I hadn’t laid my hands on her since the Pumpkinman Half-Ironman three weeks ago. Straw and mud from the wet, rainy ride still stuck to her wheels and frame.
After the race, I drove for five hours returning home to my family. It was late when I got home. I stood in the darkness of my driveway with my hamstrings quivering. My bleary eyes looking up at the lights shining out from the upstairs hallway outside of my children’s bedrooms. I hesitated before going inside. My stomach was bloated because I hadn’t stopped to eat a real meal. I felt lousy and I was nervous about jumping back into life. The phrase, “no rest for the weary” kept circling through my mind. I looked at my car jam-packed with all of my stinky, soggy gear and toyed with the idea of leaving everything in there until morning. But she lay there with the pink bar tape wet and bags squished in around her and I couldn’t just leave her like that all night long. It felt wrong.
I carried her into the house — dirt and all — with promises of tending to her after I was settled. But these were empty promises. I was spent. It had been a long season and I was ending it earlier than I have in years past. I gently placed her against the wall next to my trainer. Whispering gratitude and praises for a ride well done. But I didn’t dry her. Or clean her. I left her and started pulling soaked clothing and my wetsuit out of my tri bag. I tended to all of the things that would truly rot if left to fester for too long. I didn’t have it in me to care for her as well.
The days turned into weeks and a heaviness fell upon my shoulders. I’d walk by the bike room and mutter under my breath that I’d clean her and put her on the stand instead of leaving her leaning against the wall. I told her that I missed her, because I did, and that I loved her, because I do, but I wasn’t ready to care for her yet. I think she knew that. She held her post. Quietly waiting for me as I dove into helping my kids start school, a new swim team and other fall sports to boot. I had two solid weeks off from training in front of me and I was going to try to conquer the world.
As she rested against the wall, I mentally ticked off the days on my September calendar. Rob started yet another medication for his Psoriatic Arthritis. He had a PET Scan in late September and we were told that he has arthritis in every single inch of his body — not really a surprise to us but devastating to hear nonetheless. We learned that he has Rheumatoid Arthritis now as well. None of the medications are working and with his immune system so completely haywire and his history with Testicular Cancer, it makes finding a treatment much more complicated. His Oncologist told him that he will need to be monitored for life.
One week in September, Rob saw nine doctors. All of them recognizing and acknowledging that he is off the charts with his pain and full-body-flare. None of them offering a real plan or remedy. It’s hard not to feel despair. All of that real sadness topped off with my September blues. My lofty, unrealistic goals about mastering transitions and my desire to hold everyone’s discomfort and suffering.
Last Saturday I stepped into the bike room. Slowly. Ambivalently. I had started running and swimming again at the beginning of the week, but this was the first day I’d ride. She needed to be cleaned and I found myself surprised that the straw had truly stuck to her frame like a permanent extension. Much like the grief I wear of late. I stood there looking at her. My eyes filled up a bit. There was a lot I needed to do to get her ready for our ride. My boys stood outside of the room watching me. “When do you think you’ll start riding?” They asked. “I’m not sure,” I replied. “She needs a lot of care.” They watched as I heated a rag with hot water. Soaking the dried grass and caked dirt. Gently removing the sludge without scratching her outer paint. Once the rear race wheel was cleaned, I could put the training wheel on and place her on the trainer where I didn’t have to worry as much about knocking her over and I had more room to work.
“I might not have time to get my whole ride in,” I said to my boys. “Maybe you could just get on now and finish cleaning her later, Mom?” Brayden, my 10-year-old wondered aloud. “I can’t,” I said. “I need to clean her first.” It was important to me to care for her. To go over her and get her ready for our work ahead. At the time I wasn’t sure why. Now I think I was taking the time to get myself ready. Ready to hop back on. To get my brave on. Knowing that once I started the training again, there would be no turning back. Getting back on meant that I had to be all in. Preparing myself for my next Ironman. A goal that requires whole-hearted commitment and a lot of wrestling with fear and inner demons. Like life — on steroids.
There will be pain and suffering, heartache and despair. Nothing every goes as I expect it to. Ever. But there is also deep joy. Always. There is potential for growth and there are opportunities for me to get closer to myself as I embark on this next phase of my journey. There is a lot of hope in that — in simply showing up every day.
I have felt soaring happiness when we are out on the roads racing together. Just the two of us. Her able frame supports my body as I stretch myself further, than I ever dreamed possible. There are long expanses of time when I am completely focused on the moment and everything around me is quiet and still. I feel strong and fast. Powerful and free as we zoom through the open roads together. I feel the most alive in these moments. I love racing with her.
But getting to race day takes tremendous dedication and a relentless spirit. There are repetitive days of unbearable discontentment. I cannot hide from myself when I am with her. I can feel every fiber of my body working. Doubt grows easily as hours crawl by a second at a time. Each foot going round and around while my mind spins with the constant steady drone of my mother’s voice. I was a good student and I integrated my mother’s teachings well: You are nothing. You are unworthy. You are unlovable. You are weak. Yet with each circle of my legs clipped into her pedals, I unwind the lies imprinted and I create my own ending to my story: I am strong. I am worthy. I am capable. I am loved. With each revolution I rewire my brain as I build my physical strength and stamina.
I cleaned her chain. I removed the grime from the pink tape. I wiped the sand off of her saddle. I cleaned every corner of my bike. She has some paint chipping off, a few scratches and some places I cannot quite reach to clean as well as I’d like. But I did the best I could do and she’s as ready as she’ll ever be. She is an extension of me when we ride together. I couldn’t do it without her. I know this and yet I have moments of truly disliking her. And maybe that is where the real cleansing needs to be done.