of my youth. Some hurts become part of your life. I will mourn the loss of your old friend and think fondly of our trips through the Chicago alleyways.

Johno said...

This post should be read by every cyclist (regardless of age or injury)... As sad as I am to see the old bike go into storage, I'm ecstatic that you and your new S.O. are starting to get along so swimmingly!

Christy said...

Rereading this with the boyfriend metaphor is leading to some, ahem, interesting double entendres. Unintentional, I assure you :-).

But that conceit definitely captures the core of the thing: I was in the middle of a beautiful, functional relationship with Bike #2, and circumstance, not choice, wrenched me away from it. It's tougher to accept #3 in a case like that, though I'm starting to feel the seeds of a playful crush. We'll see where it goes.

@Adriane, I'm not ready to say Never to another marathon ride (there's a rails-to-trails from the DC area to the East Coast I've recently dreamed about), so I'm hanging on to the old bike for now. But what the heck, I might treat myself to a nice dinner anyway. :-)

@Brian, trust me. You'll be disabused of this tomfoolery when you see all my grey in December. And never fear, there are plenty of Chicago alleyway trips in our future -- just a little slower than before (all the better for dumpster diving).

@John, thanks for being such a booster for Bike #3 (and supporter of your defective wife) :-). It makes more difference than you know.

Laurel said...

Lovely reading your post, but sorry to hear about your injury. You know I can empathize. I had to go with the upright a few years ago. We miss you both (you and John, that is) and hope to see you soon. Until then, I'll be reading your blog and happy to have a way to keep up with your life. Much love.