The week before had been rough. Hell, the month before had been rough. Work gets steadily busier and busier, taking the time and energy I want for working on my personal writing project. I wasn't sleeping well. I had nightmares nearly every night -- those dreams that don't frighten me so much as frustrate me and leave me as tired in the morning as I was when I went to bed.
I'd started taking Ativan again, just so I could sleep through the night. I was cranky at work, and cranky when I got home again. At one point, I confessed to my therapist that I just wanted a six-month sabbatical so I could finish my book and not have to worry about my job anymore, at least for a while. I just needed a break. A nice, long working vacation.
But during the bike ride -- after the first 5 miles of feeling like hell and wondering why I was stupid enough to consider biking 25 miles (counting the distance between my house and the beginning of the trail) -- a switch flipped in my head, and I felt fantastic. All the bullshit that swirled around my brain, taking up space and generally causing me worry and despair was just gone. I felt strong. I felt capable. I was -- dare I say it -- really happy. It was like a drug that didn't leave me fuzzy-headed. It lasted for a couple of days, too. Magic. Funny how exercise works that way.
At the end of the trip, I felt like I could just keep pedaling forever. That afternoon, I went to the local bike shop for new handlebar grips (I was tired of the stock ones twisting around under my hands), and test drove road bikes. None of the ones in stock had the components I wanted (I didn't want anything less than Tiagra shifters, for instance), but I got to figure out what size bike I needed, and the woman helping me ordered three different bikes for me to try out.
On Wednesday, I went back to try out the nicer bikes. Riding even the lowest end of the three was such a different experience than riding my commuter bike. It's like the bike could read my mind. I ended up bringing this one home (compact crank, if that doesn't show up in the link).
It was a lot of money to spend, but I justified it by telling myself that it's an early birthday present, that I just have a couple of years before I turn 40, and I really ought to be in better shape, and anyway, if I can feel that good after a ride, then I ought to be doing it more often. Maybe I could find a recreational cycling club and meet some more people. Maybe I could commute to work.
This weekend, I put right at 40 miles on the bike. I did the Minuteman Trail again yesterday, and really pushed myself. It's a lot easier to push myself on the road bike than on the commuter bike. My quads and lower back were a bit sore (not to mention my neck -- I finally understand in a very small way the Radiolab story I listened to some years ago about these truly insane people who participate in a bike race across the US, and who have to duct tape their heads up so they can continue to see the road in front of them), and I was tired after, but I still felt pretty damned good.
Today, I did a test run to work and back. There's a short(er) way -- about 5 miles -- from my house to my job in Boston that's through the middle of Cambridge, or there's a long(er) way -- about 6.5 miles -- largely on a bike trail along the Charles River. I picked the longer way, and it was a lovely ride. I was worried that I'd feel about this ride the way I do when I start the Minuteman trail -- the first 5 miles are rough, with my muscles complaining and my mental state being all what the fuck is this -- and on the way to work, by the time I got past that feeling, I'd be there.
It wasn't like that this time, though. Maybe because my muscles were already loosened up from yesterday's ride (only going out once a week or so isn't enough). Maybe because I knew that I could just take it slow and not push myself today. Maybe because it was a route I'd never taken before, so the novelty of it tricked me into enjoying it. It was fantastic, though, and I can make it to work by bike in less time than it takes me on the subway, and if these endorphins keep flowing into my brain, everyone will be happier for it.
Me with new bike, reflected in the glass of my building, after getting to Chinatown this morning
A few things: First, I really wish that walkers, runners, and roller bladers had some consciousness of the world around them. I had to slam on brakes to keep from running over a man who was walking backwards across the trail while talking to someone and not at all looking where he was going. I also had a roller blader almost kick me with his skate even after I'd called out that I was on his left. Second, biking equipment makes more sense to me now. Cycling shorts and jerseys are amazingly comfortable. Who knew? They had the somewhat surprising side effect of having other people (cars, pedestrians who were paying attention, and other cyclists) take me more seriously. And SPD pedals and cleats? I kind of understood the theory of them -- you're more efficient when your feet are stuck to the pedals in some way. But until I started using them regularly, I didn't understand just quite how miraculous they are.
Now I just need to get myself to the eye doctor so I can get some sunglasses and some new regular glasses that don't fall down my face when I sweat.
So, yeah. Happy with the purchase. I'm planning to bike to work tomorrow and Tuesday, and then I'll have (I hope) a few days off. A few days out of the office, at least, and I'll put some more miles on it then, too. And maybe I'll even have the mental space to get some work done on my book while I'm at it.
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