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How Barry White Saved My Ride

September 27, 2011

Ward, Colorado. Roadside Art (Mary Topping)

The first few steps off my bike didn’t feel right. I had just dismounted at the Raymond general store, where others on the ride hung about snacking and laughing.

My husband Donald’s annual leaf-peeping ride, a 48 mile loop starting and ending in Lyons with 4,167 feet of Colorado climbing, started peacefully that morning. We followed the curves of the St. Vrain creek past horses and fields on Old St. Vrain Road out of Lyons, in the shadow of stacked red rock cliffs to our left. Summer teased fall: yellow aspen leaves jingled under blue sky and a full sun that warmed the air to 80 degrees F.

The climbing commenced after Old St. Vrain Road joined Highway 7. An hour of slugging it out with the rising road introduced me to a new muscle between my inner thigh and hamstring. It now clenched itself into a tight angry fist, especially on the right side. I shook my legs, but couldn’t pry it loose. I hobbled to the store entrance. When I took the high step into the store right foot first, I nearly collapsed as my leg didn’t want to support me.

A few minutes later the group prepared to set off. I straddled my bike and pointed it uphill, concerned for the first time in my life about my ability to continue and finish the ride. I had confided my condition to Donald; he thought I had strained a muscle or developed a cramp. Now he said, “You can go back to Lyons, you know.”

It’s never been in my DNA to “give up.” I finished a cross-country self-supported bike journey fifteen years ago in wrist braces I had acquired in Ohio to ameliorate carpel tunnel symptoms; surgery on my right hand followed after the trip. Plus, I had to make it to Ward. The general store there sells the best chocolate chip cookies in the universe for $1 each. Truthfully, the chocolate chip cookies were the real reason I joined the ride. More a cross between cookie and scone, each one a little mound of delight, not too soft and not too crunchy, the chocolate chips and not the cookie knit this confection together.

Ward General Store Chocolate Chip Cookie, view 1

“Maybe if I ride it will work itself out,” I said. We both knew something that I was not willing to admit and needed to prove I could continue on with despite it. My weekly exercise schedule of one short bike ride and a twenty minute walk for the past six weeks didn’t render me fit enough for today’s route.

“What do you do when you have a strained muscle?” I asked Donald.

“You don’t exercise,” he said. I imagined myself hinged over the crutches I would need to get around for the next couple of weeks in order to rest the muscle. How would I cover cyclo-cross races in early October?

After five minutes uphill even I couldn’t ignore that each turn of the pedals hurt. We exited the side road from Raymond onto Highway 72. “It’s a long hill here,” my husband said. “You can still go back to Lyons.”

I’m sure pro-cyclists ride with pain a lot, I thought. Maybe pushing through it will help me better understand what they experience on the road. This seemed like a good idea since I write about them. “Let me see what happens,” I said. “Anyway, I really want that chocolate chip cookie.”

As I continued slowly on this four mile uphill stretch, sung phrases from the Mass I had attended before the ride circled my mind. One repeated itself with each pedal revolution: “Lord have mer-er-cy.”

I had never felt so much pain riding my bike. My mind searched for an explanation. In the past month my legs became awfully stiff if I sat for an hour or more. Lately I found myself  practically guiding my legs out the driver’s side door of the car, unsteady after I straightened up. Maybe the circulation in my legs had dropped to an abnormal rate. This reminded me of  my mother and father, both of whom were thought to have died suddenly because of blood clots. That’s it, I thought, a blood clot, maybe two, lurks in my right thigh where it hurts. If I keep pedaling the clot will jiggle loose and I’ll have a pulmonary embolism and die right here on the tarmac. Is this how I want to go? I imagined the newspaper headline: Cyclist Dies Searching for Chocolate Chip Cookie. Maybe I should coast back down to Lyons, I thought. I pedaled on.

I shook out my left hand to relieve the recurring numbness. Remembering research I did for the piece I had recently written about athletes with type 1 diabetes, I recalled some people get diagnosed when symptoms appear suddenly, including cramps and numbness. My mom and father’s mother had type 2 diabetes. In the back of my mind I’ve wondered for years if I eat too many sweets. Now my worst fear surfaced as a reality. I concluded I had diabetes. And it was all my fault. I must have finally put my blood sugar over the edge by eating 2 donuts, a croissant, enchiladas, and no vegetables yesterday. Maybe, I thought, I should turn back. The pain hadn’t lessened with the motions of riding.

Four miles finished, I crested that hill. My husband, who rides in a league beyond me, waited at the top. “I think you’ll make it,” he said. “There’s just one hill left, and it’s shorter.” He shook his head. “You’re tough.”

On this last three-mile hill I considered altitude as a possible source of my malaise. After all, at this point in the ride our wheels must touch at least 8,500  feet. I’m hypoxic, I thought. My legs need more oxygen. I started to breathe faster.

The next thought I had registered as the worst one yet.

Ward General Store Chocolate Chip Cookie, view 2

I’d be the last to arrive in Ward, with twelve other ride members and who knew how many Boulderites landing there before me. What if I’ve gone through all this and they have sold the day’s lot of chocolate chip cookies when I finally get there? Just then I approached a restaurant on the right hand side of the road. Motorcycles parked in front. Pizza, a sign said. Music pumped out of the restaurant. Barry White. “I Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe.”

“Girl, all I know is every time you’re here

I feel the change

Somethin’ moves

I scream your name

Do whatcha got to do”

Barry White’s voice seduces me. I would do anything that voice asked me to do. The voice of love, I would follow it anywhere. It’s as if he lets this inner animal in me loose.

I sat up with one hand on the bike and danced, bouncing my chest and shoulders up and down, swinging my head back and forth, singing loudly, “Oh, I don’t know why I don’t know why, can’t get enough of you my babe.” The switch from suffering to singing seemed a bit psychotic. But I enjoyed the best feeling of the day. It was like I had just received a transfusion after losing pints of blood. My energy spiked.

Still singing, “Can’t get enough of you my babe,” I sped toward Donald where he waited at the top of the hill for me, again. I pummeled the air with my right fist, feeling very Voeckler-esque as I mimicked the gesture he made each time he reached a mountain-top finish and retained the yellow jersey in the TDF this year.

Suddenly forgetting about the mechanics of leg muscles and which new disease caused my distress, I had become a red, pulsing heart on wheels rushing toward Donald and a chocolate chip cookie on the other side of the hill.

My last thought on the bike as we pulled into the lot in Lyons where we had parked the car that morning: I’m usually not a girly-girl, but I think I’ll glue some sparkles onto my bike shoes.

From → Essays

One Comment
  1. Thank you for stopping by and for your comment – much appreciated!

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